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- Pat Ruddy
Pat Ruddy was born in the small town of Ballina in County Mayo, but raised in the even smaller town of Ballymote, in County Sligo, where his father Martin (who was known as ‘Sid’) ran the local post office.
The third of five children born to Martin and Nota Ruddy, he discovered golf literature at a very young age through his father, who took the Sunday Times religiously every week, primarily to read the golf articles of Henry Longhurst.
In a 2006 interview with The Irish Times Pat said: “Some people read the bible but we read Longhurst. At the time there wasn’t television so reading about this man going to the most marvellously exotic-sounding places around the world was an inspiration.”
Those articles from the doyen of British golf writers, and a library book entitled Henry Cotton’s Golfing Album, were big factors in Pat becoming a golf journalist: “I had a huge fascination for the golf writer. They were the gods bringing the world to me. So I set out to be one, saving up to buy a typewriter.”
Pat started out as a freelance writer, working for golf magazines around the world, including South African Golf, where the Scots-born editor would pay him 50 Rand for writing 100 pages. As he says: “if you went to the bank today, they’d keep it all as charges but I didn’t care as I was famous in South Africa, you see, in the early ‘60s.”
He became a staff member at the Evening Herald in 1968 but left after five years to establish the Golfer’s Companion magazine. He was one of the first correspondents from this side of the Atlantic to attend the Masters Tournament, paying his own way for the privilege.
“One of my early objectives was to make more money each week as a golf writer than the winner of the tournament was making in the PGA region, as it was at that time. I never saw the correlation between golf writing and poverty”.
Pat formed a group called the Homeless Golfers to draw attention to the thousands of players who were unable to secure a golf club membership at the end of the 1960s and he was instrumental in the formation of Dublin & County Golf Club at Corballis Golf Club’s old course when they moved next to Dublin Airport in 1971. Pat also busied himself in promoting pro-ams and golf tournaments, bringing Harry Bradshaw, Henry Cotton and Fred Daly in to conduct clinics that brought them appearance fees far in excess of prize money earned as tournament players.
Around the same time, Pat was involved with setting up the Irish Golf Institute, preaching the virtues of inexpensive public golf for everybody. Years later, when circumstances had changed somewhat, he became a proponent of the Irish Golf Course Owners’ Association then the Irish Golf Links Heritage Trust.
Still, he had a burning desire to own and operate his own golf course, fuelled by an article he’d read back in 1957 that Jack Burke Sr. and Jimmy Demaret were establishing their own course in Houston, Texas called the Champions Club.
Pat looked for design jobs in the early 1970s but a lack of qualifications held him back. Then, totally unexpectedly, Castlecomer in Kilkenny got in touch with him to lay out a 9-hole course which he built for nothing – the important thing was to get the first project under his belt.
Henry Cotton worked with Pat Ruddy for a while, but their partnership brought little success on the design front. Teaming up with Tom Craddock was a great move, though, and they completed commissions at St. Margaret’s in County Dublin, Druids Glen in County Wicklow, as well as Ballyliffin, Connemara Isles, Wicklow and Killeen.
Pat also got involved in County Donegal projects at Portsalon, Rosapenna and Murvagh and there was even an overseas undertaking for a couple of public layouts at Club de L’Ile de Montréal in Quebec, Canada, where the local city dump was transformed into a modern 36-hole golf complex.
He eventually chanced upon a site at Brittas Bay 1986 then spent the next six years getting a course ready for play. When he eventually opened the European Club for business on Boxing Day 1992, he sat in his car at the gates to the property and took £10 from everyone who turned up to play.
What had been a drain on resources for a number of years was now in the position to provide an income. In the years since, Pat has had numerous offers to buy him out but he’s resisted all of them, preferring to nurture and develop what he has created, rather than take the money and run.
As he says himself: “I spent from 1958 to 1988 thinking of doing a golf place of my own, from 1988 to the present trying to make it one of the best and loveliest golf courses in the world, and having achieved one's dream it is difficult to contemplate walking away and impossible to think of a very good reason why one should.”
In 2005, Pat was offered more than €35 million for the European Club from a group that planned to add a second course (designed by somebody like Jack Nicklaus or Tom Fazio) at Brittas Bay. His head might well have been turned at the thought of taking such a huge sum of money, enabling him to develop a fabulous links at another site in Scotland (Machrihanish Dunes and Trump International were both examined), but he decided to back off the project.
As Pat says himself, his objective is to “just concentrate on enjoying The European Club, playing a little golf and talking golf, resting in my library which contains over 6,500 golf books, moving things about when I see ways to improve the links and maintain its place at the top of the golf world.”
Edited extract from an article by Larry Olmsted in forbes.com published in 2013:
Pat Ruddy's European Club: Ireland's Last Great Links Golf Course?
The European Club has everything you could want in seaside links golf: towering dunes, salt air, wind, high rough, gorse, nefarious deep bunkers at every turn, blind shots, visual illusion, and the ocean, not just visible but omnipresent. This is one dramatic piece of land. But in addition to the natural grandeur, it’s a great routing. The flow is fantastic: it opens with a short positional par-4, followed by a short precise par-3, then my favorite hole on the course, the short, strategic and wonderful par-5 third. This eases the player into the round and longer holes to come without sacrificing any links feel, setting up a rhythm that is then amplified as the course enters the big dunes and reaches the sea.
It is also a place of passion and love for the game. The European Club was conceived, designed and is owned by Pat Ruddy, whose entire life has revolved around golf. A competitive amateur player, Ruddy went on to become one of Ireland’s most prolific golf writers and publishers, edited magazines, wrote countless articles and many books on the game (and still does), then became a well-known golf course architect.
Ruddy always dreamed of having his own course, something shockingly few golf course architects have achieved. Pete Dye founded and lives at the private Crooked Stick, a PGA Championship venue in Indianapolis, but it is not open to the public and he doesn’t own it, with plenty of other homeowners. Ditto for Jack Nicklaus and his Muirfield Village, and even these are rare exceptions. The European Club is not only public and house free, it is heavily geared towards welcoming visitors, but when it comes to running the place, Ruddy, who has an apartment over the pro shop, refers to himself as “A Committee of One.” He built the facility in his own heartfelt vision but it was a vision he always wanted to share.
On any given day he is likely to be in the pro shop chatting with visitors, though he won’t actually take your money or put your bags on a trolley - he leaves that to his sons, since this is a hands-on, family affair. Upstairs, Ruddy owns one of the largest collections of antique golf books in the world, and the clubhouse is as famous for its apple pie as the golf. Signs all around the course are witty and intentionally composed for dry humor, and everything about the place exudes personality and a highly personal touch. Welcoming and decidedly not stuffy, the European Club is different, in a good way.
From Fifty Years in a Bunker: “It seems that destiny has much to do with what passes for success in this life. The impossible putts drop for the champions while they lip out for others. One man is granted a long life while another is afflicted with unthinkable suffering. Luck plays such a big part in our lives that it is silly to seek credit for all that happens. All that one does is subdue fear, take the opportunities when they present themselves and play the ball as it lies. Sometimes, if you want something badly enough it will happen!”
From Rosapenna: Beyond His Lordship’s Wildest Dream: “The beauty of a golf hole, the way it sits on the land, has a distinct effect on the golfer. It can inspire or intimidate. It can thrill, it can distract, or it can generate fear of failure. My late friend Henry Cotton, three times winner of the British Open and a man who played by feeling, always spoke of such a situation when talking of the incomparable thrill of the downhill drive! He just loved to watch that ball soaring out high over the fairway and dropping, dropping, dropping slow to the centre cut! Then came the pleasure of the slighty concealed swagger down those verdant slopes to fairway level, all the time planning the next move with the battle ground clear to view.”
From Holes in my Head: “Freedom of thought and movement must be fought for and planning must not become stiff and formulaic but retain freedom to flow with the land and events. The madness of the golf architect is total; absorbing, obsessive, relentless even bothersome; and at times exhilarating and rewarding.
He lies awake at night, looking into the darkness, solving problems with holes in progress and getting ideas forward, and he celebrates when dawn comes and life can resume.
A bout of illness magnifies this mental activity. Repeat hip surgery did not switch of the mind. Pen and paper were forever present on bedside lockers both in hospital and at home as the mind relentlessly foraged for ways of making improvements on my various current designs.
Holes in my head!”
Fifty Years in a Bunker by Pat Ruddy (2007)
The Perfect Golf Links by Pat Ruddy (2011)
Rosapenna: Beyond His Lordship’s Wildest Dream by Pat Ruddy (2013)
Ballyliffin: Golf’s Great Twin Miracles by Pat Ruddy (2014)
Holes in My Head by Pat Ruddy (2019)