From former potato field to world-famous stage on which some of golf’s most thrilling battles have been staged, The Brabazon designed by Dave Thomas and Peter Aliss is a meticulous design of tight fairways, perilous bunkers, lakes and fast undulating greens. Its iconic holes have challenged some of the games greatest, from Seve Ballesteros, Sam Torrance, to Christy O’Connor Jnr with his now legendary 2-iron at the 18th and Lee Westwood.
Having hosted more Ryder Cup matches than any other venue in the world and numerous European Tours, we ask The Belfry’s Director of Courses & Estates, Angus Macleod ‘just what exactly goes into keeping the course stunningly sculpted?’…
How large is the team that looks after The Brabazon course and what are the variety of roles that work together to keep the course to such a high standard?
There are 13 Greenkeepers solely on The Brabazon- it’s a Ryder Cup set up every day, as the guests are expecting to follow in the footsteps of legends. We walk mow with pedestrian mowers to maintain visual appearance and divot fairways and tees daily, as no golfer wants to have a bad lie, especially on the famous iconic holes. We roll greens daily to maintain pace. Typically, we have the greens speeds at 10-11 during optimum conditions.
It’s a very meticulous job isn’t it, what are some of the key factors such as grass height, do you have to adhere to, to maintain a world-class course?
We keep the greens at 2.75mm, the tees and approaches at 8mm, collars at 6mm, fairways at 10mm, semi-rough at 25mm and the rough is kept at 2.5 inches. We cut fairway copses very tight – The Brabazon is such a tough course and has the largest water body of any inland course in the UK, so there is enough penalty to be in the trees without thick dense rough.
How does the weather play a part in maintenance?
The course is so well defined, if we miss a day’s cutting it has a huge impact on performance. The course drains well and the greens and tees are very well drained. The good old British Summer certainly plays its part!
What techniques do you employ to cut the grass, as direction and cutting technique has an impression on the green and roll of the ball?
We cut a variety of directions, side to side, and long and short angles. We like to keep nap from forming and any lateral growth corrected.
In the tournament we’re going for a fast green speed, how do you adjust and maintain this?
Cutting heights are lowered, whilst we also employ brushing and grooming to lift grass height, keep the greens firm and dry and roll-roll-roll.
How testing do you think the course will be on the golfers’ abilities, which holes could provide game-changing challenges?
The course will be set up as it was on the last singles day in the 2002 Ryder Cup, including pin positions. That’s really special for guests to play the exact pin locations – it’s not an easy test, however it really does make it a memorable occasion. The other holes that do not get as much recognition, but should do, are the 6th and 8th – both are stunning, yet tough holes. The 3rd is also a really challenging one – especially if you’re going for the green in two shots. It’s a little easier to play it as a conventional par 5. The hole I really enjoy playing is the 16th, which is visually outstanding and has an extremely tricky green.
The Brabazon course has had its fair share of golfing history, what key moments or memories stand out for you?
Philip Price is someone I have met and spoken to over the years, so his victory over Phil Mickelson on the 16th green in 2002 and his reaction was a memory I will always remember. Obviously Seve’s drive on the 10th and the winning putts from Sam Torrance and Paul McGinley on the 18th are massive moments in the history of The Belfry. There have been so many to choose from!
Will you be watching the tournament?
Definitely – when I can! It’s not easy to enjoy as you are always checking for the reaction from players, making sure there are no issues out there and constantly monitoring weather patterns.
Which icons will you be keeping an eye on?
Giggs, Pep and Ince, who I understand are quite handy around a golf course.
Finally, any top tips to give the Icons in relation the course?
Keep it dry!! And Go for it on the 10th…
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