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September 28, 2023

A golfing great: Sir Michael Bonallack OBE, 1934-2023

The Golf Foundation remembers Sir Michael Bonallack OBE, Britain’s most successful amateur golfer and a former President of our charity, who has died at the age of 88.

Apart from his considerable golfing achievements which included twice being leading amateur at The Open, playing as a successful Walker Cup Captain and winner of the Amateur Championship and the English Amateur Championship five times, Sir Michael played a significant role in the development of the game.

This included him being Captain and Secretary of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and also President of the Golf Foundation between 2001-2006, in this time helping our charity to create greater opportunities for young people from all backgrounds to enjoy the benefits of the game.

Former Golf Foundation Chairman Ian Peacock OBE said: “We were all very sorry to hear the news of Sir Michael’s passing. During his time as President of the Golf Foundation, Michael played a vital role in helping the Foundation through a then challenging time. With the support of key partners, he helped steer the charity into the secure status in the golfing world that the Golf Foundation enjoys today.”

Apart from bringing his huge experience and influence in golf to help our charity, Sir Michael was a constant encourager of the Golf Foundation’s Board of Trustees as the Foundation team sought to widen its scope in improving the ‘player pathway’ for children, from early tries at golf in school, to experiencing a positive golf club environment for their future. Indeed, in the annual Golf Foundation Presidents’ Awards, ‘The Bonallack Award’ is presented to a project that has demonstrated a highly successful pathway from schools to club membership.

Born in 1934 in Chigwell, Bonallack was an outstanding junior player, winning the Essex Boys Championship in 1950, while in 1952 he claimed the Boys’ Amateur Championship at Formby. In 1959 this early promise was fulfilled when he tied for 11th place in The Open, at Muirfield, his best finish.

Bonallack went on to win The Amateur Championship and the English Amateur Championship five times, including a hat-trick in The Amateur from 1968–1970.

The R&A has published a full tribute to Sir Michael, which includes the following: ‘During the 1960s and early 1970s, he simply defined amateur golf in Britain. Twice he won the Silver Medal as leading amateur at The Open in 1968 (Carnoustie) and 1971 (Royal Birkdale). He also claimed the English Amateur Stroke Play Championship and the Brabazon Trophy on four occasions, as well as lifting the Lytham Trophy twice.

‘Bonallack played golf because he loved playing and also played it at the highest team level, representing his country in the Walker Cup nine times between 1959 and 1973. The win in 1971 at St Andrews was the first time Great Britain and Ireland had emerged victorious since 1938. Over the Old Course, it was one of the highlights of his career. “I was playing captain that year when we won,” said Bonallack, who was awarded an OBE in 1971. “It does not get, cannot get, any better than that.”’

Sir Michael attended the opening ceremony of the recent Walker Cup match at St Andrews, and was given a standing ovation by the many fans who recognised his part in the Walker Cup and in the history of the game itself.

The thoughts and condolences of the Golf Foundation team go out to all of Sir Michael’s family and friends at this time.  

Read The R&A tribute in full here.

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