Friday 18 October 2019

'Voice of Golf' hits the right notes as Lahinch honours legendary commentator Peter Alliss

BBC Golf commentator Peter Alliss. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images
BBC Golf commentator Peter Alliss. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Dermot Gileece

Peter and Jackie Alliss flew home from Shannon on Wednesday. Their departure was not long after the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open had got under way at their iconic port of call.

A visit to Lahinch was an opportunity to support their son, Simon, as the European Tour’s championship director.

It also allowed them to be bestowed with honorary overseas life membership of the host club, which they first visited 30 years ago.

The much-loved voice of golf on the BBC, turned 88 earlier this year. And where anno domini was hard to deny as he eased himself onto the presentation dais with the aid of a walking-stick, the years miraculously melted away when he began to speak.

As a thank-you for the club's gesture, he agreed to an indoor "Round with Alliss" in the company of former tour player, Gary Murphy. A packed audience responded delightedly to the familiar, vibrant tones which has enthralled successive generations.   

Dressed in a sober, grey sports-coat and dark slacks, he couldn't resist the rebellious addition of bright red socks.

"The goats are gone on their holidays I believe," he said, by way of assuring his listeners of his familiarity with their hallowed turf.

Then, after some reflections on his career in golf, he invited questions while  warning: "I'm not too good on Brexit."

"I don't think there are the shot-makers in the game these days," he went on, moving his arms with gentle ease to simulate a rhythmic golf swing. "Everything is very regimented.

"Twenty-one wins, eight Ryder Cups, 10 World Cups, I had. And my total winnings were just under £30,000."

It's a familiar Alliss theme, pointing to the poor rewards of his time on the fairways compared with the riches of the modern game. And by way of emphasis, he declared "bollox" to the popular, current assertion that "I don't play for the money."

On this occasion, he had the good grace to add that in his day, a Rolls Royce cost just under £2,500. And he famously indulged himself with a succession of these fine limousines, all bearing the number-plate 3 Put, as a self-deprecating reminder of his shortcomings with the blade.    

He went on to refer rather disparagingly to the limitations of would-be broadcasting rivals.

"I didn't say 'I know' all the time," he remarked. "Rather did I try to sound as if I went to school and learned a bit of grammar."

All of which was accompanied by economy of language.

I remember a particular telecast from the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, where this figure, isolated from the crowd around the short 17th, was looking towards the fabled waters with his back to the television camera.

It must have been the man's furtive look over his shoulder which prompted Alliss to remark: "He's he?" Then he let the mischief do its work.

The notion of a spectator peeing publicly at a legendary beauty spot, was Alliss as his best.

And economy of language would have come from his renowned predecessor, Henry Longhurst.

Memorably, when the camera settled on Doug Sanders after his disastrous missed 30-inch putt for the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews, the only words from Longhurst were: "Oh dear ….. there but for the grace of God..."

Finally, Alliss offered his version of a fundamental of golf. "It's a lot like snooker," he said. "You learn how to hit the ball then you learn how to play."

The new Lahinch blazers fitted perfectly and it was clear that husband and wife thoroughly enjoyed the occasion, adding to precious memories of the first Irish Open week in West Clare.

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