Sir Michael Bonallack, the most successful British amateur golfer of the post-war era, and one of golf’s most pre-eminent administrators, died yesterday (September 26) in St Andrews at the age of 88.
Born in Chigwell, Essex, in 1934, Bonallack first showed an aptitude for golf on a family holiday to Devon when, at the age of 10, his parents spotted his skill while playing around on the beach. He was given membership at Chigwell Golf Club and began to receive coaching from the club pro. A few years later, while still a junior, he joined Thorpe Hall Golf Club and shortly after won his first significant amateur title – the 1952 British Boys. He won the Essex County Championship in 1954, aged 20, and went on to win the title 10 more times, the last in 1972.
Sir Michael won countless elite level amateur tournaments and championships throughout his golfing career, including five British Amateur titles between 1951-70 and five English Amateur titles. He was also a four-time English stroke-play champion.
He played in 11 Open Championships, winning the Silver Medal as the leading amateur in 1968 and 1971, and finishing a career high 11th in 1959. He also played in the US Masters three times (’66, ’69 and ’70), missing the cut on each occasion.
He represented GB&I in six World Amateur Team Championships, the last three outings as captain, and he tied for the Individual title with American Vinny Giles in 1968. He was a member of the Walker Cup team in nine consecutive years from 1957 and captained the team to success in the event at St Andrews in 1971. In total, he played in 131 matches in England internationals, winning 79 of them.
His services to golf continued after his playing heyday and he was chairman of the European Tour from 1976-82 and held the same role at the Golf Foundation between 1977-82. He was also president of the English Golf Union in 1982 and was appointed Secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in 1983, a role he held until 1999.
He also served as President of the Golf Club Managers’ Association (1974–84), Chairman of the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland (1976–81), and President of the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (1999-2016).
He received the USGA’s Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship in 1972 and the Donald Ross Award in 1991 and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. He was awarded an OBE for his services to golf in 1971 and then made a knight in 1998.
Bonallack married legendary amateur golfer Angela Ward in 1958 and they were married for 64 years until her death in July last year.
During his time as secretary of the R&A he was once asked: “Most people play golf to escape work. What do you do to relax?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied: “I play golf.”