It was July 1990, the British Open was being played at St. Andrews, and an earlier (and less bald) incarnation of OzinSpain was sipping a Scotch in the downstairs clubhouse lounge area set aside for press and players that week. (Those were the good old days when press and players cheerfully mingled – some even bought us drinks!)
Mid-afternoon, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño walked in, espied yours truly (we had first met in 1985 when OzinSpain and Spain-based US journalist Charlie Beck exclusively broke the news, in Costa Golf magazine, about Jimmy’s purchase of and ambitious plans for Las Aves, later to become Valderrama), joined our group in front of one of the TV sets and ordered a vodka and tonic (if memory serves me correctly).
Some time, and various additional drinks, later R&A secretary Michael Bonallack poked his head through the door, noticed the Valderrama president, and moved over to recriminate him – gently.
“You know, Jimmy, that as a member (“overseas” in his case) you’re not supposed to be in here.” “No, I didn’t,” he replied, remaining seated and returning his gaze to the TV set as Nick Faldo headed inexorably to his third Open victory,
Bonallack grinned sheepishly and left. Jaime remained in the press lounge long enough to finish his drink before generously picking up the by-now-substantial bar tab, bidding a warm farewell and heading off to wherever R&A members were supposed to be.
Apart from highlighting the absurdity of the R&A’s “rules” (at least back in the ‘90s), this anecdote is just one example of how Jaime Ortiz-Patiño endeared himself to the press over the two decades that Valderrama was in the international spotlight. He might have been a self-described “dictator” when it came to Valderrama but this friend and golfing partner of royalty (Prince Andrew) and world leaders (George Bush – the smarter senior one) was just as comfortable in the company of journalists. And the affection and respect was mutual.
The announcement of his death, in Marbella on 3 January, aged 82, has prompted reams of richly deserved tributes. He truly was inimitable, a passionate lover and student of the game who did it his way… a pioneer and indisputably key figure in the global promotion and development of the 21st century “Costa del Golf”. Golf in Sotogrande, Andalucía and Spain is incalculably poorer for his sad parting.