Sunday 21 January 2018

Journeyman goes around the world in 1,800 holes

Paul Rudovsky completed his unique golfing odyssey in Co Wicklow last week

Pat Ruddy holds the flag for Paul Rudovsky at The European Club
Pat Ruddy holds the flag for Paul Rudovsky at The European Club
When Paul Rudovsky two-putted The European Club's 18th hole at 6.25pm last Monday, he had completed a bucket list of the world's top-100 courses

Dermot Gilleece

Less than a month from now, the golfing world will focus on Pinehurst, North Carolina as the venue for both the US Men's and Women's Opens. In the meantime, one of its residents grabbed his own slice of glory on Irish links terrain last week.

When Paul Rudovsky two-putted The European Club's 18th hole at 6.25pm last Monday, he had completed a bucket list of the world's top-100 courses, as compiled last year by Golf Magazine. And the final seven were done on one round-the-world trip, at an estimated cost of $30,000.

In true Homeric fashion, it has taken Rudovsky the best part of a lifetime to complete the entire odyssey, dating back to 1960 when, as a 15-year-old, he played Bethpage Black for the first time. And it has included the other six Irish courses on the magazine's list, starting with Royal Co Down, Ballybunion and Portmarnock in 1980, on to Royal Portrush in 1981 and then Lahinch and Waterville four years later. An interesting aspect of his final push was that while negotiating 27,741 miles in 66 hours 25 minutes of scheduled flights, he spent more time actually flying than he did hitting golf shots. And that's allowing for the fact that he thought it appropriate to take an odd fairway nap to ward off travel fatigue.

He played The European Club in a buggy, accompanied by an Australian friend, John Cornish from Melbourne, who thought to surprise him for the grand finale by appearing at Dublin Airport last Monday morning as his driver. Then came further surprises from host Pat Ruddy, who had arranged a celebratory post-round cake with 100 candles, followed by honorary membership of the club.

The latter honour was especially notable, given that the previous recipient was none other than Tiger Woods. But the commander-in-chief considered it thoroughly deserved for what he described as "an achievement of stamina and most of all love for the game of golf".

Beguiling sunshine had given way to a chilly breeze when I picked up a golfing trio in late afternoon on the 16th hole, Cornish having brought along an Irish friend, Eamonn Kennelly, to share the experience. By this stage, I had established that no concessions had been sought: they had each paid the standard green fee of €180.

At 69 and still capable of playing to an eight-handicap, Rudovsky would probably have envisaged finishing with more of a flourish, but his epic trek had clearly taken its toll. Still, he battled manfully to the end, having the good sense to lay up short of the hazard fronting the par-four 18th green. Then, with Ruddy attending the flag, the challenge of negotiating 1,800 golf holes spread over more than half a century was finally done.

When we talked after the cake-cutting, I discovered that as a retired businessman who has been a resident of Pinehurst since 2000, Rudovsky was a friend and next-door neighbour of the late Steve Smith, whom I met in his capacity as mayor of Pinehurst when the US Open was last played there in 2005. In fact, they went to college together.

Meanwhile, I'm reminded that former Irish international Brennie Scannell was well into retirement when explaining his presence at Woodbrook GC almost every day of the week. "I've feck all else to do," he said with disarming candour.

"When I retired six years ago, it was at the second attempt," said Rudovsky, who lives in Pinehurst eight months of the year and in Boston for the other four. "And I knew that the reason it failed the first time was because I hadn't made plans to keep mind and body busy. As a naturally intense person, I got bored and went back working.

"This time, I decided retirement would be great, provided I set myself goals, clear objectives. And that's what I've done. This latest project effectively started last September in Nova Scotia where I played Cabot Links. It turned out to be the 91st course I'd played out of the Golf Magazine's top-100 for the year.

"There, in the presence of my wife Pat, who voiced no objection, two other enthusiasts insisted that I should complete the 100. OK, as a golf nut, call it what you will, I decided to go after it."

So began the planning of a venture which started in earnest last November with two courses in Mexico, leaving the final seven to be done this month.

As a true golf nut, however, he decided to embellish the itinerary with a few extras. Like playing three courses in Colorado and another in Vancouver, before crossing the international date line on a flight to Japan, where he played on May 9. Having completed the three Japanese courses on his list, he headed on May 14 for Seoul and the 45th-ranked Nine Bridges in Korea.

China was his next stop and the splendid new Shanqin Bay course, designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. From there he flew to South Africa to play Durban Country Club where Tim Clark twice won the South African Open in recent years. Then, finally, he headed for Dublin, via Johannesburg and an overnight flight to Zurich.

His reason for finishing here was essentially geographical, given the time of year and his preference for an east-to-west route round the world. All of which became possible through what he described as a comfortable retirement funded by a "reasonably successful" business career.

Yet he made a point of highlighting the achievement embodied in The European Club. "I'll bet any amount of money that none of the other top-100 courses has been the creation of one man," he said. "What Pat (Ruddy) has done here is nothing short of remarkable."

Later, golf's ultimate journeyman admitted that on the drive back to Dublin the adrenaline rush had suddenly stopped and he felt utterly exhausted. Yet you suspect on the subsequent flight home he was already planning his next adventure. With the beloved sticks close at hand, naturally.

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