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Bonallack at the R&A HQ, St Andrews: 'My gaff, nice innit? ...'

On this day in 1934, Sir Michael Bonallack - one of the most influential figures in British and world golf of the last 50 years - was born in Chigwell, Essex.

A great amateur golfer during the height of professional golf's growth, Bonallack is most recently, Bonallack is remembered for guiding the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews through its recent heyday from 1984-99 as club secretary.

Now, to our younger American visitors who may have been turned on to golf only in the Tiger Woods era, the Secretary of the R&A doesn't take dictation or answer phones: The Secretary is the chief executive of the governing body of golf in nearly all of the world except the United States. That makes the boss of the R&A "in theory" the No. 1 man in the world of golf - but though he might take the moral high ground, he probably loses the argument to Tiger Woods, PGA Tour chief Tim Finchem, or the president of the USGA. ...

An aristocratic, gentlemanly throwback to simpler times (he never turned pro, but won five British Amateur titles as a player), Bonallack was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. His old-school philosophy is illustrated in a couple of recent quotes:

He remembers his highlight as a player being Great Britain and Ireland's victory in the 1971 Walker Cup: "I was playing captain that year when we won over the Old Course, St Andrews, and it does not get, cannot get, any better than that." Reaction No. 1: Try telling that to Tiger Woods.

Retired now (successor Peter Dawson is midway through his term as R&A secretary), Bonallack still often rails about how technology has changed the game: "The ball got away from everybody. ... They have taken a lot of the skill out of the game for the leading players." Reaction No. 2: Try telling that to Tiger Woods.

But right or wrong, there's no question that the R&A flourished under Bonallack's leadership. He helped developed the Open Championship into the money-making machine that it is today, and channeled that money primarily into the development of the game in Britain and worldwide.

A look at the Current World Rankings, which features 11 British golfers in the Top 100, shows that Bonallack had some bright ideas - as all of those players, from Justin Rose to Ross Fisher, were developed during Bonallack's time in the big chair at St Andrews. ...

Speaking of bright ideas, it was also on this day in 1879 that genius Thomas Edison made a public demonstration of his electric incandescent light bulb in his lab at Menlo Park, New Jersey. It worked! ... Although Edison was not completely right. He said at the time, "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles." If that was true, why is your humble editor writing this On This Day piece by the light of £1 tealights (and the monitor) rather than burn through electricity ... ? Oh, that's right. ... I'm rich. Ha ha.

In the Dept. of Give and Take: On this day in 1775, a force led by Continental Army general Benedict Arnold failed to take the British-held city of Quebec. However, it wasn't over as Gen. Arnold turned traitor and joined the British side in 1780. ... It was also on this day in 2006 that the United Kingdom paid off the final installment of its Second World War debt to ... you guessed it, the United States.

And on this day in 1999, the Russian government changed hands from a drunken egomaniac in Boris Yeltsin to a sober egomaniac in Vladimir Putin.

That said, it's pazdravliayu s dniom razhdjenia!, as they say in Moscva, to the great English actor Sir Ben Kingsley (64); Scottish first minister Alex Salmond (53); and Top Gun, The Doors and Batman actor Val Kilmer (48).

And it's musical b-day greetings to Andy Summers (65), guitarist of the Police; the "Queen of Disco" Donna Summer (59) whose hits include Hot Stuff, Bad Girls and reached a climax with I Love To Love You Baby; and frontman of the Replacements Paul Westerberg (48).

And in sport, it's happy birthdays to former Manchester United defender and current Wigan manager Steve Bruce (47); All Blacks flanker and captain Richie McCaw (27); and Scotland and Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon (25).

It also would have been a birthday for the French explorer Jacques Cartier (b. 1491), who discovered the Gulf of St Lawrence and the shores of the St Lawrence River (which he named Canada), had he not taken the ultimate voyage in 1557.

Thursday, May 21, 2009 1:27:35 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
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