Ron Kirby – Farewell my friend

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From humble beginning as a caddie, caddie master and maintenance crew member, Ron Kirby became one of the world’s most highly respected golf course architects and a Fellow of the American Association of Golf Course Architects, during his five-decade golf design career.

Ron was never an ego guy. It wasn’t about him; it was always about what his clients wanted. He worked with Dick Wilson, Gary Player, Robert Trent Jones Senior and Jack Nicklaus. “I did my finishing school with Jack” he once told me. “Nicklaus was the best strategist, Trent Jones the best router and Fazio the best landscaper”.

He loved learning and that never stopped. I loved that about him. He was always open to listening and new ideas. Just last year at 89, on his return from the Annual ASGCA Conference, I asked him how he got on. He answered with his usual youthful exuberance, “I learned so much, it was great.” I hope I’m like that at 89!

I first met Ron in 1985 when he was the Senior Designer for Jack Nicklaus at Mount Juliet GC, Kilkenny, Ireland. It was the beginning of a long love affair Ron and his beautiful, humble wife of 67 years, Sally – who sadly passed in 2020 – shared with Ireland. I remember Ron picking Jack’s brains during the 11 trips he made to design his first Irish course. The brief from owner Tim Mahony to Jack in his house in Palm Beach, ”Jack, build me a course that 19 handicappers like me can enjoy, and I’ll give you the job.” Both Ron and I learned from this. Ron designed and built challenging though always enjoyable courses.

Shortly after Mount Juliet opened, I was invited by the owner of the Old Head in Kinsale, John O’Connor, to advise him on what to do there. Driving onto the 220-acre goat-inhabited site, I went to my knees in awe. It had to be the most spectacular site for a golf course anywhere in the world. It was perfect. John asked whether my father, Joe could be involved in the course design. The problem – my father had painted, though never designed a golf courses. Having discussed it with ‘Pop’, we had a solution.

I will never forget my call to Ron asking him to help my father, 76 at the time. He answered simply “I’d be honoured”. He and Sally moved to Kinsale to enjoy one of the happiest chapters in their well-travelled lives, building the Old Head with John, my father and Hauley, the contractor on site.

The Old Head is a Ron Kirby design and routing. He created arguably the most spectacular golf course on earth. It will be his legacy course.


The Old Head – Ron’s legacy forever

Shortly after the Old Head, Ron came to my aid again in Barbados, to renovate the Barbados Golf Club, which opened in 2000. It was a generous favour and we had great fun building it the way he liked – the old-fashioned way. He sketched the holes in his pad, handed them to his specially chosen shaper (or earth painter as I call them) to deliver on his picture of the hole.

Ron and I working on Apes Hill

Twenty years on, I called on him again to redesign the Apes Hill Golf Course in Barbados, including a 9-hole Par 3 Course and a practice facility. He was 87 years’ old, though I knew he would enjoy it. A stunning site on the top of Barbados, overlooking the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans. I had the pleasure of working with Ron for the past three and a half years, on what was his last project. We talked daily and had great times working and having craic in Barbados alongside his son, Ronnie. Fittingly Apes Hill, recently cited as “The Caribbean’s Newest Masterpiece”, will now be part of his legacy.

Ron sketching the sunset in Barbados & with owner Glen at Apes Hill & with the team

He was an incredible man, with a smile and twinkle in his eyes, and an abundance of rich friendships across the many countries he worked in across the globe. A great friend of the Carr family, he lived a rich and full life. He did what he loved right until the end, sketching golf holes Denmark, and departed surrounded by his loving family.


Ron and family at the wall in the Old Head where Sally is …and his book…


You certainly left your mark Sir Ron, as I called him. You will be sadly missed. Sally is waiting for you in the wall at the Old Head, where you will be remembered always.

Goodbye my friend.

Roddy Carr

August 2023.


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