Dealing with a crisis: fire at Burnham & Berrow

Fire has the potential to devastate a club and the golf course. But when the flames flickered at Burnham & Berrow, staff knew exactly what to do,

Somerset and Cornwall’s finest were midway through their second round when they saw the smoke and the unmistakeable flicker of flames across the dunes.

Had the players not been in the midst of their Channel League battle on a Sunday in early August, the consequences for Burnham & Berrow may well have been far worse.

The club’s Championship links layout is a national treasure, always featuring strongly in ranking lists of England’s best courses.

But when they were hit by a grass blaze in the heat of the hottest summer since 1976, it required some quick thinking and half a dozen fire engines to bring it under control.
Remarkably, the course reopened within hours and without any significant damage – with the fire taking out rough ground between the 7th to the 12th holes.

burnhamweekslaterIt began close to a reservoir behind the 13th fairway and is illustrative of how clubs can respond in the event of a crisis.
Burnham & Berrow came through with flying colours. After players on the course immediately called the fire brigade, the club’s personnel were on hand to open gates to ensure the firefighters could get access to the scene.

They then toured the course in buggies to make sure all the players were evacuated and there was no one left on the course.

The greenkeepers, conscious that the fire was initially spreading backwards towards the 9th green, went out and irrigated the putting surface to protect it in case the flames reached it.  And the club’s kitchen staff also stepped in to take water and sandwiches out to those tackling the fire, given the temperatures were topping 30 degrees on that day.

Karen-Drake-4“We’d already had a smoking ban in place as a precautionary measure about two or three weeks before,” said Burnham & Berrow Managing Secretary, and GCMA South West Regional Manager, Karen Drake.

“Sunday afternoons can be very quiet. Had that been the case then the fire would have really got hold before anybody really responded.
“I received a phone call from the guys in the pro shop to advise me of the fire. It was about 4pm in the afternoon. There was a game being played – Cornwall versus Somerset in a Channel League match.

“They were playing their second round and had reached the 8th.  They called the fire brigade almost immediately and they were out there – quite a large crew – and contained the fire really quite quickly. It was within about two hours or so.”

Unlike a fire in the clubhouse, or the greenkeepers’ facility, it’s hard to plan for a blaze out on the course, particularly given its size and scope.  Complicating the issue for Burnham & Berrow is the public access that criss-crosses the course.  There are a number of footpaths, while local residents also have access to the course on their way to the beach.

That meant that, even with a smoking ban in place, it was impossible for the club to protect the course entirely.

“I met with the fire officer who was on duty at the time, and attended the fi re, and he was quite content that we acted as we should have with evacuating the course and so on,” Karen added.
“It highlighted the need to ensure that the local fire service are familiar with the site, so we have given them spare keys to our padlocks on our gates.

“It was unfortunate, in that the measure we had taken the week before to protect the access gate from travellers breaking in was a large water drum placed directly behind the gate. That was still there when they tried to get their vehicles in through the gate. “This held up a little time, so we had a member of staff direct them to another gate.”

Firefighters used hose reels, jets and beaters to put out the fi re but not before around 3,700 square metres of grassland were set alight.
It damaged around five acres of the rough in total.  “I’m told by the fire officer that the speed at which the fire was travelling out-ran the fire officers, who were charged with breaking the fire path,” Karen explained.

“They are going to use the example for their own training experiences.”
The aftermath left Burnham & Berrow with repair costs of around £30,000, because of damage to the irrigation pond liner and for perimeter fencing around the pond, but it was business as usual the very next day.
“I suppose you can’t plan for something like this because of the nature of fire – there’s no telling how that would proceed,” said Karen.

“Our only policy was that the pro shop were on duty and they acted diligently by making sure the fire service were called.
“The only section of the course that was really damaged was the edge of the 8th tee.

“But there was no impact on playing the course and we were very thankful that no one got hurt, which is the main thing.”

If your course was hit by fire this summer, please get in touch with GCMA chief executive Bob Williams by email at bob@gcma.org.uk. The GCMA are looking to prepare a case study on the effects such natural disasters have on golf club businesses and the team at HQ would be pleased to hear from you.

Burnham & Berrow

Set among the glorious dunes of the Bristol Channel coast, some of Britain’s most prized golfing events – including the Brabazon Trophy – have been held at Burnham & Berrow.

The Championship course at the Somerset venue is considered one of England’s best, ranked at No. 8 by National Club Golfer in their top 100 courses guide.

Burnham & Berrow have a proud history and are renowned for helping JH Taylor on his way when they hired him as a youngster in 1890. He became one of the Great Triumvirate of British golf at the turn of the 20th century and won The Open on five occasions. The traditional out and in links is complemented by the 9-hole Channel course, a layout that is highly regarded in its own right.

By Marie J. Taylor

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