Editor’s note: This story, which originally published on July 2, concludes our annual Best Of The Year series. Throughout December, we have brought you the top GGP+ stories of 2022. We hope you have enjoyed them.
Lady Bonallack, nee Angela Ward, died on Friday 1 July at the age of 85. This renowned amateur coped valiantly with a variety of health problems across the last few years but, as her sister-members at the St Rule Club, St Andrews, said yesterday, “COVID proved one hurdle too many.”
Born in Birchington in Kent, Angela moved to Scotland with her husband, Sir Michael Bonallack, when the latter was appointed chief executive of the R&A in 1983. And when, in 1999, Michael retired, the couple stayed put a few miles outside St Andrews in a home dotted with reminders of their glorious golfing past.
The Bonallacks had four children and, as if that were not enough, they took a couple of their 10 grandchildren (there are seven great grandchildren besides) under their wing when the latter attended the local St Leonard’s school as day pupils. Though Angela reveled in this second round of motherhood, she played golf on a daily basis, either on one of the St Andrews’ courses or at the nearby Duke’s. Shortly after the R&A had voted overwhelmingly in favor of women members in 2014, she won the first of the R&A’s mixed medals with a net 71 on the New Course.
That there was nothing in the way of a professional women’s tour in the UK in Lady Bonallack’s heyday was not a minus as far as she was concerned. She loved the amateur scene and the way in which competitive golf was always happily interwoven with the game’s social side. Even when she was at her best — she won two English championships along with a handful of continental amateur titles — she loved playing in the Worplesdon Mixed Foursomes and, indeed, won that much-coveted event with Sir Michael in 1958. All their lives, the two could not have been more deeply committed to each other.
St Rule, which remains an all-women’s club, has the best of social sides. A members’ trip to the 2012 Curtis Cup at Nairn was the highlight of that particular season, and all the more so because Angela was able to educate her friends on how things had changed across the years. For example, where she played in six consecutive Curtis Cups between 1956 and 1966, members of the Curtis Cup at Nairn would mostly move on from the amateur game straightaway because of the lure of the professional tours.
Angela was still playing golf — often against doctor’s orders — earlier this year and managing to look like a million dollars in the process.
Angela probably would have regaled those same friends with the story of how, when she played in the 1954 Home Internationals at West Kilbride, she arrived on the Sunday in order to fit in some practice before everyone else appeared. Alas, the day was a complete waste of time because women had to wear skirts at West Kilbride on a Sunday, and she had packed nothing but trousers.
In 2012, Angela had been dreading a third consecutive loss for the GB&I side in what was the first of the three-day as opposed to two-day matches – a switch which she herself had recommended back in 2008. GB&I were beaten with room to spare in 2008 and ’10 but, to her endless relief, it was “third time lucky” as they enjoyed a thriller of a 10½ -9½ victory at Nairn. “I had stuck my neck out in saying that a three-day match would work better, and I fully expected to get at least some of the blame if we kept losing,” came her cheerful admission.
Angela was a huge Charley Hull fan in that she would often see the then teenager practicing at Woburn, the club where her daughter Glenna and her granddaughter Harriet played their golf. Charley was only 16 when she was in the GB&I side at Nairn and, to be ruthlessly honest, she was way out of her comfort-zone in both the foursomes and fourballs. But she came good — and how — in the singles when, with GB&I having been a point behind going into the last day, she had four birdies on her way to a resounding 5-3 win over America’s Lindy Duncan. “Charley definitely adds a little excitement to the game,” said Angela, whose opinion on the player remained unchanged.
In truth, Angela encouraged any number of Charleys in the years she was supporting Sir Michael in his role at R&A, serving as a welcome sounding-board for those who would have been pondering when and if they should turn professional. “I don’t think the golfing public would have been aware of what an amazing job Angela did,” said Julie Otto, nee Hall, an outstanding amateur of the 1990s.
Again in 2012, Lady Bonallack went with Sir Michael to his Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy at the Monte Rei Golf and Country Club in the Algarve. The pair marveled at the length the lads were hitting the ball but were altogether less impressed with the pace of play.
Where Sir Michael, in his international days, expected to complete a foursome within three hours, the players at Monte Rei were taking just a few minutes short of five hours.
“She was an inspiration to all golfers and everyone else who crossed her path.” – Julie Otto.
After that experience, Angela went out of her way to teach the “starter” members at St Rule to keep on the move. “So often,” she explained, “people will take lessons and not know quite where to go from there. They need help at that point if they’re going to carry on playing.”
In spite of having two metal hip joints fitted at the end of the 1990s – she was the first woman in Scotland to have both operated on the same day – Lady Bonallack played in the Mother’s and Daughter’s event at Royal Mid Surrey as recently as 2019. The field included as many as six members of the Bonallack golfing family as Angela was joined by three daughters and two grandchildren. She herself played with her daughter Jane and represented St Rule.
Angela was still playing golf — often against doctor’s orders — earlier this year and managing to look like a million dollars in the process. If only secretly, that medical man must have marveled at how her determination to carry on mirrored her refusal to be beaten in life.
“She was an inspiration to all golfers and everyone else who crossed her path,” said the aforementioned Julie Otto.
Martin Slumbers, the current chief executive of the R&A added an admiring,”Her achievements in the game are a true reflection of a prolific amateur career in which she won many prestigious titles and represented Great Britain and Ireland at the highest levels of the sport.”
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