"The key to success is in the details"
A Frenchman from Brittany, later resident in Switzerland, 69 years old, affable, with a perennial smile, a successful professional life linked to the oil business, handicap-7, in love with Andalucía, where he spent summers as a teenager, a club member since 2008... Patrick Rambaud is the new president of the most prestigious golf club in Spain, Royal Valderrama. He takes over from Nuno de Brito e Cunha, who has held the presidency for 11 years.
Rambaud has an in-depth knowledge of the club’s operations, having previously been vice-president. He is also a member of another renowned club (Golf de Morfontaine, north of Paris), and comes to the position with the aim of ensuring that Valderrama continues along the path of excellence that has marked the club since its inception.
We spoke to him in his bright office in the clubhouse, with its panoramic views of the driving range, the 10th hole and the characteristic grove of cork oak trees that defines the Valderrama silhouette.
What does it mean to assume the presidency of one of the most iconic golf clubs in Europe and one of the finest in the world?
It is a great responsibility because here we have something really exceptional, with its own special character. And what is that character, the Valderrama signature? Obviously, the first thing is the quality of the course, which thanks to Javier (Reviriego, general manager) and Adolfo (Ramos, head greenkeeper) is always perfect. The second thing is that we want our members to be happy and enjoy a good experience. They come here for a long weekend or a week, or longer in the summer, go to the driving range, which is magnificent, then have a coffee, head to the putting green and then to the first tee and start playing with total peace of mind thanks to the time between tee times. And all this in sunny, superb weather conditions.
In order to have a course and a club like Valderrama, it takes hard work, a great deal of effort. It is very important to have a first-class and stable staff over time. When you come back to a place 10 or 14 years later and see the same faces, it means that both employees and employers are happy.
The key to success is in the details and making you feel at home here. When you come to the caddy master you arrive with a smile on your face because you see that everything is fine.
What are the main objectives you have set for this new stage of the club? Are there going to be lines of continuity?
Yes, what is certain is that there will be no revolution. We are going to continue along the same lines. The members are happy, but we want to provide a little more social life to the club and try to have more interaction between the different nationalities – that they mix a little more – because in general the Spanish get together with the Spanish, the French with the French, and that's what happens in general with the other nationalities. In the end, what matters, in any case, is that the member feels at ease and is happy at the club.
After the substantial investment in recent years – renovating the course and irrigation system and building the lake – are there any other major initiatives planned?
A lot has been done, and the purchase of the course (by club members) in 2017 was a fundamental change. It must be said that what the board has done over the last 12 years with Javier (Reviriego) is incredible, and you can see that, when you make a list of everything that has been done, you need several pages to reflect it: the greens, bunkers, irrigation, practice facilities, driving range, redecoration of the clubhouse... We will continue to undertake projects, but they will not be spectacular works – just small but necessary to continue improving.
Valderrama has hosted some of the most important tournaments in the world: Ryder Cup, World Golf Championships, Volvo Masters... and now LIV Golf. Will the latter affect your good relationship with the DP World Tour?
We have worked very well with the European Tour for many years and their wish is that we continue with them, but we have determined that the situation has changed with the creation of LIV Golf and that it is more positive for the club to host a tournament on the new circuit. It is very sad not to continue with the European Tour, but Valderrama deserves more than what we have had in recent years, because the professionals love this course and for them it is a challenge and at the same time an enormous pleasure – albeit not without some suffering. During the last Andalucía Masters, one of the top players said publicly, “We hope to come back here because it is a pleasure, a challenge, we love it…”
You realise the importance of Valderrama when you see photographs of the winners we have had, the best players in the world. The Volvo Masters, the Ryder Cup, the American Express (World Golf Championship)… they were all played here. And all the efforts we make at the club are aimed at attracting tournaments and players of the highest level in the world.
The world of professional golf is quite complicated nowadays. They are looking for the right path, but so far they haven't found it. The story of LIV's relationship with the European Tour and the US Tour I don't know in depth, so I can't speak in great detail. However, if thanks to all this we prompt a reaction from the European Tour, that will be good.
We imagine you are fully aware that you are going to be criticised for hosting a LIV Golf tournament?
Yes, of course. Whatever you do, there's always going to be criticism. Everything is criticised, whether it's good or bad. Javier (Reviriego) has done an impressive job with them to ensure that everything is done well, respecting Valderrama's rules at all times, which is fundamental for us.
For many years, Valderrama and the Junta de Andalucía (regional government) have maintained a strategic alliance for hosting major tournaments at the club. Is that relationship going to continue?
We have an agreement with the Junta de Andalucía, which is not yet signed but will be signed. They are our partners, they are not sponsors, and the minister has made it clear that he is going to support the event. I said before that one of my objectives is to make the members happy but, besides that, the club has a social responsibility. We are committed to working together in this respect by holding a tournament with global repercussions that will generate significant benefits, not only locally but also regionally and nationally. Because, with all due respect to the other clubs, there is no other golf course in the country like Valderrama.
Royal Valderrama Club has about 450 members. What are the predominant nationalities?
It is a cosmopolitan club, with 34 nationalities, including a strong presence of Spaniards, around 30 per cent of the total, and around 20 per cent British, then Germans, Swiss, French, Scandinavians, Belgians, Dutch...
What do you like most about Valderrama – what is your favourite hole?
The first hole, because you haven't hit a shot yet and you can dream that everything is going to go well, although bit by bit that dream tends to fade away. What I like most is that the course is always perfect, and this is also influenced by the fact that we have very few players every day. In order to maintain its very high quality, the course cannot be too busy.
Mickelson and Tiger
When asked who he would like to play a round with, of all the great golfers who have competed at Valderrama, after thinking about it for a few seconds, Patrick Rambaud said, "I had never thought about it, but in a few months I would like to play here with Phil Mickelson (one of the main stars of LIV Golf), and if it is not possible I will settle for watching him approach and chip at Valderrama. Also with Tiger Woods, of course, but we would go from the 16th directly to the 18th without passing through the 17th. (On that hole, the ball of the then number one in the world rolled off the green into the water and he carded a triple-bogey, which almost cost him the 1999 American Express World Golf Championship against Miguel Ángel Jiménez.)