For all their success, however, neither Alliss captured the Open Championship. “My biggest regret is that the Alliss family deserved to win an Open Championship,” he told Sports Illustrated. “It would have been nice. Father finished in the top 10 several times, and so did I. I got to within three or four shots of the winner, but it wasn’t to be.”
Ironic then, that Alliss would step into the BBC’s broadcast booth at the 1961 Open Championship and begin a run that would forever stamp his name on the event.
History smiled on Alliss from the start, as Arnold Palmer earned his first career Open victory that year at Royal Birkdale. Since then, Alliss’ voice has been a part of every special moment at golf’s oldest major championship, from Jack Nicklaus’ playoff win at St. Andrews in 1970 to the Duel in the Sun between Nicklaus and Tom Watson in 1977 to Jean van de Velde’s implosion at Carnoustie in 1999 to the dominance of Tiger Woods at the Old Course in 2000 and 2005.
For years, he made a famous pairing with another British broadcast legend, Henry Longhurst. “Henry was drawn to me and I to him,” Alliss said. “I was the cheeky chap who went where angels feared to tread, and he was Longhurst the Great.”
But Alliss was never content to just sit in the booth. He has been a part of so much of the game in England, including two years as Captain of the British Professional Golfers Association (1962, 1987), a past president of the British Greenkeepers’ Association and the first president of the European Women’s Professional Golfers’ Association (1980-84). Alliss has written more than 20 books about the game and has co-designed more than 50 courses, including The Belfry, the iconic venue for the Ryder Cup in 1985, 1989, 1993 and 2002.
It has all added up to one of the most famous names in golf and a Hall of Fame career. Golf Digest once called Alliss “the greatest golf commentator ever.” Of course in his droll, understated manner, Alliss simply says he’s “there as an old player, a lover of the game and a good weaver of stories.”