A look behind the scenes at Branston Golf & Country Club
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:06 09 August 2019
We are blessed in this area to have some of the country's finest golf clubs. Nick Peters spends a day at Branston Golf and Country Club, meeting the people who are helping to make golf a popular and all-inclusive sporting and leisure activity.
The Course Manager
The green-keeping staff generally arrives at 6am and spends the first two hours preparing the greens by hand before members start to play. Course Manager Gavin Robson said: 'Preparing the greens is the most important thing and then we work backwards, doing the fairways and finally coming to the tees. A lot of work goes into the golf course. If the members are not happy with any small part of it, they let us know and we will go out and try to prepare it how they want it.'
For Gavin, it's good design of the golf holes that makes or breaks a course. 'We changed the third hole around from how it was when I first came five years ago. I knew we could make it a better golf hole, better looking, more challenging. Now it's completely different and a great-looking hole. It's getting the balance right. You want it to be a challenge, but not too difficult. It's an interesting course, bunkers play a big part. We don't have deep rough, our semi-rough is cut at two inches.'
Gavin doesn't have any problems with moles, as they tend to avoid his beautifully maintained greens, but he is less happy with the Canada geese that are frequent visitors to Branston's Championship golf course. The Course Manager is always having to deal with droppings from the geese and golf captain Paul Allen tells Derbyshire Life there is a local rule that allows you to remove the offending goose poo if it is in the way of your ball.
Gavin said: 'They are the worst pest we have got! They are an absolute nightmare from late September until early April as they drop manure all over the golf course.
'I don't mind moles. We have had one mole in five years appear on the edge of a green. They have very sensitive noses and over the years, greenkeepers have put sulphates on the greens which moles don't like, so they stay off. They can work all the way around but keep off the greens because of the smell.'
Otherwise, the weather is Gavin's biggest enemy: 'Weather conditions are massive for us. I go home at night and watch all the weather reports. For the summer, we have a full irrigation system on both courses and start watering from mid-April. We put 47,000 litres on the course every day in the summer. We have to get it right, as too much water can make it boggy and unplayable. Knowing what the greens can take is a fine art.'
Golf is an all-year round game, but the course has to be closed if the weather isn't right, to protect it and the members. Gavin said: 'We close the course if a storm comes in. Gales are a problem from a health and safety point of view as there are a lot of trees on the course. We can't open it if there is snow and we try to protect it if there is a frost by opening later.
'If it's too wet it can damage the course, so we are better off asking members to keep off it for a couple of days. We are right next to the Trent which brings its own challenges but extensive work over the last few years has minimised the river's impact. Since I have been here, we have spent half a million pounds on machinery. On the greens we use hand mowers that cost £10,000 each. We have four trucks, a tractor, a JCB - you have to spend a lot of money to maintain a good golf course and the investment has to be ongoing.'
Gavin started in the business 34 years ago and has worked on 12 Opens - looking after greens for the top players in one of the four major tournaments.
'Every member who sees the Open on TV wants that golf course here at Branston,' he said. 'But a top course like Carnoustie might have 22 green staff and for the Open they bring in a team of guys from the Greenkeepers' Association. We have seven staff and they might have 72, and a month after the Open there are dead areas where people have walked, and it's turned to mud and needs renovating again.
'But you pick up things and bring them back to your own golf course. Just by talking to people you can pick so much up, and I never stop learning. Greenkeepers are a special breed of people. We work long hours in all weather conditions because we take great pride in the job.
'Our members scrutinise our work in great detail, every single day. We are a very busy golf course and we want everyone to come off the course having enjoyed it and saying "wow."'
The Golf Manager - Tom Storrar
It doesn't help the perception of golf clubs being stuffy and elitist when you see national news stories about Open courses defending centuries-old bans on women. But on the banks of the River Trent on the Derbyshire-Staffordshire border, at least one club has a much more modern approach. Branston Golf and Country Club prides itself on being inclusive rather than exclusive and welcoming to every member of the family.
Men and women share equal rights as members and Branston adds to its credentials by encouraging junior membership and being one of the few clubs to have a crèche on the premises.
None of that means that standards of excellence have dropped, quite the contrary. There are nearly 2,000 golf clubs in the country but Branston recently became one of an elite group to have been awarded the Golf Mark, a testament to its high-quality approach.
Tom Storrar, the Golf Manager at Branston, oversees the driving range, nine hole Eagle Course and the 18-hole Championship Course, as well as the wishes of the 1,100 plus golf members.
'My role is to make golf as accessible as we can,' he said. 'The culture within the club is to be sociable and engaging with members. We are above the average in terms of the number of female and junior members and that's because of the inclusive, friendly nature of the facilities here - the clubhouse is relaxed, and the health and fitness side is a huge benefit for members.
'The dress code is also relaxed, younger people with families feel more welcome than they might at some clubs. We do a lot of competitions for members and we promote the social element of golf which becomes the lifestyle choice for our members.
'People don't just play golf and go home, they stay for a drink, a meal, to use the swimming pool or gym and we tick a lot of boxes for a lot of people. Our members stay a lot longer than the average at golf clubs. It's a way of life here.
'Some clubs still have a strict dress code and that doesn't promote non-golfers being at the club, which is why some clubs can struggle, as you need people using the facilities in order to succeed.
'We can also take people through their golf journey. The first time you have a go will be on the driving range and we can lend you clubs. Once you get the bug, we have three golf pros who coach full-time, seven days a week, and they are very good at putting on events to bring new golfers together. Once they are at a level where they feel comfortable to go on a golf course, we have our Eagle Course (nine holes) where you can cut your teeth on an easier, shorter course. They can then transfer up to full Championship membership, where they can play as much competitive and social golf as they like.
'There is a lot of talk about golf taking a long time to play, but with the Eagle course you can play nine holes in about one hour and 20 minutes and that suits people with busy schedules.'
Tom is rightly proud of the Golf Mark accreditation award from England Golf. He said: 'We have done a lot of work around membership retention, sustainability and club management to reach a level where England Golf can endorse us as a very well-run golf club. There are only 160 out of more than 1,900 golf clubs who have reached that level of accreditation. A lot of that is also about developing juniors and making sure they are in a safe and welcoming environment.
'Even these days, some of the clubs that hold the Open are quite exclusive and a couple don't allow lady members - which for a global event like the Open is not the message you want out there. That's why we try and buck that trend. We are about letting anyone who wants to, to come and play and engage with the sport in whatever way they choose.
'A lot of people come here and find we are a refreshing change.'
The Golf Captains
Being a golf captain demands a lot of time and energy but is an honour for those elected by fellow members to take on the role.
As well as looking after the needs of the golf members and organising competitions and events, the men's and ladies' captains are expected to raise money for charity during their year in office.
Joining forces currently at Branston are men's captain Paul Allen and the ladies' captain Lynne Woolley.
Their year started in February with both chosen by committees of past captains. Paul says: 'It is all-consuming, so it requires a big commitment.'
'You spend a year as vice-captain assisting the captain and planning your own year, setting your events, social activities and looking at fundraising. You get out of it what you put in and if you want your year to be a success, it has to be well planned. It takes up all of my free time.'
'There's always a question to answer and a problem to solve. A lot of questions are rules related. I qualified as a referee and rules official, so I'm quite well-placed to answer those. We are aiming to put a wide range of events on that don't just appeal to golfers.'
Paul and Lynne will be raising money for two charities. Fountains School in Burton locally and nationally the Sparks charity.
Lynne said: 'They complement each other. Fountains is the local special school and is close to my heart as I have worked there quite a lot and I know that all the extras these children need and deserve come through fundraising. We have linked that nationally with Sparks, which is the research arm for Great Ormond St Hospital in London.'
The staff at Branston has done the Three Peaks Challenge and raised £700. There has been a sold-out comedy night, a beach party, and at a Drive In Day, the informal start to the season, £2,000 was raised.
Paul said: 'This club is about golf but there is much more to it. I joined because my children can come any time. Wives can play any time and we have mixed competitions which you don't see at many golf clubs. You see many golf clubs floundering because they haven't moved on and there's often no reason to visit in the winter when you can't play. Here it's just as full with just as much going on all year. It's a nice social hub and a great place to come down to.'
Lynne adds: 'I started playing seven years ago. I was a hockey player and I think you can tell that by the way I play golf! For about three years I played what was like a mixture of the two. I love the competitive side, there are competitions here all the time.'
Paul is also delighted that the club has awarded 10 Junior Scholarships. 'If juniors aren't important that's the death of the golf club. We have more than 80 junior members and we coach quite a few schools locally.'
'Golf is seen as an expensive, elitist sport but it isn't. We give up to 10 junior scholarships a year where we pay membership, lend clubs to get them going and establish a programme to take them from a beginner through to fitting into the golf club. With luck it will attract new blood into the community.'
The Golf Pros
Steve Hadfield is the head professional at Branston having been at the club for seven years.
He said: 'Mainly people make the mistake of not getting lessons when they first start. They have a go for three or four months, doing what they think is right, get into bad habits and then come to us to put it right. Our perfect pupil is someone who has never played before, so we get them into good habits straight away. If their start position is right, the swing usually develops itself. I have been teaching golf for a lot of years and if someone is interested, we can get them to play.'
Paul Hebdon is a senior golf pro at Branston. He said: 'We have a large junior section, we teach groups of families and have three children's sessions a week that run through the whole year. We provide equipment free of charge and it's no longer an expensive sport. We also teach a lot of schools in the local area, so they can experience golf. Every year we give around 500 kids a taste of golf. If your parents don't play, you might not think about trying it, so we help introduce the sport to more young people.'
Margaret Perkin has been a member at Branston for more than 20 years. She said: 'I play on the nine-hole course every Tuesday with two other ladies, which is lovely, and I do classes here on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (including tap dancing and zumba).'
'I bring the family for Sunday lunch and see whatever is on at the Pavilion as well. Everyone is so friendly. It's just a lovely place to come to. The golf is just one part of it.'
BRANSTON GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB FACTFILE
Burton Road, Branston, Burton upon Trent DE14 3DP. Tel: 01283 512211 www.branstonclub.co.uk
Beginning in temporary buildings in 1975, Branston Club is now one of the Midlands' leading clubs with a current membership of c3,000. It was one of only four finalists for England Golf's Most Welcoming Club of the Year 2019.
Set in 270 acres of parkland, Branston is a privately owned, commercially run club led by managing director Ben Laing.
Golf Academy: 21-bay floodlit driving range with FlightScope fitting studio, ProShop and 9 hole 3,247 yds Par 36 and 18 tee 6,682 yds Par 72 Eagle courses open to members and the public.
Championship Course: 18 hole 6,682 yds Par 72 parkland course by the River Trent, famed for challenging water hazards.
Get into Golf, Girls Golf Rocks and all other England Golf initiatives are open to all.
Clubhouse: lounge, open 7am-10.30pm, bar, restaurant, meeting rooms. Obsession hair and beauty salon (open to the public).
OFSTED certified crèche for members' children aged eight weeks to five years.
Health & fitness: fully equipped gym with top training equipment. Spinning studio with MyRide immersive digital platform and visuals. Staffed by REPs qualified instructors and personal trainers. Branston has twice won the fitness industry's Flame Award.
Heated swimming pool with spa and outdoor hot tub. Large studio with 100 classes weekly, including Les Mills.
Branston Pavilion: Fully-equipped function suite with large car park, catering for events from 10 to 200 guests - weddings, dinners, functions, business meetings, Christmas and New Year parties and a programme of entertainment events.