Peter Alliss exclusive: The BBC is losing its voice… and it could lose The Open, too
21:50 GMT, 3 May 2012
At a time when there is no escape on the BBC schedule from a programme called The Voice, it's a pitiful irony to reflect on how little we hear from the Voice of Golf.
'Do you know there was a year when we covered 16 events' says Peter Alliss, sounding as exasperated as the rest of us at the sad decline in the Corporation's golfing output.
'Now we're down to two or three. I'm disappointed, obviously. Could the BBC have spent their money in better ways I don't hear the move to Manchester being spoken of with considerable acclaim. But the bottom line is it's difficult to compete against Sky's bottomless pit. It doesn't matter how good a poker player you are, if you've got 50 and the other bloke has pots of money, he'll beat you in the end.'
Respected: Alliss is set to be inducted
into the golf Hall of Fame
The Beeb have been beaten to such an extent that the only exclusive live men's event left is The Open, and Alliss can envisage a day when even that asset is stripped.
'It only takes a change of committee at the Royal and Ancient to look at a huge offer and think, “Yes, we know the BBC have no adverts and a large audience but how can we turn this down”
In the swing of things: The golfing legend in his playing days
'It's sad, when you look at what we still have to offer. Someone sent me the viewing figures for the Masters and we peaked at 2.1 million while Sky peaked at 500,000. I do think the European Tour were weak when they were taking some of their events away from the BBC.
'I'd imagine Sky were saying they would cover 100 events if they had exclusive rights to everything but if some events stay with the BBC it would only be 37. The tour got nervous. Like the football authorities, they were desperate to have Sky's money to keep everyone happy, but it seems to me they had a stronger hand to play.
'What would Sky have done to fill all those hours on their various channels if they didn't have golf'
None of this affects Alliss's unrivalled standing in his sport, of course. He's just as well known in America as he is over here and today the Alliss family are off to Florida where, on Monday, he will become the first broadcaster to be inducted into golf's World Hall of Fame.
'It's almost as surprising as being made an honorary member of the Royal and Ancient,' he said.
'The Hall of Fame is a very big deal over there and it's quite remarkable to think I'm going to be part of it. My playing days ended in 1974 and a lot of people have no idea I played golf at the highest level. But I had a good run for 25 years with ABC television in America. I think what helped is I never changed my style. Bunkers remained bunkers, they didn't become traps. The inward nine never became the back side.
'I remember the producer Terry Jastrow saying to me, “The day I understand what you're saying is the day you're fired”. So I bumbled on.'
The voice of golf: Alliss is a broadcasting veteran
No chivalric honours have come his way, however, after he turned down an OBE in 2002.
'You've got to remember the generation I came from,' said the 81-year-old. 'Things like OBEs were given out to people who did something remarkable, they weren't given to sportsmen. Those who were given OBEs who didn't serve in the war were thought of as getting it for “Other Buggers' Efforts”. I didn't feel worthy of it. Perhaps I was wrong. Now, of course, they give out OBEs and knighthoods to sporting people like sweets.'
Would he turn down the chance to become the sport's fourth knight – following Henry Cotton, Michael Bonallack and Nick Faldo – if offered
'It's very unlikely to happen at my great age,' he said. 'Let's just say it would be a wonderful embarrassment.'
Major problem: Alliss doesn't think it's an issue that Westwood and Co haven't won one of the the big four tournaments
Alliss followed in the footsteps of his father, Percy, in becoming a top player and won 21 tournaments between 1954 and 1969, playing in the Ryder Cup eight times.
He started working for the BBC in 1960, leaving him on the firmest of grounds to offer opinions, with his perfect symmetry of a fine playing record and peerless broadcasting experience.
He is unstinting in his praise of the UK game at present, and gives short shrift to those who seek to deny Luke Donald and Lee Westwood their due because they have yet to win a major championship.
'To argue that someone can't be a very good player if they haven't won a major is a load of b*******,' he said.
'I could name you a dozen players off the top of my head who have won majors who are not very good players and I could even name you some who have won two or three, like Larry Nelson, who don't stick in the mind's eye.
‘It’s sad when you look at what we still have to offer’
'People have this obsession with the majors and then, when you get a surprising winner, they demean him. I remember after Orville Moody won the US Open and the great sportswriter Jim Murray, from the Los Angeles Times, was chuntering about how it wasn't right. Henry Longhurst turned to him and said, “Stop it. They all came, they all played, and Orville won. End of story”.
'That's how it should be. Move on to the next event. Don't judge a player by four events.
'As for our players now, I would place them right at the top of the tree. I love the dash of young Rory McIlroy, although he is still learning. I've always been impressed with Luke Donald since I first saw him at the Walker Cup at Nairn in 1999. I love his consistency. It's one thing I don't understand about the modern game, the likes of Tiger Woods changing his swing in search of something better. How could you play the game any better than he did
'When you get to a certain level there's only consistency left to achieve and it seems to me that's what Luke understands. People call him dull. How can you be world No 1, they argue, when you haven't won a major and don't hit the ball 400 yards Well, he bloody well is No 1, and quite right too.'
Does he have any regrets
'I'd like to have won The Open, naturally, and been Ryder Cup captain,' said Alliss. 'There were captains who were no more distinguished than myself. One of the committee who decided it in those days told me they thought I was too commercial. That's a laugh when you see what has happened. The last five or six captains have all made a million quid on the back of it.'
There's no lessening his passion for the game, is there Later this year he will embark on another tour of one-man shows, selling out theatres across the country. Yes, he's not everybody's cup of tea. But for the great majority who follow golf, he remains nothing less than the Voice.