What makes a man part with probably the most important collection of golf memorabilia in the world?
The Jaime Ortiz-Patino Collection had countless treasures, including the Charles Lees sketch of The Golfers at St Andrews, the first-known copy of Golf Rules, the Honourable Company of Golfers of Edinburgh, dating back to 1818.
It had 17th century Delft tiles depicting golfing scenes, books on golf architecture by Robert Tyre Jones and Alister MacKenzie, numerous Bernard Darwin volumes. It had golf balls made by Allan Robertson, the McEwans, the Gourlays, clubs and balls made and used by the Morris family and the same by the Park family. It had sought-after golf prizes and medals, golf clubs made by the Philps, the Rolls Royce of clubmakers, the Dunns. It had paintings by Sir John Lavery, (James) Michael Brown, Sir Francis Grant.
In short, it had almost everything. Christie’s, the famous auctioneers in London, thought so much of the collection that they toured it around the Far and Middle East, and put together an impressively detailed catalogue. So why sell it? Why not glory in the knowledge that you have such priceless items?
The night before the auction Jimmy Patino, as he is known throughout golf, perched on a sofa in the corner of a bar at The Ritz hotel in London, and considered the question. “I always sell my collections,” he said. “I collected Impressionist paintings and when I realised there was one I could not buy and put up on my wall, I decided to sell them all. Now I am selling my golf collection.” He swirled a formidable-sized drink in his left hand. “Besides, they don’t want it at Valderrama. They don’t like me there anymore. They have taken down my picture. I have only been three or four times this year.”
These last four sentences gave the game away. In 1991 Patino had said: “I believe that a collection should be a living thing and that one should live with it. I have my paintings on a wall. I use my silver every day. I read my books.” Clearly if he could no longer do that, his only course was to sell.
Patino and Valderrama are joined together in golf as are tee and green. Patino, who is a grandson of the famous tin magnate from Bolivia who became one of the world’s richest men, was a playboy for a time, excelling in tennis, before maturity made him turn to the family business. An outstanding bridge player, he served as president of the World Bridge Federation and cleaned up the dishonesty in that game.
Just past his 50th birthday, he founded Valderrama in southern Spain, which was to him as Xanadu was to Charles Foster Kane. Money was not a problem. Only a couple of years earlier he had sold his Impressionist paintings for $70m. In 1991, it was estimated that Patino annually spent $4m of his own money on Valderrama.
He was so hands on, getting up at 4.30 to give orders to the greenkeeping staff, that he could have been described as head greenkeeper except that not many greenkeepers had a Ming vase in their hall, two silver thrones made for the royal palace in Berlin in their bedroom and cutlery that once belonged to Catherine the Great on their dinner table. Patino did.
Recently, though, it had turned sour. Valderrama was turned over to his son Felipe. A Greg Norman company was said to have bought it, though the sale was called off at the eleventh hour. It was sad to hear Patino say that he no longer had feelings for the place he once loved. So, that was why he decided to sell it. That was why people gathered at Christie’s in London recently for an auction that started when the auctioneer took his place at the podium and said: “right then, on the tee.”
This auction was going to indicate the current state of the market. “Golf memorabilia has gone down since the early nineties,” Philip Truett, a retired insurance broker at Lloyds and a golf book collector for 40 years, said. “This sale will tell us by how much.”
The answer was that it has plummeted. Many items did not sell. Christie’s expectation that it would realise in excess of £2m was not achieved. “The good items sold for pretty good to very good prices,” Alastair Johnston, who has the finest private collection of golf books, said later. “But there was a lot of upper middle class stuff that didn’t sell. I think it bore out our predictions given the current economic conditions in the world.” Truett bought a golf book for a few thousand pounds that had been sold at auction for three times as much 15 years ago.
The night of the auction Patino was back in his hotel suite. He had spent the day watching the proceedings but keeping out of sight. He sounded quite down. “I am most disappointed,” he said glumly. “I thought it have gone better. But I suppose the current economic situation is not encouraging people to buy what they don’t need.”