‘If you built that course today you’d be sued’: Alliss and his love-hate relationship with St Andrews

We delved into the NCG archives to dig out this gem of an interview with Peter Alliss from 2010


This interview with Peter Alliss, titled ‘Alliss in Wonderland’, originally appeared in the July 2010 edition of National Club Golfer magazine.

Peter Alliss loves nothing more than an Open Championship at St Andrews. He looks back on his favourite moments there…

When did you first visit St Andrews?

Ah, St Andrews, I first went there in 1948. I was 17 and had gone with my brother Alec and we were given £50 for three weeks to cover our expenses from Bournemouth to Leeds for the Yorkshire Post and then St Andrews for the Spalding tournament, before going on to Mere for the Manchester Evening Chronicle tournament where I finished 5th.

I didn’t qualify in Leeds and played all four rounds at St Andrews but made no prize money as only the first 10 or 12 were paid out.

I earned £57 and 10 shillings – so made a profit.

How have your feelings on the Old Course changed over the years?

Like many people I’ve had many fluctuating memories – good, bad, bored, and awful – but at my great age now I think it’s a magical place, I could easily live there now. It’s a silly course now, if you built that course today you would be sued.

It doesn’t flow and you are in everybody’s way with the double greens and it’s a nightmare to get people across at the loop end but, at the end of the day, it’s St Andrews. I have grown to love the town, the history and the ambience of the place.

Do you remember your opening tee shot at your first Open at Hoylake in 1947?

I can’t remember my first tee shot but it was the most frightening experience. My father, who was 50 at the time, played and was first off with George Duncan, the champion in 1920.

We all had to qualify, my father had a 71 and I think George had a 75. I had a 78 and an 87. I still think the 1st hole then was one of the most frightening holes when you are a bit nervous, they changed it to the 3rd in 2006 which didn’t quite have the same impact. I have always enjoyed Hoylake but particularly love Lytham.

What is it about Lytham that you love so much?

It’s cottage industry, it’s all there. I like the big old clubhouse, you can watch old Fred putting out and you can play little permutations of holes, and have a nice Sunday lunch. It’s all old-fashioned bollocks and yet the members are young. They’re old but they’re young. They’re cheeky.

They’re almost members from another world. They’re doctors and lawyers but not stuffy, quite rakish, you’d think they might be car dealers. You’d think they might throw a bread roll. I love it.

You played in five Opens at St Andrews, were there any particular highlights?

I held the course record for about five minutes – I had a 66 with no twos, no fives, six threes and 12 fours and I’m not sure anybody’s done that since. I can’t believe Curtis Strange went round there in 62.

They made me an honorary member there and you are in very elite company. There’s only about 15 of us and half of them are members of the royal family and there’s only John Jacobs and I who haven’t won an Open Championship, the rest are heroes of the game.

You had five top-10s in the Open, were there any that stand out as a real missed opportunity?

Looking back I played well at Birkdale in 1954 but putted like a bloody fool. We got round in two-and-a-half hours then.

You went up and you putted straightaway and you missed, now they are more meticulous. I had a couple of good runs at Lytham and finished with a 66 the year Tony Jacklin won. Maybe on romance the Alliss family deserved an Open, the old man had opportunities but it never quite happened.

Did you know that the 1974 Open would be your last?

I didn’t know at the time but I was 43 and I finished in 1969 really when I won my last tournament, the Piccadilly at Prince’s, and played the Open for another four years.

At the time I was getting divorced, starting a new life and trying to make a living and, thankfully, it has all worked out rather well.


How did you get into commentating?

My first commentary was in 1961, they just asked if I would do it. Ray Lakeland was the producer and he asked if I fancied it but I told him I would be playing. They said if you are playing in the morning come up in the afternoon and that’s how it started.

The front man was Cliff Michelmore – he was the Steve Rider of the day – and there was Ben Wright, who then worked for the Manchester Guardian, Bill Cox who was the pro at Fulford, and John Jacobs and me.

They would ask how the course was playing and I just thought it was wonderful.

If you were allowed one fourball on the Old Course who would you play with?

You can be as romantic as you’d like, Bobby Locke would be in there, Peter Thomson would be another. I always have great fun with him and my father. You are very restricted with four – I would have loved to have had a game with Walter Hagen, I met him when he was an old man.

Also Bobby Jones, I caddied for my father in 1946 when he was playing with Jones at Parkstone. Then there’s Tony Lema, who won at St Andrews, I caddied for him in half a dozen matches and I got £100 a time you know.

When he died there was Scottish money in the plane that he never banked.

What was your first pay cheque from the BBC?

The Open finished on the Friday, nobody can understand now that 36 holes were played on the Friday, and they said we should pay you.

I told them I was never a great practiser so I wouldn’t be doing anything and they gave me 10 pounds a day. It was just a box built on a bit of scaffolding.

What have been your stand-out moments at the Old Course?

Seve was obviously one of the great moments and Nick Faldo when he pitched in for a two at the last but one of my great memories was back in 1957. There was nowhere to practise years ago and, if you can imagine walking down the 1st hole, and there’s the Swilcan Burn and the putting green and just back up towards the clubhouse 100 yards or so there’s a strip of grass.

I went there with my caddie and I had about 10 balls in my bag and he stepped down on to the beach and I loosened up with half a dozen 8-irons. And the great Bobby Locke appeared with his caddie, Bill Golder, the bag was as big as him.

He had about eight balls in his bag and put them on this rough bit of grass and he sent Golder, who was about 65 then, down on to the beach. We spent the next five minutes chatting about this exhibition match and that exhibition match before I said, “Well, I must be off.”

He asked what the time was, I told him it was twenty to and he replied, “Oh God, I must be off.”

He never hit a ball, he waved to his caddie and he was off. It is bizarre to think these days that there are rows of Titleists and Nikes and there’s his caddie, who has clambered down across the beach, and he never hit a ball. He went to the 1st tee and went on to win the championship by three shots.

What are the three toughest shots on the Old Course?

The 14th tee shot when the wind is against, the 17th tee shot, and the 17th approach.

Then there’s the 11th, you always hear so many stories about people taking 10. It’s a weird course. The 1st and last are silly really, the fairway is 150 yards, but thank God they’ve never turned the Valley of Sin into a water hazard.

It is what it is, it’s been there for two or 300 years, you play the championship there and whoever has the lowest score wins, that’s the end of it.

You’ve been involved in course design for over 30 years, would you make any changes to the Old Course?

You wouldn’t change anything, I haven’t seen the new 17th tee so can’t really say. I can see it being absolutely disastrous as they will put it there in the morning and then the wind will get up and everybody will be chipping out sideways. I don’t see the point in it at all.

How difficult did the 17th play in your day?

On a still day it would be a drive and a 3-iron, now they hit a drive and an 8. I don’t think that’s a reason for putting the tee back there, they should have cultivated the rough.

You drove over the corner of the sheds, which was sort of acceptable, now you drive over the corner of the hotel but nobody complains too much.

When we played, if you went over the green the bank was full of rabbit holes and, if you went over the road, which is now tarmaced, it was full of great holes and lumps. If you hit the ball you were bloody lucky and you could easily take an eight.

What sort of wind will the players want?

You want the wind a little bit left to right on front nine so it is helping you home. You want it coming at you from 10 o’clock from the 2nd onwards and then taking you away from the out of bounds at 14 and 17.

They all say it’s a hooker’s course but if you could put your ball 280 yards and six yards in from the right side of every fairway you would be doing OK.

Peter Alliss: His Open top 10s

Peter Alliss

1953: 9th at Carnoustie, 10 behind Ben Hogan
1954: 8th at Birkdale, four behind Peter Thomson
1961: 8th at Birkdale, seven behind Arnold Palmer
1962: 8th at Troon, 17 behind Arnold Palmer
1969: 8th at Lytham, six behind Tony Jacklin

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Mark Townsend

Been watching and playing golf since the early 80s and generally still stuck in this period. Huge fan of all things Robert Rock, less so white belts. Handicap of 8, fragile mind and short game

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