Meet Stewart Brown, Course Manager of Western Gailes Golf Club.

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Meet Stewart Brown, Course Manager of Western Gailes Golf Club.

Stewart Brown - Course Manager

 

Meet the Course Manager: Stewart Brown

The course manager at Western Gailes Golf Club in Ayrshire, Stewart Brown, discusses managing a Site of Special Scientific Interest and why leaving an office job to take up greenkeeping was a great decision.

Formed in 1897, Western Gailes, on the west coast of Scotland, in Ayrshire, is a links course played between the railway and the sea.

Stewart Brown left an office job to become a greenkeeper and is now the course manager at Western Gailes Golf Club, a classic links course with a long history and a reputation for excellence.

Two men on a John Deere tractor in front of a house.

“A club quietly content in its own regal setting, evidently comfortable with its world-renowned standing in the game,” said David Livingstone, of Sky Sports, about the club.

“I had heard so much praise about Western Gailes over the years that it was high on my list of must play courses. It didn’t disappoint. Beautiful holes, on great land make it endlessly interesting and challenging… I look forward to my next chance to play,” added former US Open champion, Geoff Ogilvy.

“The wind challenges are compounded by the undulating terrain and finely contoured greens set in the folds of the surrounding sand dunes,” stated iSpyGolf. “Notable features include the dunes running down the coastal stretch from the 5th to 13th, the out of bounds wall from the 14th onwards, plus plentiful pot bunkers and meandering burns. All combine to present variety and a memorable challenge.”

We caught up with Stewart to find out about maintaining this special venue.

An aerial view of a golf cours maintained with the Double A

Can you give a brief description of your background and how you came to work at Western Gailes?

I’ve been here for six years now. I actually came to greenkeeping relatively late, in my mid-late 20s. I worked in an office and I always said I would eventually work outdoors. I had a friend who was a greenkeeper and because of that I took a chance and enrolled at Elmwood College. I got a placement at Royal Aberdeen and worked under [head greenkeeper] Robert Patterson for almost 10 years. Then I spent two years at Elie Golf Club in Fife as a course manager and the opportunity came up at Western Gailes. I grew up in Ayrshire so it was a chance to move back home as well as work on a very prestigious course.

A white house on a grassy hill of Western Gailes Golf Club

What size is your team and how do you share the workload between you?

There are nine of us, including myself, and the workload is shared fairly evenly because most of the team are really experienced. All of them get a good variety of jobs because everybody’s able to do everything to a very high standard. We’ve currently also got two apprentices.

An aerial view of a golf course near the ocean.

What do you enjoy most about your role and what’s the biggest challenge your team faces when maintaining the course?

Working outdoors is the main attraction of the job for me, and we’re on a pretty amazing coastal site here. I’m looking after one of the great Scottish links courses, so it doesn’t feel like work at times. There’s also a great deal of satisfaction in producing a product that attracts visitors from all over the world. Producing a product for the golfers is the part that I enjoy.

All of our challenges are connected to water. In the last few years we’ve been hit particularly hard by drought, particularly on our fairways, and we don’t currently have sufficient irrigation water volume available for a variety of reasons. We’re also quite a low-lying course so we’re relying on an aging drainage network, which was installed in 1947. The other water issue we have is the sea: we sit in a narrow strip of land between the railway line and the Firth of Clyde, so coastal erosion is always a concern and something we’re constantly monitoring and looking at solutions to.

Half the course sits on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) so it’s important that we manage it. We have an overall ecological management plan, which has been approved by Scottish Natural Heritage, who also look after the SSSI. It’s not a challenge in a negative sense and, particularly nowadays, it’s right that it’s a significant focus for us.

Two men on a John Deere tractor in front of a house

What projects do you currently have going on?

Over the last few years we’ve been working with an architect, Tom Mackenzie, who came up with a course master plan to improve and update what was always considered a good course anyway. We’ve done lots of work on bunkering, tees, green surrounds and we just finished creating some new dunes and dune features on the 17th hole. We created a dune-slack habitat as part of the ecological management plan.

 

What are your goals and aims for the course in the future?

There are potentially some more course changes coming over the next couple of years, but the main focus is to improve our turf consistency throughout fine turf areas. We’re also looking to upgrade our fairway irrigation, so we’re looking at new water sources and ideas around how we can make that happen. So there’s plenty to keep us busy!

An aerial view of a golf cours maintained with the Double A

You recently began a partnership with Double A, how have you found the service and the switch to John Deere machinery?

Double A have been great, they’ve been very open and honest and kept us well informed about delivery and costs. The sales team, especially Greg, played a big role in our decision to move over the John Deere machinery. The parts and service team have also been really helpful, so we’re looking forward to working with them all over the next few years.

The switch to John Deere has been seamless. We’ve taken delivery of a number of machines over the last month and we’ve got more on the way, and all the machinery seems to be performing exactly the way we had hoped.

Stewart Brown and Double A specialist shaking hands in front of a John Deere green tractor.

What John Deere machinery are you using and which areas are you using it on?

So far we’ve taken delivery of two fairway mowers, a greens mower and a new GPS sprayer, all from Double A. We had the fairway mower out for the first time today and we’re very impressed so far. The quality of cut and user-friendliness has certainly lived up to our expectations. I’ve got a positive history with John Deere machinery so I had confidence in their products.

Stewart Brown and Double A specialist and a dog standing in front of a house.

What would your advice be to somebody hoping to start out in greenkeeping today?

I would tell them to take a chance. One thing you have to do with greenkeeping is stick at it for a couple of years. Wages are a particular problem in this industry, but if you stick at it, take your opportunities and get as much further education as you can, it will get better. I would also say don’t be afraid to move around for an opportunity. I love working in the industry and get great satisfaction from the job so I would definitely recommend it.

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