LONDON – Peter Alliss has enjoyed a long, fruitful career in golf because he hasn’t taken the game too seriously. That trait shines through in his commentary.
Alliss transitioned seamlessly from a successful playing career to an equally accomplished television career because golf came secondary to his interest in human nature. “I think the reason I’ve had such a long run is due to the fact I’ve never really been that interested in the golf,” Alliss said. “I’m always more interested in what’s going on outside the ropes than inside them.”
Alliss, 81, an Englishman, will be inducted May 7 into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
On this side of the Atlantic, Alliss, aka “The Voice of Golf,” has brought the game to millions via the BBC, observing things that often elude other commentators.
Alex Hay, who died last year, marveled at his BBC co-commentator’s ability to “find amusement in the goings-on around the golf course.”
“He’d be the one to wonder aloud if the man carrying the ice-cream cone over a sand dune at the Open Championship would make it without dropping the cone,” Hay once said. “He’d be more interested in the imaginary golf swing a child was making outside the ropes than the swing the leader was making inside them. He saw things the rest of us didn’t see, and could encapsulate it in a way that brought humor and enlightenment to the commentary. It’s a wonderful skill few people have.”
Alliss, a native Berliner, was the son of a former Ryder Cup player, the late Percy Alliss. “I was fortunate enough to have a father who was one of the best professionals of his time,” Alliss said. “There was never any thought about doing anything else.”
Alliss’ future seemed destined in 1946, when at age 15 he lost in the British Boys semifinals. On the train ride home from Scotland, Percy offered his son a job as an unpaid assistant at Ferndown Golf Club in England.
“So that’s how it began for me,” Peter Alliss said, “in a very modest, modest way with a famous father.”
Like many good club pros of that era, Alliss mixed serving his members with playing tournament golf. He won 23 tournaments worldwide, including three British PGA Championships and, in a three- week span in 1958, the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese opens.
Alliss played on nine British Ryder Cup teams in the 1950s and ’60s. In typical self-deprecation, his license plate read “3Putt” after a pivotal mistake on the 18th hole to lose a 1953 match against Jim Turnesa.
Alliss never planned a TV career. In 1960, he received a letter from the BBC asking Alliss to comment on the 1961 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Five decades later, Alliss has endured because of his unique perspective.
The Hall of Fame invite was just as unexpected, he said.
“I have enjoyed the game of golf so much,” Alliss said. “It’s been perhaps my world but not my life. I enjoy too many silly conversations and the odd glass of pinot grigio and sort of sitting around and waffling about it. “I think there’s a lot of nonsense talked today by my fellow commentators. They make it sound as if Luke Donald gets to the turn in 36, he knew he had to come home in 31, and he did it, by God! No, he didn’t!
“And I love it when they say ‘control the spin.’ Obviously taking two clubs too many, pitches on the back of the green, goes in, ooh, like that, oh, that’s wonderful control of the spin. It’s absolute bollocks.”
Alliss offers enlightened doses of hard reality. He’s a golf original.