Sport Golf

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Ruddy a man for all golf seasons

Liam Kelly

ONE man, one vision - and what a man, what a vision. Enter stage left one Pat Ruddy, native of Ballina, Co Mayo, who has exerted a profound influence on Irish golf for decades.

Ruddy, red of hair and passionate of nature about golf, has an innovative and yet at times mischievous spark about him which makes him unique.

He can be stubborn and opinionated and is not afraid to let officialdom know when in his view there is a better way of doing things. But above all, Ruddy thinks big, and has a heart as big as a house when it comes to sharing hospitality at his beloved European Club in Brittas Bay, County Wicklow.

He defied all the odds when he and his family undertook the mammoth task of establishing a new links course on the East coast. Others had millions, or could call on millions. Ruddy had the design skills, but little money, and it had to be a self-help deal all the way.

He had nourished his dream of owning his own golf course for years. In the early Eighties he went looking for linksland in earnest and discovered a natural site in Wicklow. Ruddy mortgaged himself to the hilt and went for it. Much of the work was done by himself and his family. The project started in 1987 and the course opened in 1992.

Clearly it had potential from the start, but ten years on, the maturing process and the continual effort at improvement by Ruddy has proven a great success.

Today he has one of the finest links courses, fit to bear comparison with any seaside venue anywhere, and one which drew admiration from none other than Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara, David Duval and Scott McCarron who played there last summer in advance of the British Open.

Ruddy made Tiger hit off the real "tiger" tees, pushing them back as far as possible, and Woods relished the challenge, as did his fellow pros. It was a proud occasion for the owner to welcome the World's number one golfer onto his property and he deserved the praise from Woods and Co.

Ruddy's journey through the world of golf has taken many twists and turns. He started off as a golf journalist - he never covered any other sport - in the early '60s and was staffed by the Evening Herald.

Ever mindful of the underdog, Ruddy founded the Homeless Golfers' Association to campaign for a public golf course in Dublin. He managed to persuade every club from Laytown to Greystones (every one of them) to provide playing facilities for the homeless golfers at one old shilling (approx ?2) for a game between 6.0 am and 8.0 am and eventually built the numbers up to over 1000 players.

The idea was to demonstrate to politicians that golf was not solely an elitist game and to prove that there was a demand for public golf at a time when it was virtually impossible to gain membership of a club. This was well in advance of the boom from the mid-'80s on. Eventually the Corballis Golf Club transferred to Forrest Little and Dublin County Council was persuaded to preserve the old Corballis links as a public facility.

Ruddy founded the Dublin & County Golf Club (now the Balcarrick club) to play on the links and give players access to handicaps. He remortgaged his own home to help fund the purchase of a small clubhouse and was thrilled to find many of the homeless proceed through the years to being captains at local clubs such as Island, Donabate, Beech Park, Forrest Little and so on.

Ruddy got the chance to begin his career as a golf course designer at Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, in 1970 and went on to design or re-design over 30 courses all over Ireland and in Canada.

Along the way he formed two key design partnerships. One, which lasted about six years, was with three times British Open Champion Henry Cotton; the other with former Walker Cup man Tom Craddock. Craddock and Ruddy designed Druids Glen among others, and the Ruddy imprint is to be found at other venues such as St Margaret's, Wicklow, Ballymascanlon and Montreal Island.

As a links man he has achieved worldwide recognition through his work at Ballyliffin, Portsalon, Rosapenna, Donegal, and his own European Club.

Ruddy made regular news in the '80s promoting professional events in Ireland ranging from pro-ams up through the Tretorn Spalding Tournament in Killarney and the Jack Mulcahy Classic at Waterville, to the staging of the Irish Professional Championship.

He also helped found the Irish Golf Course Owners' Association, the Irish Golf Institute and the Irish Golf Links Heritage Trust and has published his own golf magazine Golfer's Companion since 1973. An honorary member of several clubs, he was recently given the IGWA award for Distinguished Services to Golf.

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