A data-driven approach

A data-driven approach: How a decade of technological innovation has put groundsmen more in control than ever before…

Groundsmanship today looks completely different than it did 10 to 15 years ago. The time of solely fieldwork has made place for a more data-driven approach. Technological advanced tools enable groundsmen and greenkeepers to both monitor and control the growing conditions on sports playing surfaces.

When SGL brought grow lights to the market 15 years ago, new possibilities emerged for maintaining high quality sports playing surfaces. While the lighting systems are the innovation that they are most recognised for, SGL were also one of the firsts to switch from a product driven approach to a system based on monitoring and data analyses.

Technology has raised the standards and the role of the groundsman has become more essential than it ever was before.

SGL offers guidance to groundsman in the form of monitoring tools, cost management tools and various grass grow lighting and grass care products. ‘Quality is the exclusion of chance’ is one of the rules by which SGL operates.

This statement finds its origin in the rose greenhouse Porta Nova, one of the most technologically advanced rose greenhouses in the world, of which SGL founder Nico van Vuuren is also co-owner. “In roses, we are looking for the best quality rose, one which keeps its beauty for as long as possible. With SGL we help our customers to create the best quality pitch. That is the main focus,” explained Nico.

The only way to leave as little to chance as possible is by researching, analysing and modelling. The perfect growing circumstances and the way to achieve those are of course different for every pitch, court or green. Therefore SGL developed various models within the monitoring tools to forecast growth circumstances for every specific circumstances.

Tools, such as the Analyser, provide groundsmen with 24/7 growth data which gives groundsmen access to a great amount of information about the circumstances on their pitch. An online portal shows all relevant information, but also contains models for forecasting. The weather forecast has already been an indispensable guide to every groundsmen in the world for a long time.

SGL developed different models that make it possible to give advice for every specific situation. So for example a fungal disease forecast has been developed that predicts the disease pressure of over a dozen different diseases, based on the weather forecast and data from the SGL Analyser. Also a growth model has been developed that specifically advises where to use the supplemental lighting on the pitch and for how many hours in order to achieve the desired quality, taking into account the current quality, the weather forecast and the past and future pitch usage. Based on all of that data, groundsmen can make calculated decisions regarding their daily and long term maintenance.

While monitoring and analysing of the circumstances is the base, groundsmen need tools to follow up their findings and control the conditions. There are many growth factors that need to be controlled in order to create a perfect playing surface. Think about light, temperature, humidity, air movement among many others.

The development of grass lighting systems has progressed very quickly over the past few years. SGL has developed new systems that are designed for specific situations based on customers’ needs. For example, the SU380 FLEX is developed for stadiums with low and/or narrow pitch entrances. Currently SGL is testing a new IQ55, a closed climate control lighting system, with Infrared heaters and irrigation, which has a unique germination mode. There’s also extensive ongoing research with LED systems that have given interesting results.

One of the most important innovations of the past year has been the machine that prevents fungal diseases from spreading by means of UV-C light instead of fungicides: the UVC180. Many countries are banning the use of chemicals for turf grass disease treatment and so there is a high need for a biological solution. UVC light is already successfully being used in greenhouses so that’s where SGL started its research.

SGL designed a walk behind machine that could operate fully automatic. The prototype was tested by Paul Burgess’ team in Madrid, followed by multiple other stadiums, training pitches and golf greens across Europe. That the treatment is effective was clear very soon. With the feedback of Paul Burgess and all the other users, SGL designed a final machine that is effective and easy to use on many different sports surfaces.

That these new tools are not only available to the elite few has been shown over that last years. More and more stadiums and training grounds across Europe, also from lower leagues, use the technology to achieve the best possible results. This has been made possible by more effective energy management tools and the availability of smaller systems and SGL SELECT; refurbished equipment that comes with full warranty at a fraction of the cost.

The access to a substantial amount of data and tools create the possibility to grow a high quality pitch, which has increased the expectations and thus the pressure on the groundsman. In this digital age every little thing is under scrutiny. Sports playing surfaces form the stage on which top athletes need to perform at their very best, while being watched my millions. You simply cannot take any risk with that. All that matters is creating that top quality in the most cost efficient way. The great amount of data and tools available, offer a lot more possibilities than years ago, but it also means that groundsmen have a lot more to pay attention to. There are more decisions to be made, maintenance to be planned and tools to be used in the best possible way.

These tools do not make the groundsman less important, on the contrary; groundsmanship has grown to be a science and the people behind the curtain have become scientists with a professional and practical approach.