From humble beginnings as a caddie, caddie master and maintenance crew member in his hometown of Beverly, Mass., Kirby became one of the most highly respected golf course architects in the world and a “Fellow” of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Apes Hill Barbados is home to Kirby’s last completed designs – the 18-hole championship course that opened last November, a 9-hole par-3 short course, a bonus 19th hole, and a practice facility.
The pride of Beverly, Mass., Ron Kirby, 90, authored hundreds of designs globally, solo and in tandem with many of the game’s most celebrated golf course architects. He worked vigorously and well until sudden illness overtook him and he passed peacefully with family at his side this morning in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he was working on a project.
“We at Apes Hill Barbados are profoundly grateful for having had Ron Kirby become one of our family members through his extensive time here and the relationships he built with us,” said Sunil Chatrani, Executive Chairman, Apes Hill Barbados. “Ron became a wonderful friend and will be deeply missed. That he also designed our golf courses is a gift that will give forever.”
“He was an incredible man, always with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes who had an abundance of rich friendships from the dozen plus countries he worked in globally,” said Roddy Carr, who was instrumental in Kirby being selected to design Old Head Golf Links in Ireland and Apes Hill Barbados. “Ron lived a rich and full life and did what he loved doing right to the end – recently sketching golf holes in Denmark.”
From humble beginning as a caddie, caddie master and maintenance crew member in his hometown of Beverly, Mass., Kirby became one of the most highly respected golf course architects in the world and a “Fellow” of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) during his five-decade golf design career.
At the University of Massachusetts-Stockbridge, Kirby earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. He began working as a design associate for Dick Wilson, then served under ASGCA Founding Member Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designing courses in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
Kirby used his golf course architecture and construction experience to start his own design company in 1970, with consulting partner Gary Player. Eventually, Kirby sold his company to Golden Bear, Inc., and joined Nicklaus Design Services and Jack Nicklaus, as overseer of all European projects.
“He was never an ego guy, it was never about him but always about what his clients wanted,” said Carr. “He worked with Dick Wilson, Gary Player, Robert Trent Jones Senior and Jack Nicklaus. Ron once told me: ‘I did my finishing school with Jack. Nicklaus was the best strategist, Trent Jones the best router, Tom Fazio the best landscaper”.
Kirby’s course portfolio is extensive, including London Golf Club International Course, London; Dolphin Head Golf Course, Hilton Head, S.C.; Sun City Golf Course, Bophutatswana, South Africa; and La Moraleja Golf Club, Madrid, Spain.
Throughout his career, he was accompanied by his wife, Sally. Their travels together set the tone for Kirby’s autobiography, “We Spent Half Our Lives on the Wrong Side of the Road,” published in 2020. Sally died in 2021. He is survived by his children Faye, Ron Jr., and Beverly.
All agree that Kirby passed whilst continuing to do great work. It’s gratifying to know that he was pleased with his final design, the championship 18-hole golf course at Apes Hill Barbados.
“I am grateful to be a part of this place; I’m proud to say it is one of mine,” said Kirby. “I can say that about 140 or 150 golf courses, but this is a special one. It is hard to find a golf course anywhere that has everything that we have here at Apes Hill.”