2006: Dreamland - Pat Ruddy
Pat Ruddy could be sitting on a Caribbean island without a care in the world, rich beyond his wildest imagination. In monetary terms, that is. Yet there would be something missing from such an idyllic life: He’d have sacrificed his dreams.
Pat Ruddy doesn’t give up on his dreams.
Ruddy owns the European Club, a magnificent links south of Dublin at Brittas Bay. He has had several offers to buy the links he built from scratch in 1992, more money than he ever thought imaginable. He has considered every offer that has come his way, including one last winter that would have made him about 40 million euros (approximately $51 million) richer. But each time, to use Ruddy’s metaphor, he picked the cookies over the money.
“An almost 50-year pilgrimage through life is hard to price, and the golf conscience kicked in – or the Cookie Monster syndrome, as in Sesame Street when he won the $1 million quiz and was offered the cash or a jar of cookies,” Ruddy says. “After due consideration, and being a Cookie Monster after all, he took the cookies.
I’m a bit of a Golf Monster, it seems.”
Almost everyone who plays the European Club raves about the place, feeling fortunate to have shared in a dream hatched in the small village of Ballymote in County Sligo in the 1950s. (Ruddy was born in 1945.) Rather than copying what his Latin teacher was writing on the chalkboard, the young Ruddy would sketch drawings of golf holes in his notebook, the cover of which was adorned with the words “Pat Ruddy Master Golfer.”
“I suppose everybody’s a dreamer, but I’d be especially guilty of that,” he readily acknowledges. “All my life I’ve dreamed of golf. I always wanted to play the game but failed miserably to play it at any decent level. But I always wanted to have a golf course of my own so that I could play day and night.”
Ruddy’s introduction to the game came through his father, Sid, who often would turn up at school and drag him out of class. When a teacher objected, Sid pulled Pat out of that school and sent his young four-ball partner to a private school “so that I could play golf whenever he wanted me to.”
However, Ruddy’s golf education was not just confined to learning how to move a small white ball across green fields. He usually was involved in shaping those fields, too.
“My father and his friends would rent 50 acres from (a) farmer. They would cut narrow fairways, rough tees, rough greens and play,” he recalls.
“My love for working on golf courses, for greenkeeping, if you like, came from working on those rudimentary courses. There would be volunteers to take care of certain greens. There was pride in making sure you presented the best green possible. I always wanted my green to be the best.”
Things haven’t changed.
Ruddy turned to journalism when he realized he did not have what it took to play golf at the elite level. (His lowest handicap was 1, and he now plays off 10.) He began “The Golfers Companion” in 1972, churning out issues from his family home, and still produces several issues a year. Later he turned to architecture and has had a hand in many Irish courses, including Druids Glen, Rosapenna, Ballyliffin, as well as other courses around the world.
The European Club wasn’t his first attempt at constructing his dream course. He tried and failed to build a course near Ballymote, and learned a valuable lesson.
“I bought land five miles from the town. I bought bad land because it was what I could afford,” he recalls. “I parked my caravan where the clubhouse was to be on the top of a little hill, and woke up the next morning to find myself in the middle of a lake. It was in the only dry spot because the local river had backed up. It was the first time that I had done the whole process of buying land and starting from scratch and it taught me a valuable lesson: Buying wisely is important.”
After that failure, Ruddy took helicopter flights around Ireland.
One look at the links land next to Brittas Bay in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin, and Ruddy saw his dream beginning to take shape.
“I knew I had a golf course,” he says.
Ruddy mortgaged everything to build the European Club. With help from his wife, Bernadine, and five children, he turned the unkempt land off Brittas Bay into 20 of the best holes anywhere on the Emerald Isle. Yes, 20. Holes 7A and 12A, a couple of par 3s, offer visiting golfers the chance to catch their breath or practice a bit, before they take on the rest of Ruddy’s challenge.
Plainly, Ruddy is his own man. His club reflects his idea of what a golf club should be. What you get is an excellent championship course, and a clubhouse where you can change your shoes and have a “a great bowl of Irish stew,” he says. There is no bag drop, no fancy dining room, nobody to shine your shoes or run after you.
A small box on the European Club scorecard reads: “What my score should have been.” Ruddy even allows players to dream a little.
The European Club has been lavishly praised, but Ruddy has never been complacent. The original 6,700-yard layout has evolved to 7,368 yards, with room to grow to 7,800. Ruddy continues to tinker, to enhance, to perfect. He says that reflects a lesson he learned when he was building courses in Montreal.
“It would rain and I’d wander down to the river and spend the day watching street artists work for $25 or so,” he recalls. “It would get to the point where I thought the painting was good enough. But those painters would work on (it for) another half an hour even though they could have had the money in their pocket and be starting on someone else. The artist would add another line or another little shadow, and it would accentuate the person’s face. It was a very, very humbling experience, and it’s had a profound influence on how I work: The job isn’t finished until you are satisfied you’ve done the best you possibly can. Even when a number of people say my course is very good, which is gratifying, as that artist in Montreal taught me, you have to keep going, create the best masterpiece you can paint.”
Come October and the end of the summer season, Ruddy will start adding a few more lines, a few more shadows to his masterpiece.
“I’ve got the European Club right, but I know it can be better,” he says. “It can always be better. I’m busting at the seams to move a few bunkers and change the contours of a few greens.”
Nor does his dream end with perfecting his course. Ruddy has thrown his hat into the ring to host a British Open.
“I think at some stage the championship might move over to Ireland, and if it does I have a golf course suitable,” he says. “Maybe I’ll be dead when it happens. There will be competition from a number of places and one might lose, but that doesn’t invalidate the aspiration.
“It’s the way my golf course came into being, by having the thought. You have to have the idea first, and then why not go for it?”
To many it would seem a far-fetched notion, but no one would be surprised if, say, the 2030 Open Championship were staged on Ruddy’s masterpiece beside Brittas Bay.
Pat Ruddy’s dreams usually come true.