The European Club

Words by: Alex Ames
Photography by:Jack Ducey

I’ve been kidnapped by an 85 year old man. Sand coloured dunes flash overhead as our buggy races between holes. We’re heading for the coast. Nothing makes me more anxious than being late for a round of golf. And nothing makes me play shit, like being anxious. My tee time was five minutes ago.

There’s only one thing soothing my anxiety. My kidnapper, Pat Ruddy, designed the course we’re careering through. When he heard I did a bit of golf writing Pat demanded I get in his buggy and take a real tour of The European Club. Turns out I’m about to play one of the finest Links in Ireland, which makes it one of the finest courses in the world. And if the designer can’t fix my tee time, no one can.

“Pat, thank you so much for showing me The Course, it looks amazing, but am I going to miss my round if I’m late?” I ask, trying not to sound ungrateful.

Pat howls with laughter, almost losing his grip on the steering wheel. “The earliest tee time after yours is in about 3 hours!”

“Three hours?” I ask, double checking the clear blue sky above me, the flowering bright yellow gorse and the perfectly manicured fairways beneath me. My watch reads 10:36 am. “Does it ever get crowded?” I ask.

“Wash your mouth out boy!” shouts Pat in a thick irish accent. Screwing up his face and gnashing his teeth he adds, “we don’t do crowded…” He waits, long enough to unnerve me, then his face cracks into a broad smile and I breathe a sigh of relief. He’s fucking with me.

Atop Pat's head sits a feathered hat and he carries a wooden cane for balance. Behind two thick square lenses, nestled amongst rows of wrinkles are Pat’s electric blue eyes. They expose the unmistakable energy for life that courses through him. Pat slows the vehicle to a halt and waits for me to help him onto the highest dune.

“This is where we found the golf course,” said Pat, unprompted. “We were flying overhead in a helicopter looking for the best plot of land. We brought her down and began walking amongst the dunes when we stumbled across a young couple making love. As they pulled their knickers up from around their ankles I knew; "If it's good enough for that, it’s good enough for golf!”

Pat howls with laughter again. He is one of those people who guarantees you recognise his punch lines.

“We built the course so I could hit 6,000 balls a day and kick Lee Trevino’s arse.” He continues.

“Have any other pros played it?”, I ask, curiously.

“It’s not made for tournaments, we don’t have the infrastructure,” responded Pat. “But you’ll have heard of the guy with the course record. Tiger Woods shot 3 under here.”

“3 under is the course record?” I repeat, dumbfounded by the difficulty of the challenge that lies ahead.

“The next best score is -1, and that was Rory McIlroy,” Pat says proudly. I Won’t be going low today then.

Pat points to an enormous green and says, “Over there is where we invented the great three putt instead of the shit three putt. That green is 125 yards front to back and I think we might extend it next year. On Summer evenings I come down here with a packet of crisps and my wedges. That’s all life is Alex, snatches of happiness.”

Before I can ask him a follow up question he’s off down the dune. “Come, you’ll like this” he says, getting into the cart and ushering me inside.

He drives us to a tee box surrounded by high grass. Ahead, is a green, stamped into the middle of a dune creating the iconic amphitheatre-style par three. The tee box reads - “7A”.

“One of the best things we’ve done at the European Club is add two extra holes. The earliest courses consisted of five, six, even 22. It was only in the 1850’s that the 18 hole came to be a normal round of golf.”

Pat takes a deep sigh.

“Playing this hole reminds me of my mother. When we had golfers pressing up behind us she refused to worry and only sat smoking a cigarette, waving them through. She was a lovely lady and taught me that every golf hole is a little bit of heaven and a great place to spend a bit of life.”

For the first time Pat grows quiet. We walk to the cart and begin the journey back to the first tee.

Arriving at the clubhouse I find my friends waiting impatiently but my anxiety has long since passed. I introduce them to Pat who welcomes them and shares a few quick fire anecdotes before saying he must get home.

“Where do you live?” I ask Pat a little nervously, having just experienced the way he drives a golf cart.

“Above the clubhouse, mostly in the library. There are 700 books in there. I’d like to be buried with them but I can’t find men strong enough to lift the casket.” He howls with laughter one more time.

As he says the words, I realise I’ve been a total idiot and the mystery that is The European Club crashes into focus.

Staggeringly beautiful, immensely difficult, totally empty, and a nightmare to get to. It’s not built for tourists and has only 88 members, who don’t pay much. No, The European Club is not a members model or a - “buid it and they will come” resort. This special piece of Ireland is carved out for an audience of one. The man who lives above the clubhouse and tinkers with the holes every year.

“Pat, do you own The European Club?” I ask incredulously.

He smiles his great smile.

“Who cares who builds a Rolls Royce. You wanna be the guy who drives it.”