Donald Steel’s biography of Sir Michael Bonallack charts a remarkable life of excellence on and off the golf course.

Review: Par Excellence The Biography of Sir Michael Bonallack

Sir Michael Bonallack has made a tremendous impact on the game of golf as both player and administrator. He is Britain’s finest ever amateur golfer and as Secretary of the R&A, and ambassador for the sport, his contribution to the game he loves has been substantial. He was deservedly inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. In a detailed and wide-ranging biography commissioned by the R&A, Donald Steel has covered Sir Michael’s outstanding life in golf.

For those who don’t know about the significance of Sir Michael Bonallack’s golfing career, two early clues are available on an initial scan of “Par Excellence”. First, consider the author, who has a golfing history that would usurp most. Donald Steel played in The Open Championship of 1970 and he did so as the Sunday Telegraph’s golf correspondent, a post he held from 1961 to 1989. He has written a number of books on the sport and is also a renowned golf course designer. He has advised every club or course on which the Open championship has ever been played in his capacity as a golfing architect.

The second clue comes in the shape of the man who has provided the foreword – the greatest ever to play the game, Jack Nicklaus. He and wife Barbara are good friends of Sir Michael and his wife Angela and the warmth the 18-time Major winner feels for the Bonallacks comes through in an elegantly written, one-page tribute that kicks this biography off beautifully.

The first question I had about this book was answered in the very first paragraph of Chapter 1. When I’d heard that Donald Steel had written a biography of Sir Michael, I wondered why there hadn’t been one written already. I’ve produced a few scribblings on his career in the past and, having done a small amount of research into his achievements, was astounded by what he’d accomplished. Surely, I thought, some worthy scribe must have put it all together in a book. But no, not until this point. And the author explains why – When asked by friends why a book had not been written about him, Sir Michael’s response was, “A book, who on earth would want to read about me?”

Sir Michael may be a modest man but his achievements in golf are most certainly not. He won the Amateur Championship five times and the English Amateur Championship five times. He played in nine Walker Cups and was twice leading amateur in The Open.

The book charts all these successes but also puts them into context. We look at the family history and Michael’s earliest forays on to the golf course. The book also looks at the formidable playing career of Michael’s wife Angela, their life together and how the pair have always worked so well as a team in their continuing efforts to promote golf and to support those starting out in the game. Theirs has been a remarkable partnership.

Steel is able to give detailed reports of Bonallack’s golfing successes with great personal touches owing to the fact he was often at the events he describes. As an example, at one point a feature, written by Steel, from Golf Monthly’s May 1970 issue is re-printed over six pages.

Amidst the wonderful and informative copy, there are many other fabulous snippets in Par Excellence. I love the original profile of the GB&I Walker Cup team of 1965 and, most of all, a copy of Bonallack’s scorecard from the morning round of the 1968 English Amateur Championship final.

I hadn’t been fully aware of the brilliance of that round at Ganton: Bonallack went out in 32 and came back in 29 for a 61 to be 11-up on David Kelley of Blackwell at lunch. He closed out the contest by 12&11. Amazing stuff.

As the book goes on to describe Sir Michael’s career as an administrator and ambassador for golf, one begins to be overwhelmed by just how much he took on and delivered for the game. Yes, he was R&A Secretary for 16 years, but he was also chairman of the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland between 1976 and 1982, chairman of the Golf Foundation from 1977-1982, president of the Golf Foundation from 2000-2003 and president of the EGU in 1982. The list goes on…

Sir Michael Bonallack is one of the all-time greats of British golf who has dedicated himself to the sport he loves. This book covers a remarkable golfing life.