Happy retirement Gordon!

By Alistair November 27, 2020 07:33 Updated

Gordon Brammah, course manager at Hallamshire Golf Club, is retiring after an incredible 38 years at the venue. John Murphy reports.

We meet in the club’s spike bar: shut to members because of coronavirus. It’s ironic and symbolic as the virus has presented Gordon Brammah, course manager at Hallamshire Golf Club, with the biggest challenge of his 38 year career as custodian of the fairways at the South Yorkshire club.

Gordon is calling time on his distinguished career at the club with his retirement planned for next August, one year shy of Hallamshire’s 125th anniversary.

Gordon is now part of the fabric of Hallamshire’s history. Designed by Harry Colt, with revisions from Peter Alliss, the course is in the top 10 in Yorkshire and the premier one in Sheffield. The heathland venue, with spectacular views across the Peak District, has staged the Sheffield Plate for the last 27 years and last year hosted The Ladies Seniors Amateur.

It is also home to the golfing brothers, tour professional Matthew Fitzpatrick and his younger brother Alex, who represented GB and Ireland in last year’s Walker Cup. Alison Nicholas and legendary swing doctor and coach Pete Cowen were also based at the South Yorkshire club at various times in their careers.

Of the virus Gordon says: “It was a dreadful time. It was a big responsibility mentally to ensure my team were safe at all times. If they went off ill at any time then I knew it could result in the closure of the business.

“We managed with three of us, when there are normally six and a part-timer. It was a massive challenge to get the course back up and running and the club dealt with it very well. The biggest impact was caused by the numbers playing golf. With play starting at seven the course becomes very difficult to maintain as it’s full within the first three hours.”

His issue was compounded by the fact that membership at the club is full with a growing waiting list. Although that means lots of golfers it is testimony to Gordon’s hard work in preparing a great track and to the club’s reputation in the region.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” says Gordon. “And now there’s a great opportunity for someone to come in as the new course manager. It’s an excellent golf course and golf club. It’s the golf club people look up to in the area. When I say where I work, they say ‘Wow! You work at the Hallamshire!’ The new person will take a lot of pride from working here and the position will stand them in very good stead in the future from their career point of view.”

Tall and angular, softly spoken but not reticent with his views, Gordon talks warmly about all the changes he has seen at the club almost from the first day he started, having served his apprenticeship firstly as a 15 year-old at the local parks department and then via a Sheffield municipal course through to a being deputy head greenkeeper at Hillsborough Golf Club, where his mentor was Henry Gillespie. “He taught me an awful lot,” comments Gordon. “Not just about greenkeeping but also how to manage. He was very modern and introduced new equipment. We were one of the first clubs to have a ride-on triple mower.”

Gordon is proud of the way Hallamshire has evolved and changed over the years to meet the challenges of the changing climate, a growing membership and the needs of the business.

“My philosophy is to do things in a thoughtful way that is going to be sustainable and achievable in the long term,” he says.

The theme of evolution chimes with that of the general manager, James Glover. He arrived from Queenwood Golf Club to take the newly created position nearly three years ago.

Backed by the board, he has overseen and instigated a raft of changes at the club including bringing the pro shop in-house. The latest project is a £200K spend on upgrading the clubhouse to improve the panoramic views of the course. This goes hand in hand with commitments to upgrade more internal rooms. The vision also includes increased spend on the course with investment in an additional member of ground staff plus a strategy to improve bunkers.

It’s certainly a club on the move: “We want to build the whole Hallamshire experience,” comments James. “We want members to enjoy a well presented golf course and improved house facilities. This will also appeal to visitors.”

James believes such ambitions and forward thinking philosophies will appeal to the new course manager. “We’re looking for someone who has a proven track record of producing a top quality golf course of a championship standard. They should have good communication skills to work with a progressive board, though they will be reporting directly to me. This will appeal to someone in a similar role or a deputy at a high profile club.”

Meanwhile Gordon has one last big challenge to deal with: winter golf. “Gore-Tex was the worst invention ever,” he smirks. “Previously the members would retire to the bar and have a nice gin and tonic and let us get on with maintenance. Golf being played all year round is the biggest change I have seen in the sport. The summers have got wetter and longer while the winters milder. People complain when the course is shut but decades ago the course would shut itself with three foot of snow. This change is hugely increasing the demands on greenkeepers.”

He also has a word of warning for those golfers who suffer from what he calls the ‘Augusta syndrome’. “They want a shiny, perfect course like Augusta, when they see it on TV but to do that simply changes the species of grasses. Instead of the natural fine fescue and bent grasses we have here on a heathland course we’d end up with the unnatural softer, water grasses such as poa and Yorkshire fog.

“They just don’t stand up to the wear and to wear from extensive golf and to the rigours of droughts followed by wet conditions. Such course management is not sustainable in terms of longevity.”

Gordon is clearly, and rightly, very proud of his time and achievements at Hallamshire but he is equally passionate about the role that BIGGA (British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association) plays in golf. He has been secretary, treasurer, chairman and president of the local section at various times and makes a clarion call for the body. “When it comes to value and perception, greenkeepers are very much in the basement of the ivory towers of golf. BIGGA wants to get the value of greenkeepers recognised a bit more. There have been redundancies within that body and it could really do with more funding from the sport.”

As we leave the bar I ask him for his funniest moment of his career. Unequivocally he replies that it was when he had to ask a member of his team to remove a female nude sunbather from the 14th fairway. “I think a number of members played that hole a few times that day,” he says with a quiet grin.


By Alistair November 27, 2020 07:33 Updated

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