Master Greenkeeper 87: Paul Brett (2021)
In December 2021, Paul Brett of The Springs Golf Club in Oxfordshire became the 87th BIGGA member to achieve the Master Greenkeeper certification.
I started my career at The Springs Golf Club in 1997 while the course was under construction and growing in.
The site is located in the south of Oxfordshire within an area of outstanding natural beauty and runs alongside the River Thames. The site was previously owned by Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan, but it was the owner of Wolf Tools who developed the golf course after purchasing it. The new layout was designed by former Ryder Cup captain Brian Huggett MBE, with construction carried out by John Greasley.
The River Thames was predicted to flood one in 100 years years, but due to climate change it often engulfs the 14th and 15th holes. We used to have a course map encased on our lunchroom table and as a team we planned in two extra holes clear of the floodplain. These were constructed the following year, keeping the course at 18 holes whatever the weather. The variation has also been popular with the members during the winter months.
In 2000, at 20-years-old, I was made head greenkeeper. Not long after we replaced our entire irrigation system in-house. At the time I didn't feel young, but now my eldest is 21 and I realise how young I truly was.
Both of my boys, Joshua and Marcus, have grown up working on the course during holidays and once my daughter Cerys is old enough, she will also hopefully have the same opportunity.
From 2004 to the present I have been the course manager, excluding a three-year period when the club was for sale. During this time I was the general manager, meaning I worked on the course, behind the bar and in the pro shop. The members were a great help during this time and thankfully in 2017 the golf club and hotel were purchased by Darwin Escapes, who have since invested £20 million.
I had kept in contact with Brian Huggett MBE over the years and introduced him to the new owners. Working alongside architect Tim Lobb, a course redevelopment was carried out the following year. All our bunkers were redesigned in a naturalised style, two lakeside greens were extended, the 2nd hole was competely rebuilt, lakes were also oak sleeper edged and a short game area was added.
Following this, the hotel was redeveloped along with a luxury spa and lodges. A new golf course maintenance compound was also built.
Due to more frequent extreme weather events affecting the course, I managed to add in water harvesting for the complete development as a result. All the car parks and roof space are harvest and pumped up to a holding tank and used to irrigate the course. We also have a new washdown area designed by Dr Tom Young from the STRI and a sewage treatment plant.
In 2019 Darwin purchased Dundonald Links and from this I have really benefited from being able to work with Frank Clarkson and his team. In 2020 Amanda Dorans made her first visit to The Springs and with her help the club achieved GEO Certified status. In the same year we were finalists in the Golf Environment Awards.
I often thought of attempting the Master Greenkeeper process. However, due to being dyslexic and shy, I avoided it. While giving advice to both of my sons in preparation for university and the challenges they faced, being shy themselves, it made me take a look at myself and I decided it was time to practice what I preached. I have really enjoyed all stages of the process and I feel so proud to have my name on a list with so many great guys.
On 20 December, after 25 years, I will be leaving The Springs with the course in great shape. I'm starting a new role as course manager at The West Berkshire GC and I'm really excited to have the opportunity to shape another location, alongside achieving the best possible playing surfaces. I expect to make it a great place to work and develop, with sustainability built into every decision and from day one the club will be signed up to the GEO Foundation's OnCourse to help with the process.
Congratulations Paul on becoming Master Greenkeeper number 87! More information about the Master Greenkeeper Certificate is available here.
Karl has been head of communications for BIGGA since March 2016. His duties include editing the monthly Greenkeeper International magazine, in addition to other communications activities for the association.