Often, after a dinner soaked in whiskey and wine (doctor's
orders) that ends in the wee hours, a sleepless Jaime
Ortiz-Patino will leave his villa to walk alone in the still
Andalusian night around his Xanadu, the Valderrama Golf Club. As
the billionaire owner of all he surveys ponders the endless
details inherent in what many consider the impossible task of
hosting the Ryder Cup in Spain--from ridding his cosseted
bent-grass greens of every wisp of hated poa annua to finessing
golf-ignorant bureaucrats in Madrid to arranging a proper fete
for heavy hitters such as George Bush and Prince
Andrew--Ortiz-Patino will occasionally have the sensation that
he is being watched. Looking up toward the top of a television
transmitter that rises 100 feet above the red tiles of
Valderrama's sprawling stucco clubhouse, he will spot the
moonlit silhouette of a massive eagle owl.
"We just stare at each other," says Ortiz-Patino in the dreamy,
half-mumbled English he employs when not running Valderrama like
a professor emeritus of the Clifford Roberts Institute of
Micromanagement. "Then a rabbit or something will move, and
zoom, he swoops down. A magnificent animal."
Other than the fact that the giant owl's six-foot wingspan
exceeds, by plenty, the height of the round and elfish
Ortiz-Patino, the two most commanding figures at Valderrama have
much in common. Both are rare birds, the eagle owl one of fewer
than 1,200 left in Spain, the 67-year-old Ortiz-Patino an
extraordinary potpourri. He's the grandson of Bolivian tin
magnate Simon Patino, was born in Paris and educated at the
ultraexclusive Le Rosey boarding school in Switzerland. He
played tennis well enough to compete in the French and Italian
Opens and was president of the World Bridge Federation from 1976
to '86. A former industrialist, Ortiz-Patino now focuses his
influence and wealth on golf. Both the eagle owl and
Ortiz-Patino are essentially nocturnal creatures. The owl hunts
between dusk and dawn, while Ortiz-Patino rarely gets more than
three hours of sleep a night and during the day is known to doze
off in mid-sentence. In addition, both came to Valderrama to
heal--the bird from an injured wing that was ministered to by
humans, Ortiz-Patino from a failed marriage--and both are
loners, although Ortiz-Patino does belong to 17 private golf
clubs around the world. Most of all, both rule their domains
absolutely, all-seeing and all-knowing, descending swiftly and
mercilessly when they see something, large or small, that they
"Alpha Uno llamando a Pedro Antonio!" Ortiz-Patino barks into
his walkie-talkie during his morning reconnaissance of the
grounds, his voice suddenly clear and loud. When Pedro Antonio
Perez, Valderrama's chief engineer, doesn't answer within five
seconds, Alpha Uno is hot. "Please get Pedro Antonio on channel
5!" Ortiz-Patino repeats, in Spanish. His concern is whether a
shallow drainage ditch that bisects the grassy amphitheater
behind the 14th green should be filled with wood chips as a
precaution against a surprise rainstorm's hitting the normally
arid area next week during the match. Two minutes later Perez
has still not answered, and Ortiz-Patino grabs the walkie-talkie
and chews out whoever can hear. "I don't have all day. I need
Pedro Antonio now!" Finally, a sheepish Perez, who has heard
from several members of the greenkeeping staff of 50 that
Ortiz-Patino is looking for him, drives up in his golf cart. He
explains that he hasn't answered because his walkie-talkie isn't
working. "You're not on channel 5," Ortiz-Patino says firmly,
and takes Perez's unit and adjusts the dial. When a test proves
Ortiz-Patino correct, a sickly smile forms on the face of Perez.
Ortiz-Patino, with a heart after all, returns the walkie-talkie
with a resigned shake of his head.
This is a man used to getting what he wants. After he underwent
heart surgery in 1992, his doctor asked him his exact daily
intake of alcohol so that his doctor could set his dosage of the
blood thinner Coumadin. Ortiz-Patino said he drank four shots of
whiskey, two of vodka and a bottle and a half of wine. "He was
shocked, but he didn't stop me," Ortiz-Patino says proudly,
sipping at a breakfast orange juice that's spiked with vodka.
"In fact, when I eat anything that contains vitamin K, which
thickens the blood, I get to drink more."
After being around Ortiz-Patino for a short time, it's evident
that defying him can be hazardous. "It's true I'm very
impatient," says Ortiz-Patino, who in addition to speaking
Spanish is fluent in English and French. "This whole manana
mentality in Spain upsets me terribly." Besides his tendency to
snap at workers, he is notorious in the Sotogrande area, of
which Valderrama is a part, for his driving. PGA Tour
commissioner Tim Finchem, visiting in July to discuss a future
world tour event at Valderrama, witnessed Ortiz-Patino's lead
foot when the two took an after-dinner excursion. Finchem,
himself a former chronic speeder--he once lost an election in
Virginia largely because he was discovered to have been tagged
with 14 moving violations in 12 years--leaned back in his seat
nervously as Ortiz-Patino sped down the road, repeating, "Jimmy,
there's no hurry. Really."
But for Ortiz-Patino there is, and always has been, a hurry. The
restlessness may have originated in his early teens, when he
spent time living in New York at the Waldorf Astoria, where his
grandfather had a permanent residence on the 34th floor. The two
regularly dined together, the old man, who would live only a few
more years, telling stories of his youth, the boy listening. "I
loved those dinners," Ortiz-Patino says in his spacious office
at Valderrama, where a mounted chunk of raw tin, jagged and
shimmering, sits prominently behind his desk. "My grandfather's
example was to create something, to make a difference."
Bringing the Ryder Cup to Spain, the first time the 70-year-old
event has been held in Continental Europe, is the latest in a
series of challenges Ortiz-Patino has taken on since, at age 28,
he gave up the life of an international playboy to win control
of the family conglomerate in a bloody corporate battle. "I had
to do that for the sake of my grandfather," says Ortiz-Patino,
who liquidated his interests in the businesses in 1982. He also
used his wealth to buy more than $60 million in Impressionist
paintings, a vintage wine collection and a 20-acre estate in
Geneva, as well as to become a power broker in international
bridge circles. He had only dabbled in golf after his tennis
career was curtailed by a shoulder injury when he was 25, but
attending the 1957 Ryder Cup in England, where the U.S. was
beaten for the first time in 24 years, spawned an affinity that
would grow. "I like golf because it's a game that's stronger
than you are," he says.
Ortiz-Patino first came to the south of Spain in 1967, on the
mend from divorcing his second wife, the mother of his twin
boys, and bought a home on the original course at Sotogrande. In
1985, consumed with the idea of owning a world-class golf club,
he bought a second course at Sotogrande, which was called Los
Aves and designed by Robert Trent Jones, for $6 million with
seven other partners. A year later he bought out his partners
and put another $30 million into an extensive redesign by Jones.
Renamed Valderrama, the exclusive club (there are 349 members,
of whom 12% are Spanish) has been ranked the best course in
Continental Europe and since 1988 has hosted the European tour's
season-ending Volvo Masters.
Ortiz-Patino had higher ambitions for his course, and after
attending the 1991 Ryder Cup, held successfully on remote Kiawah
Island in South Carolina on a brand-new course, he focused his
energies on bringing the event to Valderrama and the Costa del
Sol. In 1995, after the '97 Ryder Cup had been awarded to Spain,
Ortiz-Patino's presentation overcame the fact that he was a
foreigner, and the Spanish Golf Federation chose Valderrama over
a course built by Seve Ballesteros to be the site of the match.
Since then Ortiz-Patino's maniacal attention to detail has
produced what is arguably the best-conditioned course in the
world. Three weeks before the event Valderrama was in tournament
condition, with the corporate and merchandise tents already up
and the phone and electrical lines going in on schedule. "From
here on, everything is fine-tuning," Ortiz-Patino says.
"Basically, we've done all we can do."
That, unfortunately, may be the problem. For all of
Ortiz-Patino's efforts, skeptics foresee this Ryder Cup as a
disaster of traffic jams and gallery gridlock in a country and
culture so unaware of golf that Ballesteros and Jose Maria
Olazabal could conceivably walk arm in arm down Las Ramblas in
Barcelona without causing a stir. The line among cynics is that
the whole unwieldy, displaced vessel is destined to founder on
the Rock of Gibraltar, which looms a few miles away.
Then there's the golf course, which, while immaculately
manicured, is widely dismissed by golfheads as a tricky test
with annoyingly narrow corners and overhanging cork tree
branches that make some holes close to unplayable in a strong
wind. The players almost universally despise the 17th hole, a
par-5 redesigned by Ballesteros. The hole features a humped band
of rough in the middle of the fairway and a water hazard
fronting the green with banks so steep and slick that wedge
shots with too much backspin routinely funnel into the drink.
Although most pros are loath to offend Ortiz-Patino, one member
of the U.S. team says, "The course gives us the advantage
because we've only played it enough to dislike it. They've
played it enough to hate it."
Meanwhile, the same low-hanging tree limbs that impinge on the
players will make spectating difficult. With 27,000 tickets sold
and only four matches being played at a time on the first two
days, the four holes without natural amphitheaters or
grandstands will be impossibly overloaded.
Traffic coming to the course may be even worse. Although
Ortiz-Patino persuaded Spanish officials to widen the coastal
highway west of Sotogrande from two to four lanes, he was
unsuccessful in getting the same done to a 15-mile segment that
runs east of the course. That means that the several thousand
spectators who will be housed in the hotel-rich area around
Marbella will almost surely run into bottlenecks. Some estimate
that a journey of 45 miles might take three hours. To mitigate
the situation, Ortiz-Patino has gotten officials to create three
lanes on a narrow stretch of the road, allowing two lanes to be
used to handle the morning and evening rush. He has also
arranged for 9,000 ticket holders to be shuttled in
Such contingency plans wouldn't be scoffed at if they were being
formulated in any European country other than Spain. The "can't
do" stereotype is particularly prevalent in southern Spain and
the province of Andalusia. At once the most festive and most
poverty-stricken region of the country, Andalusia is a laid-back
land of sun, water and sand in the overbuilt tourist towns along
the Costa del Sol, yet a parched and primitive place in the
inland agrarian villages. It is Spain's greatest stronghold of
the ancient arts of the bullfight and flamenco, a region where
the afternoon siesta and the late-night dinner are more
prolonged than anywhere else. It is a wonderful place to soak in
a rich culture but not a natural fit for 30,000 people all
working on a precise schedule.
"Perhaps it would be best not to discuss that," says Edward
Kitson of the Ryder Cup Ltd., the European PGA's administrative
arm in charge of managing the event, when asked about the
inevitable culture clash that occurred when golf's irresistible
force met Spain's seemingly immovable object. "Things got done,
but it wasn't easy. Suffice it to say, there will be tremendous
pressure on the infrastructure."
No one doubts that the Costa del Sol will show well in panorama.
The blend of deep Mediterranean blue against the Sierra Ronda
mountains dotted with glistening whitewashed houses--pueblos
blancos--will be spectacular. "When they get up in that blimp
and show that coastline, people are going to say, 'Where is
that? I want to go there,'" says Dave Wallaby, a transplanted
Englishman who runs a store named Planet Golf on the coastal
highway near Valderrama.
The country that brought the archer to the opening ceremonies of
the Olympics, in 1992 in Barcelona, will provide other grace
notes, especially for high rollers. Perhaps the most exclusive
viewing area in the history of tournament golf will be
constructed on a hill to the right of the 17th green. At $8,000
a head and limited to only 200 people (including Bush and Prince
Andrew), the President's Suite will offer catered gourmet meals,
a business center, valet parking and a clear view of the top of
Gibraltar and what are sure to be some of the most crucial shots
of the Ryder Cup. Although the second shots to the green will be
difficult to see, they will be shown, along with action from all
over the course, on a Jumbotron screen (one of three that will
be, for the first time at a major golf event, located on the
field of play) placed across the fairway for clear viewing by
those in the suite as well as the 5,000 expected to sit in the
amphitheater behind the green. Among the high-end accommodations
off the course will be cabins in five ocean liners, including
the QE2, luxury compartments in a passenger train, the Al
Andalus, and rooms in a 17th-century convent. Tenor Jose
Carreras is scheduled to entertain in concert during the week,
while Andalusian horses will dress up the opening ceremonies.
"There is so much passion in this country, it's just a question
of channeling it," says Ross Berlin, a 41-year-old American
event marketer who has lived in Spain for two years while
closely assisting Ortiz-Patino in organizing the Ryder Cup.
"Yes, the pace is slower, but not when things absolutely have to
get done. Then the people have this tremendous capacity for
effective work. I was panicking in April, but since then the
push from the local area has been so great that I see a
tremendously presented event."
"That is the key to the Spaniard," says Ortiz-Patino. "You
appeal to his pride. Then he will make things work. That's a big
part of why this Ryder Cup will work. It will work."
As the task consumes him, Ortiz-Patino lives for his course. He
rarely sees his wife of 27 years, Uta, who resides in Palm
Beach, Fla., or his sons, Felipe and Carlos, 34, who live in
Geneva and London, respectively. His friends paint a picture of
a generous man who loves being at the center of a group but who
nonetheless is difficult to get to know.
Ortiz-Patino will have more vigils with the eagle owl before the
Ryder Cup, but chances are that when the competition ends and
golf's Spanish experiment is assessed, it will be this restless,
singular man who will have performed a magnificent swoop.
LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
Spaniards tend to work alone. The ancient land's great figures
have been individualists, be they artists, conquistadors,
architects, matadors, explorers or writers. It's no accident
that the Spanish aren't known for their assembly-line products.
The land itself is mountainous, too naturally divided to foster
a strong national identity. All of which helps explain why
Spain's national soccer team is often a disappointment while the
country's golfers have been surprisingly successful. When given
the opportunity to play--only 115,000 Spaniards are golfers, or
less than 1% of the country's population of 39 million--the
Spanish have demonstrated both the passion and the temperament
to excel in the game.
Unfortunately, the opportunity is still all too rare. Though
poor, Seve Ballesteros had entree to the game through his uncle,
touring professional Ramon Sota, and his older, golf-playing
brothers in the coastal town of Pedrena. Jose Maria Olazabal, a
Basque from the northern part of the country, was the son of a
greenkeeper near the town of San Sebastian. For most Spaniards,
though, golf remains largely a game for rich tourists.
Surprisingly, Valderrama, one of the most exclusive clubs in the
world, has been a prime source of opportunity for
less-privileged native players. The club's owner, Jaime
Ortiz-Patino, decided early on to hire the majority of his
workforce from the adjoining town of Guadiaro, whose 4,000
residents had developed a golf consciousness because so many had
worked as caddies and greenkeepers at the original course at
Sotogrande. One of them, Juan Zumaquero, was first exposed to
the game 30 years ago when he caddied for Ortiz-Patino and is
now the head pro at Valderrama. Since the club opened in 1985,
Guadiaro's connection to the game has become even stronger.
Because there were so many bona fide golfers in the town, the
citizenry decided to build its own course. Ortiz-Patino provided
the seed money, and Robert Trent Jones, who had designed
Valderrama, offered his services without a fee. In 1991 the town
opened a sporty nine-hole course named La Canada.
Sitting on a bluff less than a mile from Valderrama, La Canada
is one of only 12 municipal golf courses in Spain. A family
membership costs $650. Players under 21 have it even better. For
them, greens fees, practice balls and lessons are free.
As a result, little Guadiaro is turning out some of Spain's most
impressive young players. Among the 70 golfers of both sexes in
the junior program, the club has two Spanish national age-group
champions, Gervasio Cuquejo, 8, and 12-year-old Ivan Sanchez,
plus a slew of teenagers with a handicap of five or less.
On a recent day about a dozen juniors worked on the practice tee
after a session with La Canada teaching pro Jose Quiros. Almost
all had attended the Volvo Masters at Valderrama, and in July
several had gone to watch members of the U.S. Ryder Cup team,
including Tiger Woods, play a practice round there. "Tiger was
incredible," said Jose Luis Sanchez, a 16-year-old with a three
handicap who, along with his father, a contractor, will attend
the Ryder Cup. "Ever since I saw him, I've thought about his
swing, about how he practices. He's an inspiration to all of us
to get better."
Watching the impromptu gathering was a smiling Jose Ledesma, who
runs the club's small bar and restaurant. Ledesma, 41, grew up
caddying at Sotogrande and playing the course whenever he was
allowed. Although he now rarely plays more than once a week, the
athletic Ledesma maintains a three handicap at La Canada. "If
this kind of environment had existed when I was a boy, I would
have become a professional golfer, I'm sure," Ledesma says.
"This gives kids a real chance to become good. I remember, as a
boy, Manuel Pinero coming to Sotogrande for a tournament after
riding a motor scooter all the way from Madrid [a journey of 400
miles] with his clubs slung over his shoulder. When I think of
that, I wonder how there are Spanish pros at all."