Former PGA Chairman and Vice-President Sir Michael Bonallack passes away

Former PGA Chairman and Vice-President Sir Michael Bonallack passes away


Sir Michael Bonallack, who has died at the age of 88, was a PGA Vice-President and former Chairman who is regarded as Britain’s greatest post World War II amateur golfer and one of the global game’s most influential and progressive administrators.

Born in Chigwell, Essex, in 1934, he first showed an aptitude for golf at the age of 10 while on a family holiday in Devon. His parents encouraged their son’s interest by giving him junior membership at Chigwell Golf Club and paying for him to be coached by Bert Hodson, the club’s pro and member of the Great Britain team that contested the Ryder Cup in 1931.  That investment was rewarded eight years later when Sir Michael won his first significant amateur title – the British Boys at Formby Golf Club.

Sir Michael went on to win the Amateur Championship five times and play in the Walker Cup in nine successive matches from 1957 to 1973, combining the roles of player-captain at Milwaukee Country Club in 1969 and two years later at St Andrews where Great Britain and Ireland ended a victory drought dating back to 1938. Despite his individual successes, Sir Michael regarded that as his most noteworthy achievement on the course and said: “It does not and cannot get any better than that.”

Sir Michael also won the English Amateur Championship title five times, was a four-time English stroke play champion, represented Great Britain and Ireland in six World Amateur Team Golf Championships for the Eisenhower Trophy, and was twice leading amateur in the Open Championship.

He finished 11th in 1959 at Muirfield and led the Championship at Carnoustie nine years later, an achievement by an amateur that was not emulated for five decades.

Although he could hold his own in elite company and boasted one of the best short games in the professional or amateur game, Sir Michael remained in the non-paid ranks.

“I didn’t think I was good enough until I was too old,” he explained. “When I saw how good Jack Nicklaus was and compared that to how good I thought I was, there was a big difference. I thought, ‘I might starve if I turn professional.’”


Instead, he opted to work in his family’s coach-building business and later as a course designer.

In addition, there were few, if any, areas in which his skills as an administrator were not utilised.

He was chairman of the European Tour in the early 1980s and, prior to that, the PGA. Sir Michael succeeded Doug Smith in 1976 in the aftermath of the internal turbulence that resulted in the creation of the autonomous Tournament Players Division. His skills as a diplomat coupled with the respect in which he was held in the world of golf did much to pour oil on what had been troubled waters. His tenure as Chairman ended in 1981 but his involvement with the PGA did not end there: he was elected Vice-President and was just one of four at the time of his passing in St Andrews.

Sir Michael was also chairman of the Golf Foundation from 1977-1982, president of the English Golf Union in 1982, a European Tour board member from 2001 to 2015, and chairman of the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) from 2004 to 2016.

His most influential role, however, began in 1983 when he succeeded Keith Mackenzie as Secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. He was in post for 15 years and credited with guiding the sport towards the 21st century, expanding The Open and ensuring the resulting profits were invested into the development of the game.

Sir Michael was made R&A Captain when he relinquished the role of Secretary in 1999 and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. Furthermore, he was one of the few officials to be invited to join Augusta National. Closer to home, he was awarded an OBE in 1971 and knighted in 1998.

Fittingly, Sir Michael’s last public appearance was as a guest at the opening ceremony of the 49th Walker Cup match played earlier this month at St. Andrews. Failing health prevented him from being present at this week’s Ryder Cup in Rome and his passing on its eve has cast a shadow over the event.

“The world of golf has lost a unique talent,” said PGA chief executive Robert Maxfield. “Sir Michael combined excellence on the course with a peerless ability off it to shape the game’s future. He was a loyal and steadfast supporter of the PGA, and we are indebted to him for his wisdom and guidance.” 

Sir Michael, who was pre-deceased by Lady Angela, his wife of more than 60 years, is survived by the couple’s four children, Glenna, Jane, Sara and Robert, 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. The PGA extends heartfelt condolences to them on their loss.


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