Q & A with Pat Ruddy: Writer-turned-architect on the Open, Olympics and golf in Ireland
- Larry Olmsted
- Sep 19, 2011 12:36 AM ET
Pat Ruddy is the rare golf writer who has become more than a golf writer.
He first made the transition from writing to golf course designer, with several acclaimed courses in Ireland under his belt, including Ballyliffin's Glashedy Course, Portsalon, Druid’s Glen, Wicklow Golf Club, and Rosapenna Golf Club's Sandy Hills links.
He also did what very few architects do and developed his own course, the European Club, south of Dublin, which has been widely acclaimed and ranked in various Top 100 lists.
Ruddy has also continued writing books, and took a few minutes to chat with golf and travel writer Larry Olmsted.
Q: You began as a golf writer and became a golf course designer. How did that transition happen?
A: My home club moved three times in the 1950s, in the austere climate of post-World War II Europe, and I rode with my father and his friends to set-up a new “course” each time. They were rudimentary country courses but the basic principles of design were there and it all worked and great golf was enjoyed by all. So, as a golf-writer I had a special interest in courses and how they were designed and I eventually pitched for a few design jobs and got my start with a lovely 9-holer, which I extended to eighteen 30-years later, Castlecomer in County Kilkenny. I'm proud of that first course!
Q: So you always wanted to design golf courses?
A: Sitting in the back seat at school I doodled plans for golf holes on my textbooks! I planned my way around the great links at County Sligo Golf Club... if I followed this planned route I could shoot 85, etc. Looking back it seems clear that my future was already decided.
Q: Very few golf course designers own their own courses. How did the European Club come about?
A: I read in 1958 that Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke were building a course of their own in Houston, Texas. It seemed a great idea! Texas was a million miles away - jet travel was slow and television hadn't arrived in Ireland - but the idea and inspiration travelled well and seemed wonderfully “Texan” to an Irish kid! The fact that they called their club “Champions” just finished me off. From then on, I just had to have a place where I could play golf on my own terms. The European Club has satisfied my yearnings to have a place to play whenever I wish.
Q: What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered doing your own course versus work for hire?
A: Paying the bills instead of collecting a check is a big difference! Apart from that the biggest difference was that there was no need for debate on design details; no need to hurry; things could be mulled over and changed; one lived with the course and saw how people interacted with it. Working for others there comes a day that the job is done because the client says so.
But no job is ever done. Things change and you must evolve with them. This is the big advantage of working on your own project. I have been working at The European Club links since 1987. That is a big slice of one's life, and the game has changed a lot in that time, and there is no reason to believe that the end has been reached, if there is such a thing as an end.
Q: You have one of the largest, golf libraries in the world at the European Club. How did that come about?
A: I started collecting in 1958 with Henry Cotton's lovely tome “My Golfing Album.” I have collected books ever since to read for pleasure and, of course, enhance my knowledge of the game. I have transferred over 5,000 golf books from home into a specially prepared library room on top of the clubhouse. I plan to double the collection, for starters, in the next ten years. We have some lovely books there, some that have sold over $40,000 in auction, but I get as much pleasure reading Bobby Jones and Henry Cotton and essayists like Darwin, Longhurst, and Warren Wind; and what an array of lovely pictures of golf courses we have available now through the lenses of the great modern photographers!
Q: In the U.S., several brand new courses have immediately jumped onto the Top 10 rankings. Is the work better now, or have the criteria for judgment changed?
A: It's a minefield! Some of these things have become very political and very, very aggressive. One has to wonder at some of what goes on. But there is a lot of good design work going on and very relevant to the modern game in a way that the old-timers, who never foresaw 300-yard drives, could not have designed for.
But I don't over-subscribe to the school which seems to think that a course with lots of ripples and six or more greens forced onto the seashore are necessarily great courses. I have been bemused by more than one pretty golf course in boggy ground being acclaimed as great. There will always be good, bad, and pretense on all walks of life.
Q: There has been talk of the Open returning to Royal Portrush. Is that a good idea? Are there other courses you believe should be added to the rota?
A: I wrote to the R & A some years ago suggesting they come to The European Club maybe twenty, forty, or fifty years from now. They say, after all, that it is THE OPEN (crowning the “champion golfer of the year” and not just the British champion) and so there is no reason it should have to be played no place other than in Britain! They gave me a polite reply.
But the kite has been flown for all of Ireland, for a start, and let’s see where it goes. The economy in Ireland, a bit rattled though it be right now, is so different from the olden days and the politics are so good and the friendships so strong that it should happen. But the R&A are clever folks and have a job to do and they do it great and all one should do it prompt them a little now and then.
Q: What's your take on golf in the Olympics?
A: I don't understand why golf has to be in the Olympics. Greater brains seem to see something there. I just hope that it doesn’t drag our game into a morass of politics and a changed culture putting pressure on sportsmanship.
Q: Besides the European Club, what courses do you think every visitors to Ireland needs to play?
A: We are blessed with great courses and all of them welcoming to the visitor. All the usual names should be considered, and add Rosapenna, Ballyliffin, Donegal and Druids Glen.
Dublin is a great venue for the game with city life, lovely villages outside, and a menu of golf at sundry prices and types, reading like this (alphabetically): County Louth (Baltray), Druids Glen, European Club, Island, K-Club, Portmarnock, Powerscourt, and Royal Dublin.
It is possible to sleep in the same bed for a week and play a great new golf course everyday by driving no more than 1-hour. There can be few capital cities that highly geared on great golf.
Q: Does Tiger Woods still hold your course record at the European Club?
A: His 67 still stands and he did birdie-par on the extra two holes. Off ALL our back-tees that was a great round and only Rory McIlroy has come near as he was three-under after nine in the qualifying for the Irish Amateur but lost a ball later and had to settle for 70 - at age 16!
Tags: Courses and Travel
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