Blooming Heather at Branshaw GC
By David Markham
Branshaw Golf Club, high on the hills above the West Yorkshire town of Keighley, are proud of their heather and want to keep it in tip top condition.
Heather covers 40 acres of the 70-acre course, which is 1,000 feet above sea level. All but two holes have heather on them and their flail mower helps with the regeneration of the heather.
The recently appointed head greenkeeper Jim Brown said: "Heather has a life cycle and we need to trim it every couple of years to keep it young. We need to keep the heather strong and using a flail mower helps with that. We drive across the top of the heather and cut it - it is like pruning a hedge.
"One of the biggest attributes to the course is the extensive areas of heather, which we are preserving and enhancing. We are members of the St Andrew's Society for protecting heather."
Jim, who arrived at Branshaw from the Leeds based club Cookridge Hall in November is carrying out a review of the course. He said: "There is not a lot wrong. We have got a very traditional golf course. It is 92 years old and small for an 18-hole course.
"We don't normally use irrigation and the grass is so pure we don't have any fusarium. As far as I know there has been no fungicide applied to the greens and the last time they were irrigated was in 1998. In the warm seasons the greens brown off and they bounce back - the rooting is excellent.
"We are not going to start applying irrigation and ruin what we have got. We use bent grass on the greens and only a small amount of meadow grass."
Greens chairman, 80-year-old Geoff Powell, whose pride in the club and the course shines through, said: "A few years ago we got a grant from the Sports Council which we matched with our own money raising. We spent £250,000 on drainage work. The drainage was designed by a Preston company, PSD, and a local contractor did the work. It has been very effective and beneficial.
"I have seen this course out of use for several weeks through waterlogging, and we get quite a bit of snow."
Jim, who has a staff of three working with him, said: "We have got to take measures to protect the course from wear and tear and protect walkways and paths, particularly between green and tee. What we don't want to do in spring is to repair damage from the winter.
"We have renovated bunkers as part of a basic winter maintenance programme. With all the rain about we have identified the areas that require extra drainage.
"With the use of aeration machinery and fertilising we will 'wake up' the course early this year and repair some of last season's damage quickly. It is all about presentation.
"One of the reasons I was attracted to the post was because of Branshaw's ambition. The club have invested substantially in machinery, we are eight years from our centenary and there are plans to have the course as good as possible for that anniversary."
Branshaw's machinery includes a new Torro Reelmaster fairway mower complete with an all-weather cab, a new surrounds mower and a flail mower to help with the regeneration of the heather.
Jim said: "The aeration machine has helped us to have complete control of the course, enabling us to do the work we want to do. It also means we don't have to hire machinery."
Branshaw boasts two Ryder Cup players as their professionals - Bert Jolly, who played in the first Ryder Cup in America in 1927 and Alex Caygill, who played in the prestigious cup competition much later.