The golf world is in mourning at the passing of Peter Alliss but his memory will live on in the many stories circulating from people lucky enough to have encountered the legendary voice of golf. The eight-time Ryder Cup player, 31-time tournament winner, golf course designer, author and legendary golf commentator died suddenly but peacefully at home at age 89.
In my many years working with the European Tour, I never really got to meet Peter, but I greatly admired him. He had a way of captivating the radio listener or the TV viewer and, at times, he did so without saying anything. What I loved about his commentary was that he didn’t state the blinkin’ obvious as so many commentators do nowadays.
Who wants to hear a former multiple major champion or a fellow prolific winning golfer remarking: ‘Oh, he’s going to like that drive’ or ‘Now, that’s a great putt’. I scream at ‘the box’: “Tell us something we don’t know!”
This was at the heart of Peter Alliss, the radio and TV broadcaster. Peter told us stories, he even told us stories that had nothing to do with golf and he also gave us the wonderful tales from his own golf career. He knew his subject matter and what Peter did best was he spoke with warmth and, if I can use the word, affection for his audience. So, here is my Peter Alliss tale:
A media outing had been arranged at Loch Lomond ahead of a Scottish Open; the venue played host to a European Tour event first in late 1997 and right up to 2010. We were running late this particular morning so after quickly checking-in, it was straight to the first tee with no time for the pre tee-off pleasantries.
One of the chaps looked like he could play golf as he walked-up to his ball and smacked it out of sight down the first fairway. He hit the green in regulation and two-putted for a comfortable par. He did the same at the second hole before I managed to catch-up with him as we walked down the third.
“Hi Bert. I’m Bernie McGuire. What newspaper or magazine do you work for?” I asked. The reply sat me on my proverbial tail and close to falling about laughing: “Oh no, I’m the Loch Lomond club pro!”
It was Bert MacKay, then club pro at Loch Lomond and now the very acclaimed General Manager at Castlerock Golf Club in Northern Ireland, just a short drive from Royal Portrush. No wonder Bert looked like he could handle a golf club. I had been reporting at the Loch Lomond event for some seven years and had never bumped into Bert.
He told me the story of being approached by Peter Alliss in the days ahead of this particular Scottish Open. Peter requested a tour of the course in a motorised buggy to familiarise himself with any changes and ask all those questions a TV commentator would want to know from the host club professional.
Bert and I got to a spot on the par-5 third fairway that doglegs left, where the green is guarded by a large tree on the front edge of a water hazard guarding the entire right side of the green. Bert told me that he’d mentioned to Peter that from the spot we were standing, he’d managed to find the green in ‘2’ during a medal match and then proceeded to brilliantly hole, what I remember him saying, was a 15-foot curling putt for an eagle ‘3’.
Bert then drove Peter around the remainder of the course leaving Alliss satisfied upon disembarking that he’d been afforded the best of advice in being able to describe to the viewers how to find the shortest route around the stunning Loch Lomond venue.
Now this is what I admire about Peter Aliss, and I’ve told this story many times. At one stage in the official TV coverage of this particular Scottish Open, a player landed his tee shot close to where Bert’s ball lay ahead of his second shot at the third hole in the medal outing he had proudly mentioned to Peter.
As Scottish Open viewers watched the action, Peter remarked: “Now, I wonder whether ‘so-and-so’ can repeat what the Loch Lomond club professional Bert Mackay did during a recent club medal outing? Bert hit this superb second shot around the tree, avoiding the water, and finding the green. Bert then holed this curling 15-foot putt for an eagle 3.”
Well, you can imagine TV viewers all across the UK, Ireland and Europe were now sitting more upright in their cosy lounge chairs paying even closer attention while very much wondering whether this particular European Tour player could, in fact, duplicate Bert’s efforts. It is why Peter Alliss enjoyed such enormous respect for his broadcasting. He got out onto the golf course before the start of the coverage. He spoke to club pros like Bert and he brought ‘colour’ to the golf event he was calling. He will be missed.
Just a footnote to this story. I mentioned I have not had the pleasure of meeting Bert before this particular media outing. Since that day I must’ve ‘bumped’ into him about a dozen times. The last occasion was the pleasure of welcoming Bert as a guest to the 2019 Association of Golf Writers Annual Dinner at Royal Portrush. If you happen to venture to Castlerock, and I highly recommend you do, ask for Bert and I am sure he will retell this Peter Alliss story.
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