Ruddy Opens new possibility for Rosses
Sligo native unveils restoration plans for famed links and hopes it will soon be in the frame to stage European Tour event
AS Tiger Woods returns this week to Hoylake, scene of one of the most feted of his 14 Major victories, Ireland's foremost golf course designer Pat Ruddy offers an entirely different perspective on his triumph in the 2006 Open Championship.
Many speak in reverential tones about those 72 holes eight years ago at sun-baked Royal Liverpool, when Woods left his battering ram in the bag and picked his way to the Claret Jug with the guile of a cat burglar.
This was a virtuoso performance, with hugely emotional connotations for Tiger following the death of his father Earl two months earlier.
It was his first Major win since the previous year's Open at St Andrews and Tiger's aura of invincibility, a distant memory these days, would appear impenetrable as he went on to win the Buick Invitational, US PGA, Bridgestone, Deutsche Bank and American Express Championships in the next 12 weeks.
Ruddy's misgiving about the 2006 Open isn't with Woods, however, but a golf course he describes as "flawed".
This fascinating assertion arose during a conversation about Harry Colt, who created Hoylake and Royal Portrush and is also credited with making Muirfield, scene of Phil Mickelson's Open success last July, what it is today.
Prominent among Colt's masterpieces is Rosses Point, a fertile field of dreams for Ruddy during his boyhood in nearby Ballymote, Co Sligo. It's here his lifelong passion for golf took seed and grew.
Ruddy is most associated these days with The European Club, the internationally acclaimed links he built with his family near Brittas Bay, plus a design portfolio which includes Druids Glen, Ballyliffin, Rosapenna and St Margaret's, to name a few.
He has just furnished Co Sligo Golf Club with plans to "revitalise" their classic course at Rosses Point and re-establish it as one of the world's finest and most challenging links.
Should an upcoming Special General Meeting of the members give its approval, work will begin next month on phase one, which will be completed in time to give Ireland's elite amateur golfers pause for thought at next Easter's West of Ireland.
With golf's oldest Major returning to Portrush in 2019 or soon after, Co Sligo are determined for Rosses Point to top the list should European Tour officials press ahead with plans to stage the Irish Open on a seaside course the week before.
The powerful field which gathered over the weekend at Royal Aberdeen proved that many of the world's finest golfers will avail of the opportunity to play competitively on a genuine links in the run-up to The Open.
All his life, Ruddy has been totally immersed in golf, first (and probably forever) as an aspiring player, then professionally as a writer, photographer, author, publisher and, ultimately, course designer.
He crackles with passion when conversing about the game. Quips and cockeyed yarns; cautionary tales; amusing ideas and jocular philosophy tumble out like popcorn from a machine.
Typically, his view on Hoylake was prefaced with: "Men are not good observers. I'd come home from a party and Bernie, my wife, would say who was there? Not a clue. Was the room nice? Not a clue. What were the curtains like? Don't know, were there windows?
"Women can tell you down to the tiniest stitch what everyone wore, the colour of their eyes, whether they were good people or bad.
"They've an opinion based on observation. The only men capable of anything like that are policemen, if they're good ones, or journalists, if they're highly-trained. I've tried to be an observer, but I'm not a great one."
"So I saw The Open at Hoylake and, as happens, it got great waves of praise as a Major. Undoubtedly, it was exciting, but it was a flawed layout that allowed Tiger get within mid- to short-iron range of every green without danger.
"They moved up all the bunkers. It was like moving all the backs up the field and not leaving a sweeper. They left nothing there to catch the cute (players).
"Let him get within 170 yards of any green off the tee with impunity and the game's over," Ruddy explains. "Back at that time, I thought it was a huge flaw. The course was defenceless against a man with great ability once he was allowed get within sight of the hole."
There are few alterations to Hoylake this week, though the links are lush and greener and the weather is unlikely to be as fair, ensuring a more rigorous test.
Instead, Tiger has changed, especially as he recovers from back surgery last March.
"His health is the issue," says Ruddy, confessing: "Though, at this stage, I don't know anything about him."
Rosses Point is unlikely ever to host The Open, but Ruddy is inspired by the chance to, once again, make it as challenging to every modern golfer as it is pleasing to the eye.
"I know every inch of this place and adore it," he says. "Given the opportunity to have anything to do with such a classic, the job is to make it suitable for any event, even if that event never comes, and every player, whatever his level.
"It has to be equal with anything in the world. That's the objective. The Open's played at Royal Liverpool, but don't tell me Hoylake, or St Andrews for that matter, is better than every Irish course.
"I'm not knocking them. I'm just making the point that any course you're working on can be as good and, if it's not, is there a way of ensuring that it is?"
Ruddy's first phase proposes six new tees (1, 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12); the expansion of six greens (1, 2, 5, 7, 10, 18) and one new green complex at three.
It's 30 yards on "in a lovely bit of ground," and represents probably the most striking feature of his efforts to lengthen and strengthen Co Sligo's par fives.
All found, about 300 yards will be added to the course. Along with 12 new fairway bunkers and 11 greenside traps, the changes sound imposing. Viewed in context (on a map), however, they appear merely to restore and augment subtleties and challenges eroded over 87 years by the march of time and technology.
None of Colt's classic par threes will be touched, while Ruddy's intentions perhaps are best exemplified at 10, his favourite.
A new tee adds around 50 yards and will, in most cases, "bring the fun" of a large ledge in the divided fairway back into play, a feature he says "was beautifully done" by Colt.
An extension of the final green to the left, flanked by new, strategically-placed traps inevitably will lend even more drama to the climax of championship matches.
"There will be some noticeable differences, but Harry will be okay," Ruddy pledged.