Few people anywhere in the game have, or have had, the wealth of knowledge Sir Michael Bonallack brought to one of the most important roles in world golf as Secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. In recognition of his role as one of the ambassadors of the game, Bonallack was selected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000 for his Lifetime Achievement in golf.
Bonallack had a distinguished playing career as a true amateur, one who worked full-time in sales of his family business during his years of competitive success. He never gave serious consideration to turning professional because purses were small in Europe before a formal tour was created. Instead, he played golf because he loved playing the game and played it at the highest level, representing his country as a member of nine Walker Cup teams.
The highlight for Bonallack was contributing to the victorious Great Britain and Ireland side in the 1971 Walker Cup. “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 said.
"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."
During the 1960s and early 1970s, he defined amateur golf in Britain. He won five British Amateurs between 1961 and 1970, won the English Stroke Play four times as well as being the leading amateur in the 1968 and 1971 Open Championship. Bonallack did not hit the longest ball or have the most conventional stance over his putts, but he had a knack for finding the bottom of the cup.
“Michael Bonallack was a remarkable player. He had a wonderful short game, which was of his own making. Big wide stance, nose sniffing the ball, short jabby swing, but all the putts went in the hole,” said former colleague Peter Alliss. “He had the most wonderful temperament. He appeared calm and yet he had that steely something that all great champions have.”
Soon after retiring from competitive play, he joined a golf course design company and served on a multitude of golf committees. Before taking up his post with the R&A in 1983, Bonallack was chairman of the European Professional Golfers Association and Golf Foundation and president of the English Golf Union.
As secretary of the R&A, Bonallack successfully guided the game into the 21st Century. “It’s one continual satisfaction to see the way in which golf is developing. Obviously, the expansion of The Open, and the fact that we can generate this money to put back into the development of the game is very satisfying,” he said.
Sir Michael Bonallack succeeded Mark McCormack as chairman of the Official World Golf ranking in 2004.
“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.
At the conclusion of his 16-year reign, he was named captain of the R&A, the game’s highest honorary position. Bonallack has won a host of awards in golf for his service to the game, but the knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II was the ultimate accolade. He somehow managed to keep the news from his wife, Angela. The day before they left for the U.S. Open, he abruptly informed Angela that he had something important to tell her.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“You aren’t going to be Mrs. Bonallack anymore,” Bonallack responded.
“Who is she and do I know her?” she countered.
He responded by saying, “No, you don’t, don’t be stupid. You’re going to be Lady Bonallack!”
Now he can add member of the World Golf Hall of Fame to his list of honors.