Meet the course manager: Ross Brannan

By Alistair May 25, 2024 11:39

The course manager at The Doubletree by Hilton Glasgow Westerwood Spa & Golf Resort – a championship course and one of 11 across seven resorts in The QHotels Collection – Ross Brannan, discusses the role aeration will play in moving the course forward and how the facility supports wildlife.

Can you take us through your career to the present day?

Growing up I always had an interest in golf and my father was and still is involved in the turf and grounds industry so it was always something that was discussed at home. When the opportunity arose for an apprenticeship as a greenkeeper it was difficult to reject. I spent a few years completing my apprenticeship at Sandyhills Golf Club before moving on to Dougalston Golf Club where I was extremely fortunate enough to work with some incredibly talented and knowledgeable greenkeepers whose influence has been huge on me. I then moved on to Westerwood in 2019 as deputy course manager and after a couple of seasons I was given the opportunity to become course manager. I really enjoy my time at Westerwood and I am very excited about the future plans here.

What future plans have you got for the course?

Since stepping into the role in 2021, I have looked at trying some practices on the course which may not have been attempted in previous seasons. I was very fortunate in my first few weeks to receive new machinery, in particular a Toro ProCore which has proven critical in my plan to continue to improve the playing surface. It was clear an aeration programme was required and this is still the case with multiple runs taking place throughout the season and off season, relieving compaction and ultimately improving the overall quality of the surface. Winters are a pivotal part of golf clubs and none more so at Westerwood, with continued support and investment we have been able to tackle jobs such as excavator work, path work and drainage work, all key elements in making our jobs very slightly easier in the summer months. Moving forward I plan to keep the programme we have in place, with the main focus on aeration and keeping a flow of oxygen into the soil.

How does your course cope with hotter summers?

At Westerwood we are very fortunate to have a reliable irrigation system for our greens. We do try to limit our usage of this and raise heights of cut throughout prolonged dry spells, however this can sometimes be difficult to achieve due to demand for play.

Have you had to overcome any course issues with disease and / or pests?

Thankfully, issues with pests haven’t been a big problem in my time. We have found with the increase in aeration and more sustainable grass species we have reduced disease outbreaks. We have a couple of greens susceptible in the autumn however we will avoid the use of fungicides and increase aeration for natural recovery.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

In all honesty, the first few months of the role were tough. It was the tail end of a season which then led into a very cold snow and frosty winter, without trying to reinvent the wheel, I was keen to try new practices which would give the course the best chance leading into the following spring. I was very fortunate I had great support, particularly from the general manager at the club and the wider team at The QHotels Collection. I strongly believe every course manager faces challenges daily, whether it be mechanical issues or adverse weather, but having a cool head and good team is the key to success.

What has been your proudest achievement so far?

Being offered the job was a great achievement, knowing that all the work I had been doing was being recognised and having my managers put their faith in me. I also am very proud at the end of every working week, my father always said his happiest moments greenkeeping was walking around the course after a successful week and looking at the jobs you and the team have accomplished whether it be a bunker that was constructed or the fairways that had been cut that day and that others enjoyed and appreciated your work.

With a growing focus on sustainability, do you deploy any sustainable practices in the management of your course?

Following the success of the R&A Sustainable Agronomy service in the Asia-Pacific market, I was very excited to hear it was being introduced in the UK. The service encourages courses to use more resilient grass mixes which we have been doing and reducing water use. We are continually looking to reduce unnecessary cutting of areas that do not interfere with the game such as tee banks and encourage more natural pollinating plants in our sward as well as reducing our emissions. As The QHotels Collection are part of the Green Tourism guide we are encouraged to bring into effect as many projects as possible to increase our sustainability.

What do you do to support wildlife?

Throughout the course we have areas which we have decided to allow to grow and carried out our own rewilding of areas, by doing so we have seen an increase in both flowering plants and insect activity. Allowing wildlife refuges and habitats is helping support our native biodiversity, we are looking to implement such things as bird boxes, log piles in woodland and ‘bug hotels’ throughout these areas. We also limit works around our water features to encourage wildlife. The wonderful design and layout of the course by Seve Ballesteros and Dave Thomas encourages natural heathland habitats which Westerwood has become famous for.

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

I personally believe focusing on apprenticeships is a key way to keep the greenkeeping industry pushing in the right direction. In my own experience I found it incredibly helpful having onsite college lectures as well as working alongside experienced and knowledgeable greenstaff. In recent years it feels as though the interest young people have in greenkeeping has faded but I do believe more can be done for this generation to be the next group of course managers, whether it may be work experience or trying to get people to take up seasonal roles to see the work that actually goes in to presenting a high level course. The misconception is we are just ‘grasscutters’, however there is an incredible amount of work and preparation that goes into the daily life of a greenkeeper and this should be magnified and shown to young people who may have an interest in the industry. I would like to think we work in harmony with the natural environment where people can enjoy golf in a very natural setting.


By Alistair May 25, 2024 11:39

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