Golfing world mourns Jaime Ortiz-Patiño

Pati�o's vision lead to the Ryder Cup being played on Continental Europe. Picture: TSPL
Pati�o's vision lead to the Ryder Cup being played on Continental Europe. Picture: TSPL
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THE 2013 European Tour will resume in South Africa this week on a sombre note following the death of Jaime Ortiz-Patiño, the man whose vision and commitment saw the Ryder Cup played in Continental Europe for the first time at his beloved Valderrama in 1997.

“Jaime Ortiz-Patiño provided more than a few proud moments in the history of the European Tour and in many ways he changed the face of the game in Europe,” said chief executive George O’Grady of the 82-year-old who was known as “Jimmy” by his many friends in the game.

“His foresight and dedication to the game through the Volvo Masters and, of course, the Ryder Cup, was legendary as was his dedication to excellence in terms of the preparation of a golf course. Nobody had seen a golf course presented the way Valderrama was – he raised the bar in that respect. He was also a gentleman and he will be sadly missed.”

Bolivian-born Ortiz-Patiño was the owner and honorary president of Valderrama, which, in addition to the Ryder Cup, hosted the season-ending Volvo Masters 16 times between 1988 and 2008. It also staged the two World Golf Championship events, in 1999 and 2000, and the Andalucia Masters, in 2010 and 2011.

Two of Scotland’s all-time greats, Sandy Lyle and Colin Montgomerie, were among those to taste victory at Valderrama, as did Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Sergio Garcia, Bernhard Langer and Graeme McDowell.

“Many great memories of him come to mind,” said European Tour vice chairman Ángel Gallardo of Ortiz-Patiño. “We shared great moments, especially in the run up to the 1997 Ryder Cup. I spent a lot of time with him. He used to come to the meetings at six in the morning – one day I tried to be there before him but he still beat me!

“He has done a lot not only for Spanish golf but also for European golf, in fact in many way he has been the ‘soul’ of golf in Europe. When we named him Honorary Vice President of the European Tour, it was a truly deserved honour for a very great man.”

It was one of Ortiz-Patiño’s proudest moments when, in 1997, he saw Seve Ballesteros, his great friend, captain Europe to a dramatic 14½-13½ victory over the Americans to retain the Ryder Cup.

That triumph came at the end of a journey that had began over 40 years earlier and one which saw Ortiz-Patiño build one of the best courses in the world. His passion for golf was ignited by an unlikely chain of events that began at the Italian Open in 1956, when Patiño offered his services as a caddie to Ryder Cup player Dai Rees, who needed a replacement bagman for the final round. Instead of paying Ortiz-Patiño in cash, Rees told him: “I am the Ryder Cup captain next year – I will send you a couple of tickets as your caddie fee.”

Ortiz-Patiño made the trip to Lindrick in Yorkshire the following year and was blown away by the event. It was some years later – in the early 1980s – when Ortiz-Patiño was winding down his business career and taking more holidays in his home in Sotogrande that the plan to create the vision that would become Valderrama came to the fore.

With an increasing membership and overcrowding issues at his home club of Sotogrande, Ortiz-Patiño and seven associates bought the neighbouring Los Aves course, a layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Snr.

Initially, the group of friends bought the club so that they could have somewhere private to play, but it was not long before Ortiz-Patiño was hatching the plan that would see the Ryder Cup played on mainland Europe for the first time in history.

After buying out his fellow investors, Ortiz-Patiño re-employed Trent Jones to come back and finish what he had started. The great architect matched his employer’s ambition and sculpted the modern day masterpiece that is Valderrama. While Jones worked his magic, Ortiz-Patiño went to America to study agronomy with United States Golf Association experts so that he could be responsible for the maintenance of his course.

It did not take the European Tour long to come calling on Valderrama, and when they did they recognised the stunning quality of the venue and agreed to host the Volvo Masters there immediately.

By 1991, Ortiz-Patiño was being asked if he would consider bidding for The Ryder Cup. At first, he felt that the infrastructure was not good enough to host golf’s grandest team event, but he soon changed his mind after travelling to the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island.

“It was there that I realised that we could do it at Valderrama,” he said. “The spectators had to travel some distance to get to Kiawah and I felt that if they did it in America then they could travel from Marbella, where there were so many hotels, to Valderrama. I put in a bid for 1997 and it was accepted – that was a very proud moment.”

José María Olazábal, a member of the European team in 1997 and last year’s winning captain at Medinah, described Valderrama as a “masterpiece” which would serve as a “legacy” to Ortiz-Patiño.

He added: “He wanted to make it a very special place, a unique place, and he did it. He put Valderrama and that part of Andalucía on the golfing map. Through the Volvo Masters, the American Express Championship and the Ryder Cup, he presented Andalucia to the whole world as a great golfing destination.

“At the 1997 Ryder Cup he was close to the team, and he used to talk a lot with (captain) Seve (Ballesteros). He wanted every single detail to be precise and he tried so hard to make everything perfect.

He even used to get out of bed at 4.30 in the morning to work with the maintenance team and help cut the greens! Not many people would have done that, but it perfectly showed his character. We will miss him.”

Tributes were also paid by Garcia, who won the 2011 Andalucia Masters at Valderrama, and Miguel Angel Jimenez who in recent years has dipped into his own pocket to try and keep the Costa del Sol on the golfing map in terms of staging European Tour events.

“This is a very sad day not just for Spain but for the whole of the golfing world,” said Garcia. “Jamie Ortiz-Patiño was a great man and the masterpiece he helped create at Valderrama was truly something special.

“For me to win the Andalucia Masters there, and become the first Spanish player to win a European Tour event on his golf course, is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. My thoughts go out to his family at this time.”

Jiménez, who is recovering from a broken leg suffered while skiing in the Sierra Nevada mountains, added: “He had a very clear vision of golf. He transformed Valderrama, which he considered as his ‘third son’, and he placed it at the pinnacle of the world of golf through big events like the Volvo Masters and The Ryder Cup.

“His determination, willpower and perseverance were extraordinary and he achieved all his goals. He should be an example in the golfing world, a role model. He put passion into everything he did. Last March, he came to Aloha to show his support of the Open de Andalucía, and greeted us all – I’ll never forget that.”

Jaime Ortiz-Patiño is survived by his sons Felipe and Carlos and four grandchildren in addition to a host of acquaintances both inside and outside the game of golf, amongst them Alucinio Pineda, who worked for, and who was a friend to Ortiz-Patiño for over 40 years.

A private cremation took place on Saturday with the funeral service scheduled for Wednesday . There will also be a Memorial Service which will be held in Paris at a later date, details of which will be announced in due course.