- Top 100
- Ron Kirby
Ron Kirby studied at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts in the late 1940s before attending the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture on a Francis Ouimet Scholarship, graduating with an Associate degree in Agronomy in 1953.
He served as a golf course superintendent with a number of clubs before becoming a design associate with Dick Wilson in 1958. During the five years he was with Dick, he worked on projects in Paradise Island in the Bahamas and several South Florida courses.
In 1963, Ron became a design associate with Robert Trent Jones, assisting the old master with a number of assignments in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. After eight years with the company, he decided to branch out on his own.
From 1970 to 1986, his Atlanta-based firm worked closely with Gary Player as a consultant and their collaborative efforts spanned the world. Ron then sold his firm (which also included Denis Griffiths) to Golden Bear Inc. and joined Jack Nicklaus Design Services, where he oversaw the company’s European projects for the next decade.
Ron retired from the Nicklaus organization in the mid-1990s but he’s been retained by a number of firms as a special consultant. Currently he’s attached to the design practice of his son-in-law Gene Bates.
One of Ron’s more interesting one-off projects in recent times was the co-design of a one-hole course at a luxury 4-bedroomed chalet called San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge in the Italian region of South Tyrol.
Located at an altitude of 1,200 metres above sea level and overlooking three heavily wooded valleys, this spectacular “Hole in Heaven” course features nine potential pin positions, three of which are always in play from six different tee boxes.
The on-site accommodation comprises an old 16th century hunting lodge which has been transformed into a fabulous 4-bedroomed mountain retreat and ablutions are taken care of by an external whirlpool, a spa, Finnish sauna, Turkish bath and emotional shower.
“To visit the Italian Dolomites should be on everyone’s ‘bucket list,’ said Kirby, “and for a golf designer this was a wonderful opportunity to create a golf experience for players to enjoy while viewing the mountain panorama. I’m happy and proud to have San Lorenzo Golf as part of my design history.”
In 2003, Kirby was elected a “Fellow” of the American Society of Golf Course Architects for his dedicated service to his profession and his outstanding contributions to the game of golf. He and his wife presently live in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
From an Irish Examiner interview in December 2012:
Ron on the skill of routing a course:
“The excitement comes in the mystery. If it’s an 18-hole project, where are you going to put them? And the fun part there is, you can’t use the first routing, meaning the way the holes circulate over the property. I love doing that. I love finding a place where I can say the course should start here and then go back this way.”
Ron on bunker strategy:
“Dick Wilson lit up my eyes about how you can use imagination. You don’t have to have a bunker left, a bunker right. He’d put two on the right and at different levels. I can do that? Of course, it makes for better strategy, makes a third dimension.”
Ron on over provision of golf courses:
“When I started there were probably 40 golf courses a year being built in America. It went from 40 to 50 to 60 and got to average about 150 golf courses a year in the 70s and by the 90s it got to 200 and went almost to 400 one year. Now you’ve got maybe four projects, it’s so bad. Four projects to share in America.
We all just overbuilt. It seemed like a good thing so everybody was going to do it and we built too many golf courses here and the reason was everybody thought they could have these property development courses. You see them now and it doesn’t work. There’s only so many players. The worse thing we did.”
Ron on the playability of golf courses:
“We made the golf courses too damn tough. You can’t play through all those nests of bunkers. Gary [Player] was the best of the bunch because he knows where to strategically place bunkers and that one bunker can be good enough.
Jack even agrees now that we made the golf courses too tough. I heard his last talk: ‘We’ve got to soften up and make them more friendly to play. What’s wrong with an easy golf course?’ Everybody’s getting older and the younger guys can’t afford to play because of the cost of maintaining all those bunkers.”
Ron on his association with Jack Nicklaus:
“I learned course routing from Trent Jones and strategy from Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus is the finishing school of strategy. He is so intense when he gets on the course he is designing that he has been mad at me plenty of times but he's a good buddy still.”