Peter Alliss - A Chat with the Voice of Golf

We have all grown up listening to his voice at the golf over the years, quite often not knowing what faux pas might be coming next...



It seems when we are young we think we know it all but nobody will listen to us. Thereafter we learn we didn’t know it all and can become reticent to give our honest opinions to the world, keeping a close circle of people who we can really be ourselves with. We go to work in the morning, put on a our professional hats and make idle chat around the office lunch area. We keep up appearances so to speak. And then quite beautifully it seems we get to a certain age where we realise the absurdity of it all, throw away any inhibitions and just think ‘fuck it’... I’ll say and do as I please to anybody who wants to listen!

Peter Alliss turned 84 this year and has been the voice of golf for over 50 years. An absolute legend who is completely synonymous with the game he loves with a turn of phrase that has graced our living rooms for decades.

Sure he makes the odd gaffe and gets a name wrong every so often but does anyone really care? More importantly in an age where the youngest and most vibrant players on tour are media-trained to within an inch of their lives and under strict instructions from management companies to not upset sponsors and golf commentators often mind-numbingly dull it is absolutely refreshing to hear someone who simply doesn’t care and will just share his opinion, a sprinkling of wit and have fun doing it.

In this age of millennials having an opinion on social media ironically young people interested in golf may well have more in common with an 84-year old Alliss than with people in the sport who are half the great man’s age!

Below is pretty much an unedited transcript of an incredible chat with a legend on so many topics within the game...

*For anyone under the age of 84 we have also put links in for some of the more obscure references!

**We recommend watching this video first to so you can imagine his voice as you read!

I asked Peter about the image of golf. Note how he talks about a complete other sport within two sentences and has conducted a trademark obituary straight off the bat. I’m straight away in no doubt as to who is in control of this interview!

The people who play it professionally have done nothing for the masses because they have slowed it down. They are the ones in every game. Cricket... my dear old friend Richie Benaud who has sadly passed away, they used to play 25 overs an hour and now they only do 12. All the games have slowed down, much to the detriment of the spectators who come to be entertained.

They have had to bring out a set of rules now as to how long you can take over a shot! I think I’m right in saying the first player gets 50 seconds once he gets to the ball, with the other players getting 40 seconds. If you go back 30-40 years and say that’s what we are going to do you would have been laughed out of court.

In my day one of the greatest players was a South African called Bobby Locke, we played in two-balls and the spectators were allowed on the fairways. He used to take anything from two and three quarter to three hours to go round the course and nobody wanted to play with him because he was so bloody slow!

You had to get to the first tee through the crowd, through them to hit your second shot and through them again to get on the green and then on the next tee and so on… and he always had the gallery because he was the best player.

All these factors come in to it which nobody ever wants to talk about it!


Next up I ask Peter what golf needs. This is where I hear my first reference to someone I have never heard of, first swear word and first omelette-based anecdote. We are both happy and settled in for the ride.

The problem with golf is it needs space and it needs time. You can have a squash court, a tennis court, cricket and football takes up a bit of space but it’s only a ground. Golf wonders over anything to 220-230 acres depending on the site.

It’s a decline in manners and standards that are creeping in. The way we behave now is different to how we behaved 50 or 60 years ago in every department, every part of life. Nobody even swore 50 years ago then Kenneth Tynan said the magic word ‘Fuck’ on the television and now you have people who can’t make an omelette without swearing blindly. And that’s all OK?

 

Reeling from the omelette I regain composure to ask about young golfers copying the people they see on TV...

The young people copy. In my day a lot of players played without a left hand glove. A couple did and from those some used to take their glove off to chip and putt because they said it gave them more feel. Charlie Ward did, he was one of our great players from Little Aston, and because he was very good at it everyone copied.

I don’t know who started it but what about when you tap down spike marks around the hole? Why would you make the course better for your opponents coming up behind? Maybe I’m being cynical but now everyone does it. They want to people to think ‘What a good chappy he is, look at him, he’s keeping the course lovely and tidy for the players behind him.’

Bunkers are raked, everything is done for the player’s benefits at the top level and it slows them down, there is now no thought of someone going on holiday and playing 36 or 45 holes in a day… it’s impossible!

I Google ‘Colonel Blimp’ and ‘Kummel’ before asking what needs changing...

You can’t change much in golf. The R&A must have a lot of money to waste as they have just had a survey done on how we can play quicker and why young people aren’t in the game. The only way you can do this is to play quicker!

I’ve been banging on for 20 years when all the surveys in the world have been done telling them the only people in the world who can speed up play are the professional golfers. If each one in the three-ball saves just one minute per hole that would be 54 minutes, the thick end of an hour! You’ve cracked it!

You can’t change the game of golf too much you see, it is what it is. You can change cricket by saying we are only going to bowl 120 balls or whatever but it’s just posh village cricket. It is taking the skill and finesse away from it. The only skill is being able to fill 30 or 40 thousand people in a stadium and to entertain them. To do this in golf you’d have to have 9-hole golf or 6-hole tournaments.

It’s like the 100m. The most entertaining event in the Olympics is the 100m. Not the 5,000m or the 10,000m… bugger me are they going around again? And the marathon… Jesus! But the 100m… Gee Whizz… look at them go!

It is the same with anything, you can’t speed up the 100m, what are you going to do, make it 85m?

If somebody like Tiger Woods in his heyday had called a meeting of the 500 top players in the world and said ‘Look boys, this is becoming silly, we have got to get around quicker,’ that would have helped.

You look at them now, they have these yardage charts, their caddies have them too, they are writing books halfway around the golf course… What the hell they write in them I do not know!!! Grass up in the air, they ponce about, they pontificate and they still go 20 yards through the green!


I’m buzzing here. When Peter said ‘Gee Whizz’ I got really giddy and the fact he was really passionate about people being slow on the golf course made me happy too. I ask him about natural and feel golfers and whether we have any left...

Yes, we lost it a while ago. The game is now played all through the air, we used to play it along the ground. Smash it and if it bounces on the green and goes through they all bitch and moan and if it goes in the bunker and don’t get a perfect lie… ‘Oooh look at this.’ That’s why they call them hazards, it is supposed to be difficult if you go in there! And they complain now if they knock it in a bunker on a Par 5 and they can’t knock it out with a 2-iron on to the green!

They have taken much of the ‘feel’ out of the game. Before all the courses were paced up and down and the greens were watered too much you had to play by eye. Pitch it short and let it run up.

In my opinion the whole point that they talk and pontificate is ludicrous but nothing is going to change it because that is the way it is! That is the way our society is...


I can feel him getting more and more passionate. It’s brilliant. So I ask about the BBC losing the live Open coverage and whether this will affect people taking up the game.

Well the BBC haven’t lost The Open, they are still going to have the highlights and when it is all trimmed down you can watch the whole lot in two and a half hours instead of watching all day. But I agree, 25 years ago there was Pro-Celebrity golf, ‘A round with Alliss’, The Ryder Cup, The Walker Cup, The Amateur Champs and others. There were 80 days a year with golf on the BBC, now we have just 10 days of it.

You look at any reports asking Faldo or Norman how they got into golf and they’ll say they saw it on the television. They saw Jack Nicklaus at Augusta or Terry Wogan or Sean Connery on Pro-Celebrity golf and they thought, well I’ll have a go at that… it’s all gone! Now there is nothing for them to watch.

Peter then talks me through television in the 40s and 50s. It is probably not relevant to a golf magazine but I’m intrigued nonetheless. I ask about Sky.

I think Sky are incredible, the amount of time and effort they put into golf. I believe they are making over 200 programmes, mens, womens, seniors, Trilby Tour, footballers going to Marbella and having a weekend’s piss up down there, it’s quite extraordinary, it’s wonderful… but it costs you £60 or £80 a month or whatever it is.

 


I’m almost in tears laughing thinking about him watching Matt Le Tissier or someone pissed up in Marbella on Sky Sports. I manage to ask more about costs though.

Time and expense come in to it, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can go to any pro shop, walk up boldly and say ‘Can you help me, have you got a couple of second hand clubs you can sell me?’ There is no reason to spend more than a couple of hundred quid, then you go to a driving range. We could do with more little pitch and putt places but you can’t suddenly just change things though.

The economic situation doesn’t help. Anyone with young families the first thing that goes is the golf subscription and then the gymnasium at £60 per month to make ends meet.

Before the times of the Golf Foundation, which is a wonderful organisation that gives young people the opportunity to have lessons at school or once a week, when I was a lad the only youngsters that played were children of members of golf clubs. 50 years ago not much was done to encourage them, the attitude was rather like women, they are a bloody nuisance on the golf course.

 

I’m worried about what he is going to say here...

They failed to realise that the golf clubs were kept going by women before they went out to work, then you had working women and they wanted to play at the weekend and the men complained because they had competitions or whatever.

But you have to accommodate women and make it work. Whether it be booking out 1030-1200 on a Saturday for the women to play, it’s not impossible, it just needs a bit of give and take and a bit of common sense.

Problem is there are so many other distractions now. I don’t wish to sound old fashioned or dinosaurish but when I was a boy up until 14-15 we did bicycle out, we did go and make camps in the woods, we did play Cowboys and Indians… now it’s politically incorrect to play Cowboys and Indians! We didn’t have computers and television all day. All these things have played their part.

 

Ah phew, Peter was actually very nice and progressive about women playing golf contrary to the stuff spun out in the press. I ask about the top players inspiring people to take up the game...

Tiger Woods has done a bit but we were told that when he was six or seven years into a fantastic career, here was this good-looking black guy, we are going to have thousands of black kids playing golf… it hasn’t happened!

Maybe it will happen with Rory McIlroy and people will think ‘Oh, I’d like to be like him’ but then they’ll be back to playing on their computer. I can’t see a revolution taking place in the foreseeable future, it will happen if it happens, that’s all!

 

Peter then carries on about commentators without prompt. I sit back and enjoy.

You know I listen to the commentators now and in my opinion they talk nonsense. They see a ball bounce on the green and spin to the hole and they say ‘Look at that wonderful spin control.’ What about the time it pitches near the hole and goes in the other direction then? You can’t control the spin to that precise level, it’s impossible! But they make it sound as if it is so they create false impressions. There are so many people at the highest level, they can hit the ball well but they don’t know how to play.

I’m very fond of snooker and I think it’s very tied up with golf, it is the same principle. You choose the shot, you choose what you are going to do. You see people who are miles ahead, it’s a difficult one, if he goes for it he’ll win the frame. And he misses it and they say ‘Why didn’t he play a different shot?’It’s exactly the same!

The flags are on the sides of the green and they say you have to know which side of the green you need to miss on… How on earth do you know which side of the green you are going to miss the green on?! Its nonsense! It’s ridiculous!! It doesn’t make sense!!!

 

From me asking about Rory, Peter managed to bring in a snooker analogy and slate other commentators! I find myself agreeing with him though. I ask about how modern players like Rory play the game.

McIlroy has got feel but he hasn’t got the feel of the players of yesteryear. It was a much more difficult game 40 years ago. They talk about metal headed drivers make the ball more difficult to shape, so in other words it goes straighter. They will rake the bunkers, everything is beautifully prepared, the golf balls are all uniform and magnificent, everything is for the player’s benefit.

We had great players who had a hodge-podge of clubs, they’d walk in to a shop, pick up a club and go ‘Oh, hey I like that one’ then pick up another and they were completely different. One’s shaft was whippy and the other was stiff but I know what to do with this one.

Christy O’Connor, one of the greatest ball strikers I’ve ever seen in my life. He had a very thin edged lofted club, before pitching wedges. Being brought up on those Irish courses where they had rough grass around the greens like they do at the US Open. He was a miracle man, I swear the edge of his clubs were sharpened by Gillette.

You see the players these days, they have great long swings and get results but they have very little feel. You very seldom see people chipping up with a 6 or 7 iron and running it up, they all get a wedge out, close the face down and whack it.

 

And the technological and physical advancements?

It’s too late. They should have looked in to this 40 years ago. Now you just have to keep on top of it and don’t let it get anymore.

Gary Player is always banging on about his day and my day when until George Archer who won the Masters in mid-60s none of the great players were over 6 foot tall. Snead, Thompson, Sarazen were all between 5’7” and 5’11”.

Now, there aren’t many good players under 6 foot tall. They all smash it and it won’t be long until they are hitting it 400 yards. The further you hit it the narrower the fairways become though. You can still have great competitions on courses that are 6,800-7,000 yards. Why? Because there are tree-lined fairways, proper bunkers (not flat Las Vegas style) and small greens. And have real hazards round about. You don’t have to put the flag two yards from the edge of the greens to make it more difficult, that’s just stupid!


I ask if they are building new courses wrong?

That’s just modern architecture. It’s like a little country cottage with roses around the door and the modern square box monstrosities with triple glazing, turf around the roof and eco-friendly things that turn human waste into fuel!

But then you look at the Top 100 courses in Britain, which once again is a nonsense because it depends on your taste… but anyway many of them are old courses. Muirfield, Birkdale and Lindrick, they are all courses over 100 years ago. Less than 50% of them have even been built since the war!

 

What about Donald Trump?

Well I think he is very bold. Aberdeen is a wonderful coastline and the land he got permission to build on is magnificent. But with great respect to Mr Trump and his investors, to build a golf course on the east coast of Scotland and to say, ‘We are going to build x number of million pound holiday homes, we are going to be flooded by people coming from warmer climates than ours and people are going to come and spend time here,’ might be very optimistic. Especially when there are only about 40 days of the year when you can even stand up because it’s blowing an absolute bloody gale!!

The Aberdeen course is magnificent and you can’t say it’s completely in the wrong place because places like Dornoch which is even further north past Inverness has been there well over 100 years and it has developed into a wonderful venue. It started off as quite an inexpensive place and by modern standards it still is.

Trump looks like he could be doing wonderful things at Turnberry too. He is doing what David Thomas and I wanted to do in 1977 when the Open was there. We wanted to make the ninth a short hole into rocks, aim right at the lighthouse. He is moving it more to the right of the lighthouse, we were going to make the 10th a big long Par 5 too.

Then again, you’re on the west coast which is where all the rain falls! You have the rain on the west coast and the cold winds on the east. It’s very bold because they haven’t built it three miles north of Bournemouth where the weather is five or 10 degrees warmer.

I admire Mr Trump for his boldness. I don’t know how many golf courses he has but he must have a wonderful amount of investors and I hope he succeeds.


Last time I asked about Rory I was told about Christie O’Connor’s razor-like pitching wedge so I try again...

He is quite remarkable. He has been going since he was a wee lad. He’s not quite had the publicity of Tiger Woods but still. He’s come from quite a humble background where his parents worked hours and hours doing umpteen jobs to pay for Rory to have lessons and buy golf balls.

And from the age of 18 when he was in the Walker Cup team he was obviously a raw talent similar to the likes of Luke Donald and Paul Casey. Some of them come and go, like Nick Dougherty who looked like he was going to be a wonderful player and then lost his nerve.

But McIlroy, at this moment, is handling fame very well indeed. I’m beginning to see one or two tiny cracks of petulance and impatience because being that famous and earning that amount of money can be very difficult, you can get fed up of answering the same questions time and time again and you have to be very special to handle it. Nicklaus was a bit sharp at times but alright. Tom Watson was the same.

But they had a way of dealing with the press. They’d walk and talk before going ‘That’s it gentlemen, bye bye.’

I think McIlroy is doing amazingly well, but all this talk of changing management. I don’t know how much he had to pay but there is suggestion it was between £10-20 million!!! At 24, 25 years of age!

I don’t know how long it is going to take him to pay it or whatever but I hope he doesn’t get married and get divorced and give the wife another 20 million quid because you’ll have had a wonderful career and end up skint!


I can’t help but laugh but pry as to whether he thinks it is about having good people around you?

I’m not sure the advice has always been sound. I mean he was fine with Chubby Chandler who is a good, simple businessman who knows the game of golf. He is not dynamic in the way Mark McCormack (IMG founder) was but he was OK.

Admittedly this is with my limited knowledge of how he was (with Chubby) but he was safe. But then he has to move up a gear… and you’re doing this and you’re doing that… and it cost him £10 million. Why did he need to move?


Peter continues talking about other home grown players...

Then you get the reverse of that. Well Paul Casey would go snowboarding, skiing and jumping off mountains and breaking legs and arms and things. He could have waited until he was 35, got his career out of the way and got a few quid in the bank. So that’s a bit daft!

Then you have Luke Donald and people like that and they attempt to change their swing. He’s gone backwards over the past two or three years. Why?! Nobody said to him ‘You are going to struggle to hit the ball further, you are at your best when on a course around 7000 yards. Concentrate and hone your skills for these opportunities. Like when the US Open is at somewhere like Merion or Pebble Beach where there is a bit of run in the ground. That’s where you can make your living.’

Work with what you have got! That has happened to several players, wanting to hook the ball for the Masters or fade it. Plenty of people have won The Masters and they didn’t hook or slice the ball. And you even get other players who gave up. Lee Trevino said ‘I can’t play this course, it isn’t for me.’ That’s fine!!

They are told so. The people that talk about golf and write about golf are telling them you can’t win anything unless you hit it miles. It gets in to their heads.

This can only be described as a tangent. I’m just listening.

Years ago, nobody finished a round of golf and went to the practise ground. This was largely because they didn’t have practise grounds but it has become part of the routine, even if you have come off with a 64 you go and hit 20-30 more balls.

It’s like the footballers, they go around running like a blue-arsed fly for 90 minutes and then suddenly we run around again to cool down then we jump into an iced-bath!!! Now… they’ll be a day when a couple of footballers jump into an iced bath, have a heart attack and die and that’ll be the end of that.

It’s not always necessary but people are like lemmings.

 

We have gone from Paul Casey jumping off mountains to dead footballers! I ask about characters in the game.

Jimenez is a breath of fresh air. He became successful when he was got to 40 years of age which is not the way to do it but he is still playing well now in his 50s.

He’s 51 and looks about 75, he smokes his big cigars and loves a glass of rioja and he’s one of a few characters. His warm up would test the lead dancer of the Ballet D’Romere. He’s a character, there aren’t many left!

 

Is it tough to show character these days as a pro?

It’s very difficult because if you are bold or a bit flash you are picked up on. I mean Ian Poulter, he is a bit brash, but his game isn’t as good as his talk.

I mean his successes have been wonderful in matchplay events and he has played some amazing stuff in Ryder Cups but then you hear him telling the press ‘It is only Tiger and me’ and he hasn’t come up trumps. But at least you know who he is on the golf course.

One thing… I wish he wasn’t so paux-faced on the golf course when he holes a putt. I know if your office is the golf course you don’t have to be Coco the Clown but it would be nice if he was a little more gracious!

 

Some of the leading players have not been gracious.

I remember a couple of wonderful things Arnold Palmer, who is a dear friend of mine, said to me. ‘It’s a wonderful feeling when you know they all love you.” Palmer ended up being adored and Jack Nicklaus ended up being hugely respected instead.


I’m laughing at Coco the Clown. Peter continues...


They are provided with everything nowadays...

There is dedication today unlike before but it is here because somebody started doing it. Whether it started with Gary Player and his gymnastics I don’t know. Somebody said wouldn’t it be nice to have a truck with a physio unit in… yes we’ll have that! We have everything. Medical units… the place to be ill now is at The Open Championships!

 

He tells me about these wonderful medical facilities...

The caddies have everything even. They used to turn up smelling like a dead fox, reeking of booze and urine! Many of them had been in the war and were great characters though!

Nowadays the caddies have degrees, come from Australia, New Zealand South Africa and some are making a million pounds per year! It’s all ridiculous.

I was one of the most successful players for about 10 years and I paid my caddy, little Jimi Cousins, £10 per week from the Sunningdale foursomes in March until October and I gave him a bonus if we did well. Another £20 or £30. And he was the third best off caddy on the European Tour.

 

Whilst I am thinking about ‘little Jimi Cousins’ Peter goes on...

Golf, it’s a wonderful subject, I love the game. I don’t particularly like some of the things that are happening in it because it is self-inflicted. Some of the players have got to realise that they have to get around quicker. They take so long, rules officials come out. In my opinion it doesn’t make much difference if the ball is dropped there or six inches away. But they waste five minutes doing that.

There are ways of speeding up the game if people had a little bit more freedom and used a little bit of common sense. I think it needs to be done if you are going to encourage young people to play.

 

As we wrap things up I ask for an inside tip on who is going to win the Open?

Ah, buggered if I know?! If I did know I’d be down to Joe Coral and putting a load of money on it. St Andrews is a weird place, you could have a John Daly character. Tiger could show a bit of form, Rory perhaps… someone who likes that form of golf. Pick the Top 40 and stick a pin in and have a bet. Then you suddenly think when you have a bet... ‘Oooh my God, there’s another 20 that have popped out.’

I laugh for the umpteenth time, tell Peter it has been an honour, before pondering a strategy on how to get the word ‘Buggered’ back into regular everyday language!


I'm the Managing Editor at The Club. I like putting and Rioja. I dislike my low slice.