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The Essex Golf Union Remembers Sir Michael Bonallack

Sir Michael Bonallack, Essex, and Britain’s greatest post-War amateur golfer, who became one of the global game’s most noteworthy administrators, passed away in September 2023, aged 88.

A five-time winner of the Amateur Championship, Sir Michael was born in Chigwell, Essex.  He was the secretary of the Royal and Ancient for 16 years from 1983 and was credited with guiding the sport towards the 21st century, expanding the Open, and ensuring that the resulting profits were invested in the development of the game.

Bonallack was held in such high regard throughout the world game that he was one of the few officials invited to join Augusta National, where he remained a member until his passing in St Andrews on the 26th of September 2023.  He was the chairman of the European Tour in the early Eighties and the PGA, the professional body representing club pros in the UK and Ireland.

The last two named bodies oversee the Europe arm of the Ryder Cup, and tributes were made at the 44th match in Rome.

A brilliant golfer, who boasted one of the best short games in the professional or amateur game, Bonallack remained in the non-paid ranks, choosing to work in his family’s 

coach-building business instead. Later, he worked as a course designer. “After seeing Jack Nicklaus play, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to put food on the table,” he said.

Nevertheless, he was adept enough to finish 11th at the 1958 Open and 10 years later to lead the championship, an amateur mark not matched for five decades.  A nine-time player in the Walker Cup, Bonallack believed his biggest feat was to be the winning player-captain at St Andrews in 1971, the first time Great Britain and Ireland had beaten the United States in 38 years. “It does not and cannot get any better than that,” he said.

Yet perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to become better known for his work behind the scenes.  “He has bridged the gap between the history and heritage of the Open and golf as it moved into the commercial age,” said the late Mark McCormack, the founder of IMG. “And he’s done it with great taste and tact.

Bonallack was heard every year on BBC TV when introducing the winner of the Open on the 18th green.  “And the champion golfer of the year is…” became a catchphrase he was often asked to repeat in retirement.

Bonallack was knighted in 1998 and two years later inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He lost his wife of more than 60 years, Lady Angela, last year.  They had four children, 10 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Martin Webb is a keen amateur golfer and has been the editor of Suffolk Norfolk & Essex Golf Magazine since 2023.

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