In 2011, Peter Alliss celebrated his 50th year of broadcasting the Open Championship for the BBC. Sports Illustrated noted the occasion by sitting Alliss down for an interview. The article began with a quote from Alliss’ teacher when he was but a wee 14-year-old in boarding school. She offered a harsh report: “Peter has a good brain when he decides to use it. He seems more interested in golf and flirting with girls, neither of which will bring him any success. I fear for his future.”
She was right about school, but wrong about golf.
Alliss has spent his life on the golf course, and what a life it’s been. He has been a champion player, an acclaimed course architect, ace administrator and a respected author. But his iconic television broadcasting since 1961 is why golf fans all over the world know him simply as “The Voice of Golf.”
“You can do all those sorts of things. It's sort of mind games and a bit of fun. And if it all comes off, it's wonderful. And if it doesn't come off, you're stupid. It's as simple as that.”
No one should have been surprised that Alliss was always attracted to the game. His father, Percy, was one of the finest players of his generation and represented Great Britain & Ireland in the 1933, 1935 and 1937 Ryder Cups. Peter was constantly following his father to Ferndown Golf Club, and after some success in youth tournaments, he quit school and turned professional at age 15.
He continued the Alliss family tradition, winning 23 tournaments worldwide during a professional career that lasted until 1974. He won three British PGA Championships, two Spanish Opens, one Italian Open, one Portuguese Open and one Brazilian Open. He captured two Vardon Trophies and represented England 10 times in World Cup competitions.
When Alliss made the first of what would be eight appearances for Great Britain & Ireland at the 1953 Ryder Cup, the Alliss family became the first ever to have father and son play in the event.
Peter Alliss helped actor Sean Connery with his golf game before the filming of “Goldfinger,” which involved a scene where James Bond played against the evil Goldfinger.
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.”