26th September 2023
Sir Michael Francis Bonallack, Kt, OBE, a past Walker Cup player, captain and administrator has died aged 88.
He was born in Chigwell, Essex, England on 31st December 1934 and died on 26th September 2023 in St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland.
He represented Thorpe Hall G.C., near Southend-on-Sea in Essex, throughout his amateur career.
His list of playing achievements is unlikely to ever be matched again and he is in my opinion the best GB&I amateur golfer of all time.
He first came to prominence when he won the British Boys Championship in 1952, beating Alec Shepperson on the 37th hole of the final at Formby GC.
He went on to win the Amateur Championship five times; the last three being in successive years: –
1961 v. Jimmy Walker 6&4 at Turnberry
1965 v. Clive Clark 2&1 at Porthcawl
1968 v. Joe Carr 7&6 at Troon
1969 v. Bill Hyndman (USA) 3&2 at Hoylake
1970 v. Bill Hyndman (USA) 8&7 at Newcastle, County Down
He also won the English Amateur Championship five times (1962, ’63, ’65, ’67 and ’68) and the English Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship (Brabazon Trophy) four times (1964, ’68, ’69 (tied with Rodney Foster) and ’71).
Other notable victories came in the Lytham Trophy (1965T and ’72), Berkshire Trophy (1957, ’61, ’65, ’68, ’70, ’71T), St. George’s Grand Challenge Cup (1965, ’68, and ’81), H.R.H. Prince of Wales Challenge Cup (1967), Hampshire Hog (1957 and 1979) and the no longer contested Golf Illustrated Gold Vase (1961T, ’67T, ’68, ’69T, ’71 and ’75).
He represented GB&I in nine Walker Cup teams, two as playing Captain (in 1957, ’59, ’61, ’63, ’65, ’67, ’69, ’71 and ’73). He played 25 individual games, more than any other GB&I player in the history of the match and is only beaten by Jay Sigel’s 33 on the USA side. His record reads won 8, lost 14 and halved 3. The highlight for Bonallack was contributing to the victorious side in 1971 where GB&I won the cup for the first time in 33 years. “I was playing captain that year when we won over the Old Course at St. Andrews, and it does not get, cannot get, any better than that,” he later recalled.
Bonallack also represented GB&I in six World Amateur Team Golf Championships, for the Eisenhower Trophy, the last three as playing Captain (1960, ’62, ’64, ’66, ’68, ’70 and ’72). In 1968 he tied for the Individual title with Vinny Giles from the USA. He also represented GB&I in biennial matches against The Rest of Europe between 1958-72.
Sir Michael represented England in the Home International Matches on 17 occasions (1957-72, ’74). He captained the team between 1962-1967. His record was played 131; won 79, halved 15 and lost 37. He also played in the British Commonwealth Team in 1959, 1963, 1967 and 1971, captaining the team in 1971 and 1975 (non-playing).
He played in 13 Open Championships. His best finish coming in his first when he tied 11th at Muirfield. He didn’t win the Silver Medal that year but secured it in 1968 (Carnoustie – T21) and again in 1971 (Royal Birkdale – T22). He considered these results his main golfing disappointment, reflecting in later years: “I wish I had done better in The Open”.
Good friend Donald Steel, writing for Country Life in July 1983, upon Bonallack’s competitive retirement, described him as a “fierce competitor” before adding “I have never seen anyone hole more critical putts than he did or impose the same magical touch on a whole variety of wedge and bunker play.”
He married Angela Ward in 1958. A celebrity couple of the day the announcement of their earlier engagement made the front page news of almost every daily newspaper. Angela played in six Curtis Cup teams during her own golfing career (1956, ’58, ’60, ’62, ’64 and ’66).
Michael’s younger sister Sally (Barber) was also a very accomplished player, representing GB&I in the Curtis Cup in 1962.
Michael Bonallack joined The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1960. Over these years he was Chairman of the Amateur Status Committee (1975-79) and of the Selection Committee (1975-79) and a Member of the Rules of Golf Committee (1979-83), the General Committee (1975-1978 and 1999-2000) and the Heritage Committee (2006-10).
At the Club’s Autumn Meeting in September 2013 he become the 16th Honorary Member of The Royal and Ancient. He had previously been made a Life Member in 1999. As such his portrait is displayed in the Big Room of The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse.
Sir Michael Bonallack’s R&A Portrait (Photo: British Golf Museum)
After his stellar playing career Sir Michael moved smoothly into golf administration. He was appointed Secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1983, succeeding Keith Mackenzie.
As Secretary of the R&A, Bonallack helped to guide the game into the 21st Century. “He has bridged the gap between the history and heritage and tradition of The Open Championship and golf in general as it moved into the commercial age globally and internationally and he’s done it with great taste and tact and really stands almost alone as someone who has handled that crossing.” said the late Mark McCormack, chairman of International Management Group.
He retired as Secretary in 1999 after 16 years and was immediately nominated for the captaincy of the club for the millennium 1999-2000 year. There were two themes that he sought to bring to the role during his term of office: “…maintaining behavioural standards and ensuring that amateur golf is not destroyed by over-commercialism and ridiculously large prizes”.
The Bonallack Trophy, a biennial amateur competition played between teams from Europe and Asia-Pacific, was first played in 1998. The competition named in honour of Sir Michael continues to grow in importance and has helped to raise the profile of the game, particularly in the Far East, Indian and Australasia areas.
Sir Michael held many important positions in the golfing world and over the years received numerous honours and awards. Most notably he was knighted in 1998 becoming the third ‘golfing knight’ after Sir Henry Cotton and Sir Bob Charles. Sir Nick Faldo subsequently joined this select group in 2009.
Lady Bonallack died on Friday 1st July 2022 at the age of 85. She had been in poor health for a few years and finally succumbed to the COVID-19 virus.
Clearly in poor health Sir Michael was a very welcome guest at the opening ceremony of the 49th Walker Cup match played earlier this month at St. Andrews.
Sir Michael’s was a life well lived and he leaves a legacy to the game that can only be matched by a handful of others.
Copyright © Mark Eley. All rights reserved.