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A New Dawn
Jaime Diaz
September 22, 1997
There are no more mañanas for Valderrama, where all is ready for the first Ryder Cup in Continental Europe
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September 22, 1997

A New Dawn

There are no more mañanas for Valderrama, where all is ready for the first Ryder Cup in Continental Europe

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Often, after a dinner soaked in whiskey and wine (doctor's orders) that ends in the wee hours, a sleepless Jaime Ortíz-Patiño 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—Ortíz-Patiño 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 Ortíz-Patiño 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 found and elfish Ortíz-Patiño, 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 Ortíz-Patiño an extraordinary potpourri. He's the grandson of Bolivian tin magnate Simón Patiño, 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, Ortíz-Patiño now focuses his influence and wealth on golf. Both the eagle owl and Ortíz-Patiño are essentially nocturnal creatures. The owl hunts between dusk and dawn, while Ortíz-Patiño 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, Ortíz-Patiño from a failed marriage—and both are loners, although Ortíz-Patiño 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 want.

'Alpha Uno llamando a Pedro Antonio!" Ortíz-Patiño 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 second, Alpha Uno is hot. "Please get Pedro Antonio on channel 5!" Ortíz-Patiño 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 Ortíz-Patiño 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 green-keeping staff of 50 that Ortíz-Patiño 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," Ortíz-Patiño says firmly, and takes Perez's unit and adjusts the dial. When a test porves Ortíz-Patiño correct, a sickly smile forms on the face of Perez. Ortíz-Patiño, 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. Ortíz-Patiño 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," Ortíz-Patiño 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 Ortíz-Patiño for a short time, it's evident that defying him can be hazardous. "It's true I'm very impatient," says Ortíz-Patiño, who in addition to speaking Spanish is fluent in English and French. "This whole mañana 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 Ortíz-Patiño'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 Ortíz-Patiño sped down the road, repeating, "Jimmy, there's no hurry. Really."

But for Ortíz-Patiño 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," Ortíz-Patiño 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 Ortíz-Patiño 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 Ortíz-Patiño. 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.

Ortíz-Patiño 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% arc Spanish) has been ranked the best course in Continental Europe and since 1988 has hosted the European tour's season-ending Volvo Masters.

Ortíz-Patiño 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, Ortíz-Patiño'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.

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