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Peter Alliss: Legendary BBC golf commentator dies at 89

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Peter Alliss
Alliss began his commentary career while still a player

Peter Alliss, the legendary BBC golf commentator, has died at the age of 89.

Alliss, known as ‘the voice of golf’ to fans around the world, has been synonymous with the BBC’s golf coverage for more than half a century.

Having first appeared on the BBC in 1961, he was made lead golf commentator in 1978 after retiring as a player.

“It is with great sadness we announce the passing of golfing and broadcast legend Peter Alliss,” said Alliss’ family.

In a statement, they described his death as “unexpected but peaceful”.

They added: “Peter was a devoted husband, father and grandfather and his family ask for privacy at this difficult time.”

Alliss provided the soundtrack to many of golf’s most memorable moments, with November’s Masters the last tournament he covered.

“Peter was the voice of golf. He was an absolute master of his craft with a unique ability to capture a moment with a magical turn of phrase that no one else could match,” said Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport.

As a player, Alliss won 31 tournaments and he and his father Percy were the first father-son duo to compete in the Ryder Cup, when it was a contest between Great Britain and the United States.

In 2012, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement category.

‘One of the greatest broadcasters of his generation’ – Alliss as a commentator

After retiring from playing golf – in a professional sense, at least – Alliss moved into the commentary booth, where his descriptive and dead-pan style became the soundtrack to the BBC’s coverage of major golf events.

“His inimitable tone, humour and command of the microphone will be sorely missed. His often legendary commentaries will be long remembered,” said the BBC.

Alliss’ first experience behind the microphone came at the 1961 Open Championship, remarkably, in the same tournament he was challenging Arnold Palmer on the course.

Between trying to stop the American great claiming victory, with Alliss eventually finishing seven shots adrift of Palmer, the Englishman also cut his teeth critiquing his fellow professionals.

In 1978 he was appointed the BBC’s chief golf commentator following the death of his co-host and great friend Henry Longhurst.

“I’m there as an old player, a lover of the game and a good weaver of stories,” is how Alliss once described his television role.

To the majority of British golf fans – and many more across the world – his soothing voice became synonymous as the audio accompaniment to the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods winning the sport’s biggest prizes.

Only a few weeks ago, Alliss described the moment when world number one Dustin Johnson won the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

“After six decades behind the microphone, he was just a month ago at the incredible age of 89 doing what he loved – commentating for the BBC on the Masters Golf,” said Slater.

“He transcended his sport as one of the greatest broadcasters of his generation.”

Peter Alliss in the commentary booth
Peter Alliss’ broadcasting career spanned almost 60 years

‘He’s gone ga-ga’ – Alliss’ most memorable quotes

  • “What on earth are you doing? He’s gone ga-ga. To attempt to hit the ball out of there is pure madness.” – his iconic description of Frenchman Jean van de Velde throwing away a three-shot lead on the final hole of the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie.
  • “It’s like turning up to hear Pavarotti sing and finding out he has laryngitis.” – reflecting on Tiger Woods shooting a third-round 81 at the 2002 Open.
  • “Looks a bit like Jurassic Park in there.” – describing the rough on the 14th at Royal St George’s, which hosted the 2003 Open.
  • “One of the good things about rain in Scotland is that most of it ends up as scotch.” – on poor weather conditions during a tournament in Scotland.

Following in his father’s footsteps & teaching James Bond – Alliss as a player

With his father Percy established as one of England’s leading professional players in the 1920s and 1930s, it was perhaps inevitable the golfing genes were passed down to Alliss.

Alliss was born in Berlin, where his father was the professional at the glamorous Wannsee club, and apparently weighed a European record 14lbs 11oz when he arrived in 1931.

Those hereditary blessings helped him blossom into a fine ball striker himself, establishing Alliss as one of the brightest young players of the time.

Between 1954 and 1969, he won 21 professional tournaments – including three British PGA Championships – and was twice winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy, given to the leading European player of the year.

The biggest title evaded him, however. Alliss came within four shots of lifting the Claret Jug in 1954, one of five top-10 finishes he had at the Open Championship.

Peter Alliss
Alliss (left) was said to have given Sean Connery (second right) some golf tips before the filming of Goldfinger, which involved James Bond playing against the eponymous villain

Part of the reason he did not claim more of the biggest individual prizes seemed to be his infamously unreliable putting.

“I began to twitch on the short putts,” he said after his decision to retire from international golf aged 38.

Yet, with the same self-deprecating humour he would bring to his commentary, Alliss made light of his deficiency.

Each of his luxury cars – one of the things his princely golf earnings of £30,000 allowed him to indulge – was said to have been fitted with a personalised number-plate: ‘3 Put’.

‘Golf will never be the same’ – Lineker & Cleese among those paying tribute

Following the news on Sunday of Alliss’ death, tributes poured in from former and current players, golf’s governing bodies, celebrities, journalists and fans.

The European Tour said it was “deeply saddened” at his death, describing him as “truly one of golf’s greats”.

“Peter made an indelible mark on everything he did in our game, but especially as a player and a broadcaster, and he leaves a remarkable legacy,” said Keith Pelley, European Tour chief executive.

Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who has also fronted the BBC’s Masters and Open coverage in the past, and Monty Python actor John Cleese were among the first to mourn Alliss’ passing.

BBC director general Tim Davie said Alliss’ commentary “brought the game to life” for millions of people.

“Nobody told the story of golf quite like Peter Alliss,” he added.

“He captured golf’s drama with insight, wisdom, and humanity. He was a legendary commentator.”

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