If playing a links is an experience to be cherished, what must it be like to actually develop, own and operate such a course? Pat Ruddy’s demeanor indicates it is a pleasant experience indeed. A bear of a man who always has a warm smile, a welcoming hand and a flash of wit, Ruddy loves golf with an all-consuming passion—almost as much as he loves the great links of his personal fiefdom, the European Club.
By the late 1980s Ruddy was widely known throughout Ireland as editor and publisher of two golf magazines, as well as the architect of several courses. Yet he still had a dream that needed fulfilling. As he puts it, he surveyed “the east coast of Ireland in search of a home for my golf obsession—to create and own a links of my own.” Ruddy found it an hour’s drive south of Dublin, in the soaring and tumultuous duneland along the Irish Sea at Brittas Bay.
After mortgaging his home to buy the land, Ruddy personally constructed the course, guiding the bulldozer himself for days on end. Much of Ruddy’s shaping efforts were dedicated to grand, fascinating and occasionally eccentric green complexes. The green at the par-4 12th, for example, is 381 feet deep.
The European Club is a modest place. There’s no pro shop. The club employs no caddies and owns only three golf carts; shouldering one’s bag or pulling it on a trolley is the accepted practice. Players are expected to arrive, change shoes, pay their green fees and head for the 1st tee—just as it’s always been in Irish golf.
What makes the European Club special is the course: majestic sandhills that direct lines of play; an overall elevation change of about 100 feet; consistently natural golf holes with superb shot values; broad fairways framed by marram grass, gorse, bracken, broom and buckthorn; perfect—the word is not used loosely—seaside turf; an unbroken string of enthralling sea views; and a virtual absence of blind shots—14 holes present a complete tee-to-green vista, and the landing area for the drive is clearly visible on the other four.
The 470-yard 7th is a devilish beauty, with Brittas Bay shimmering in the background. The tee is elevated on this heroic two-shotter. A stream—the Irish call it a “river”—skirts the hole precariously close on the right from start to finish. Jutting into the fairway from the left is a reed-filled marsh, which appears to be not 200 yards off the tee, but in fact is some 300 yards away.
The 596-yard 13th stretches along the beach, which is very much in play, thanks to the firm turf that slopes down toward it. Four bunkers have been cut into a low dune on the left for the last 100 yards.
We tuck back into the shelter of the dunes to play the splendid 14th, which spans 195 yards, knob-to-knob. A deep bunker at the front left—bulwarked with railroad ties, as are the majority of the pits here—and a less-perilous sand hazard at the left rear incline us, willy-nilly, to head right toward a high sandhill.
In July 2002, Tiger Woods helicoptered into the European Club with three pals, Mark O’Meara, David Duval and Scott McCarron, in preparation for the British Open. Ruddy walked along with the Americans, occasionally pointing out features and requirements of the holes. As the group stood on the tee of the 459-yard 12th, admiring the view out to sea, the Irishman turned to Woods. “What I think you’ll want to do here is set your drive out on the right, toward the bunker, with a little draw,” he said. “That way …”
O’Meara cut him off: “Ah, Pat, just the hole. Tiger can handle the shot.” O’Meara was smiling, as was Woods. So was Pat Ruddy, who could be forgiven, for it’s difficult not to be a little proprietary when you are the proprietor.