ROB OF THE GREEN
As Bracken Ghyll Golf Club celebrates its 30th anniversary, we salute Head Greenkeeper Rob Walker, the man who transformed his 200-year-old family sheep farm in Addingham into one of Yorkshire’s most beautiful courses.
It was May 1993 and as Ken Gamble stepped on to the tee to become the first member to strike a ball at the newly opened Bracken Ghyll Golf course, owners Rob Walker, his late dad John and mum Chloe watched on proudly.
It was a moment they had worked tirelessly for over the previous 12 months to see come to fruition and now as the club celebrates its 30th anniversary Rob looks back at his life at the club where every day he still lovingly tends the greens and fairways.
It has undoubtedly been his vision, dedication, creativity and passion that has helped turn Bracken Ghyll it into one of Yorkshire’s most picturesque golf courses and although he would never admit it, its success and growth as a club would never have been achieved without his hard work and the family decision to ditch farming for golf all those years ago.
Now three decades on since that first ball was struck, it is hard to imagine that the immaculate course was once home to 600 sheep who roamed across the rugged fields that have been in the Walker family since the 1800s.
It was Rob’s great grandparents who back then had farmed the land and four generations on, Rob is still as proud to be working there as his ancestors were all those years ago.
The incredible transformation from farm to golf course in such a relatively short space of time is testament to the hard work of Rob and his team and one that he looks back on with huge satisfaction.
And as he takes to the fairways at the crack of dawn, as he does every day, it is not hard to see the love he still holds so dearly for the place.
Rob said: “It’s hard to believe that 30 years have passed since we first opened the club but when I look back, it was probably the best decision we ever made.
“I grew up farming the land with my family but it was becoming increasingly tough to run as a business and like many farms in the area we found ourselves looking at other uses for the land.
“It was my dad John who decided golf was the most viable option and in 1992 we set about transforming the 60-acre farm at a cost of around £180,000 into a nine-hole golf course.”
It was just a fraction of what most golf courses cost to build and after employing an architect to help design its layout, John, Rob and a team of helpers rolled up their sleeves to begin creating those first nine holes.
Rob said: “Although the topography of the land lent itself to a number of holes, there was an incredible amount of work to do to make it playable and considering I knew nothing about golf back then we were very much working blind.”
But armed with his farming work ethic and a determination to make a success of the course, Rob set about transforming it into the course it is today. Having embarked on a greenkeeping course and furnishing himself with a greater understanding of the game, he slowly built up the knowledge and experience that now makes him one of the region’s most respected head greenkeepers.
Such was the club’s early success and growth that just seven years after opening, the members decided to buy more adjacent land and turn it into a full 18-hole course.
Again, it was Rob and his team of greenkeepers who worked round the clock to create an additional nine holes which 20 years on has matured into a seamless 69-par course that now covers 110 acres.
Rob added: “With the land having been in my family for so long, I guess it made me even more determined to make a success of it and create a legacy that would live on beyond just farming.
“When I come up here on a morning when the sun is rising and look around, I really do have the best office in the world and I wouldn’t swap that for anything.
“When you look at where we are today from what it was, I don’t think we’ve done too bad and I hope my dad will be looking down and raising a glass to the club he always envisaged creating.”
There’s certainly not many other golf clubs who could boast such a stunning backdrop on which to play and with Ilkley Moor in the distance and Beamsley Beacon on its doorstep, it’s a course that now boasts 600 members and is enjoyed by all.
For a man who once counted sheep for a living and then turned his family farm into the stunning golf course you see today, there is nobody who deserves more credit for its success than Rob Walker.
Bracken Ghyll has earned a deserved reputation as one of the most welcoming and friendly golf clubs in the north of England and encourages new members to enjoy this stunning club and all it has to offer.
With no joining fee and the course open 365 days a year, it is the perfect setting to either take up golf or improve your game, where club professional Mark Tyler is always on hand in his well-stocked shop.
Bracken Ghyll also welcomes individual visitors, society groups and can host corporate days with first-class hospitality available in the club house.