BY JOHN STEINBREDER
SOUTH KENT, CONNECTICUT | The youngest of four children, Paul Rudovsky was born in fall 1944 and raised in Jamaica, Queens, New York. He was 10 years old when he and his siblings went off to summer camp in northeast Pennsylvania. For kids in his age group, Rudovsky had three options when it came to activities: arts and crafts, soccer or golf.
“I already hated the first two,” he recalled. “So, I chose golf. We didn’t have much of a place to play, just an outdoor space surrounded by chicken wire and some old clubs and balls. But I quickly fell in love with the sport. In fact, I did almost nothing else at camp that summer and that included playing my first round of golf. It was on a nearby nine-hole course at the Honesdale Golf Club, where 1959 Masters champ Art Wall Jr. had learned the game, and I shot 75 for the nine. From that time on, I was hooked.”
Indeed, he was, and the addiction only grew from there. Starting with rounds on the Kissena Park Golf Course in Queens, to which Rudovsky used to travel from his home by city bus. In addition to being where Rudovsky played most of his recreational rounds, Kissena also was the home course for his high school team. Par on the 4,600-yard course (from the tips) was 64, and Rudovsky remembers there not being so much as a blade of grass on any of the tees. They were comprised entirely of dirt, which made putting a peg into the ground before hitting a drive almost impossible.
He also played golf for two seasons at MIT, where he majored in economics and minored in mathematics, before quitting the squad to spend more and much-needed time on his studies.
The husky-voiced Rudovsky remains deeply dependent on golf. Through the years he has completed as many as 200 rounds annually on courses both near and far.
It wasn’t until later in life, after graduating from MIT and then business school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that Rudovsky started to earn advanced degrees in the game. He fondly remembers playing Cypress Point Club for the first time in 1969 and enjoying his maiden round on the Old Course in St. Andrews a year later, after paying a green fee of $4.20. He joined Quaker Ridge Golf Club in 1975, by which time he held a top executive position at Citibank and spent more and more of his vacation time on a golf course. Some of those trips took Rudovsky to the finest golf resorts in the land, like Pinehurst and Pebble Beach, and others to the very best clubs in the country, among them Seminole, Pine Valley and Shinnecock Hills. He also embarked on treks to Australia and New Zealand as he also started making regular visits to the British Isles.
The husky-voiced Rudovsky remains deeply dependent on golf. Through the years he has completed as many as 220 rounds annually on courses both near and far. Though heart surgery in early 2020 and the pandemic that took hold soon after limited his play for a spell, the 77-year-old has come back with a vengeance, recording in 2021 what he calculates as “167.7 18-hole equivalent rounds.” And with a few weeks left before he rings in 2022, Rudovsky will no doubt add to that total.
But annual rounds only tell some of the story. There is Rudovsky’s quest to play all the courses ever included on all of the leading Top-100 lists as well as those he has assembled himself, whether places that have hosted USGA championships (a total of 435 layouts) or those where the five cups (Ryder, Solheim, Walker, Curtis and President’s) have been staged. In many ways, he's constantly creating his own bucket lists. That has led “Rudo,” as he is known to his good mates around the golf world, to play in his lifetime nearly 1,400 courses in 45 countries (counting England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as separate nations) – and all 50 states in America. And that eventually prompted him to create an Excel spreadsheet on which he not only keeps track of all the times he tees it up but also every course on his multitude of lists.
There is no one in golf quite like him – nothing even approximating his Excel spreadsheet.
“I am a true Type A,” said Rudovsky. “And that is what led to create the spreadsheet and the monster it has become. I call it my Frankenstein because in many ways it controls my life.”
The year was 2008, and Rudovsky, who had recently remarried (for a third time) and retired (for a second), was holed up in his Pinehurst home with a case of pneumonia and nothing much to do but read.
“So, I hit upon this idea to put all the Top 100 U.S. lists into a single spreadsheet,” said Rudo, who with his wife and frequent traveling companion, Pat, also has a house in Milton, Massachusetts. “I had compiled the lists through the years as a reference, and like a lot of golfers, simply checked off the ones I had played. But then came my idea for updating those lists because they changed almost as soon as they are released. I started doing that as I also began creating new ones.”
In time Rudovsky also started keeping a blog, which he sends out to friends along with the latest version of his spreadsheet.
Quite fittingly, he was speaking about his compulsions during a round this summer, on the Tom Fazio course at the Bull’s Bridge Golf Club in northwest Connecticut. Not having seen the track before, Rudo was clearly excited to be checking out another new course. He has made time for this visit on his way north from Pinehurst (where he is a member at the Country Club of North Carolina) to Massachusetts (where his wife, Pat, belongs to The Country Club), and when his SUV pulled into the parking lot, the rear license plate drew a chuckle. It reads: “ONPLANE,” which is something he later says his one-time swing coach, Hank Haney, exhorted Rudovsky to be whenever he swung a golf club.
“Hank changed my swing completely when we worked together back in 1984, and he really made a difference,” said Rudovsky, who served as a course rater for Golf Digest from 2010 to 2018 and become a panelist for Golf magazine in 2015, a role that he performs to this day.
As one might expect from a man with his travel history, Rudo’s attire for the game featured logos from some of the more acclaimed places in golf. A sweater vest from Muirfield in Scotland. A belt from Palmetto in Aiken, South Carolina. A hat he picked up at the Boot Ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas. His swing is simple, repeatable and definitely on-plane most of the time. And while he does not hit the ball very far anymore, Rudo does produce a lovely baby draw with each wood and iron he hits. His pace of play is brisk, and his manner warm. While he likes talking about his exploits, he also asks plenty of questions of his playing partner. It seems he can never get enough golf.
In addition to exchanging comments on the golf course (Rudovsky is not in love with the hills on the first couple of holes but has only high praise for Nos. 3-18), he talks about his spreadsheet. The first question is quite simple: How does he pay for all the trips?
“I used to be a pretty big drinker but gave that up more than 25 years ago. One thing I have found during that time is that soda is a lot less expensive than booze. And I figure that the money I have saved from not drinking has come close to covering all my travel expenses.”
Part of it, of course, has come from his successes as a financial executive and the monies he was able to earn through his work. But Rudovsky says there is another factor.
“I used to be a pretty big drinker but gave that up more than 25 years ago,” he explained. “One thing I have found during that time is that soda is a lot less expensive than booze. And I figure that the money I have saved from not drinking has come close to covering all my travel expenses.”
He is also not apt to spend very much on fancy food when he is on the road and often subsists in part on the cereal he packs with his clubs and shoes.
Rudovsky says he enjoys the sense of adventure that comes from seeking out special courses in exotic locales, like Hainan Island, China, and Durban, South Africa. And he does not mind adjusting his plans on the fly. Like the time a volcanic eruption on an Indonesian island forced his plane to divert to Manila in the Philippines. Knowing he was going to be stranded there for a day or two, Rudovsky quickly organized a game at the prestigious and wonderfully named Wack Wack Golf Club.
“But more than anything else, it is the people I meet along the way,” he said. “Yes, I love all the detail work the spreadsheet requires, and how it keeps me engaged and gives me something to do in retirement. I also like that it makes me more aware of what is going on in golf.
“But the people I meet along the way, who I get to play with, who become lifelong friends, they are really what make what I do so great and so much fun.”
Truth be told, it’s not a monster at all.