Making a mark

Making a mark: Scott MacCallum meets Andy Butler, the Head of Grounds and Gardens at Repton School, a man who is fast making his mark…

For 14 years Andy Butler diligently worked his way through the ranks of the grounds team at Repton School. He studied hard to gain qualifications, but, like so many who have gone before him, when he reached the level of Deputy his progress stalled. The Head of Grounds and Gardens role was already filled and family commitments meant that moving any distance away to another school wasn’t a real option.

Making a mark

Making a mark

Then, just over a year ago, came a breakthrough. The head man moved on to another school and the job that Andy had always coveted became available.

Knowing that this was his big chance, he prepared thoroughly and when it came to his turn to face the interview panel, he aced it.

“At the interview I just wanted to be treated like any other candidate and thankfully that was the case,” he said.

“I presented them with a plan covering where I wanted to take the school over a five and a seven year period and we are now implementing that plan,” he explained.

“I split the school into three areas and planned to do a rolling programme on each, every three years. So now every area will be getting regular vertidraining, regular overseeding, regular top dressing.

“We are trying to change the soil profile as it is quite clay-based where we are so we are inputting lots of straight sand to improve that profile and the water flow through it,” said Andy, who uses Mansfield Sands, based nearby.

In the nine months since he took over, the school has been delighted with what Andy and his team have already put in place.

“We have implemented a rigid aeration programme. In fact, the guys are out there just now working on it, with the Air2G2, trying to relieve compaction and improve our root growth. The improvement in the first eight months has been pretty good,” said Andy, adding that previously there hadn’t been a particular focus on that type of remedial work.

But they have not just upped the aeration work. A new drainage project is proving to be a little more complicated than was first envisaged.

“We drained one pitch, but unfortunately, due to the fact that no compaction work had been carried out in the recent past, and with heavy tractors pulling gang mowers increasing compaction issues, the water wasn’t able to find its way to the drains.

Making a mark

Making a mark

“I think we are going to have to use the original drainage as secondary drainage and put a primary drainage scheme in on top of that. We will then roll that method out over the other three areas we have on the site.”

The work will undoubtedly improve the facilities at what is one of the very top schools, not just in Derbyshire, but the entire country. Indeed, the roll call of Old Reptonians, sporting and otherwise, would equal those of any similar establishment.

I give you Harold Abrahams, winner of the 100 metres at the Paris Olympics in 1924, and immortalised in the Oscar-winning film, Chariots of Fire; Bunny Austin, Wimbledon finalist in 1932; Adrian Newey, the Formula 1 technical genius, and a host of cricketers, including Donald Carr, who went onto run English cricket.

There is one other sporting Old Boy who needs a special mention, and that is the legendary C B Fry, who not only played cricket and football for England, and represented the Barbarians at rugby, he equalled the world long jump record at the time, and he could back flip from a standing start onto a mantlepiece!

A skill perhaps perfected in one of the Repton Houses.

If that were not enough, the education of the man who gave us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Tales of the Unexpected was shaped at Repton – Roald Dahl.

Another pupil to go on to national fame was Jeremy Clarkson.

It is doubtful whether many of those illustrious sportsmen had the range and quality of sports surfaces that are now a feature of Repton School.

The school currently has: two water-based Astro pitches; one sand-dressed Astro pitch; the Prep school has another sand-dressed pitch which is being replaced later this year; there are 12 tennis hard courts, which switch around to host the netball season; 11 football pitches; two rugby pitches; one 11 pitch cricket square; two six pitch cricket squares; the Prep school has one six pitch cricket square and two other cut down pitches for the smaller children.

“We have roughly 27 acres of playing field at the Senior school and 20 acres of playing field at the Prep school while we also have 10 boarding houses at the Senior school all with gardens and two boarding houses at the Prep school each with a garden.”

Often pitches are shared by rugby and football and it can be a challenge to turn them around between sports, while the First team football pitch also doubles up as the cricket outfield with a four week turnaround to make it happen.

“We overseed and level up as best we can.”

Andy has a school calendar at the beginning of every term, but he gets a weekly schedule from each Director of Sport on a Sunday evening so he can plan on the Monday morning.

“It does change regularly with Cup runs etc – and they tend to do well in football as we are a big footballing school – but we work well to ensure it all comes together.

Our First team pitch generally has between 10 and 15 matches, compacted into a 10-12 week period.”

To cope with the huge workload Andy has a team of 13.

Making a mark

Making a mark

“There are two groundmen at the Prep school, with one classed as my Head Groundsman; there are two gardeners, with one classed as Head Gardener while, at the Senior school, there are four gardeners with a Team Leader and a gardener who looks after the Headmaster’s area. The remainder are grounds staff,” revealed Andy.

And while the quantity of sports turf is enormous, the quality required of it is reaching new heights.

“The Liverpool FC Camps UK is basing itself here for the summer. That will be the 14 to 18-year-olds, and they will be using it for training and player trials. They will use our houses for their accommodation.

This is really big for the school, and we are delighted to be hosting them,” said Andy who added that the South African Hockey team is also basing themselves at the school for the Commonwealth Games so that they can make use of the water-based pitch.

And when it comes to cricket, they are targeting a Derbyshire County Championship match later in the season. This comes on the back of Derbyshire basing themselves with the school during Covid for training purposes, as the English women’s team were using the County Ground in Derby.

“While they were here, I was able to produce the wickets they were looking for and talk to the players and the coaching staff about what they looked for in a pitch and what they wanted from a pitch. It was a really good learning curve for me and the team and allowed us to push forward with our pitch preparation skills.”

An example of which is the fact that they have just Koroed off one cricket square, something which had not been done for a number of years.

“That has really helped to refresh the surface,” said Andy.

Director of Cricket at the school is former England Test wicketkeeper Chris Read, who is just one of a number of high class coaches employed by the school. Martin Jones who coaches hockey is an ex-Olympian, while the Director of Swimming is none other than Scott Talbot, who coached Australian swimmers at the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics and was also the New Zealand national coach.

To support Andy in achieving what he wants, and what is required from the surfaces, the school has been extremely supportive and stuck its hand in the coffers to supply the equipment needed.

“We’ve got the right kit and I’ve been fully backed on what I want to do to raise the standards here and get us to first class levels.”

In the very near future, he will be signing off on in-house grinding equipment, something which will again assist in reaching the new levels of turf preparation, while they are also moving from fixed goals to portable goals, a project which should be completed by the summer.

“We use Harrod goals, supplied by Turfix,” said Andy.

That backing is all the more welcome given the costs hikes that have been so widespread across the industry, and, indeed, all our lives.

“The red diesel change has been a real shocker. It seems really strange to me that golf clubs can continue to use red diesel but schools can’t. We used to be £880 for a delivery but it has now gone up to £1,200 and we have four or five a year, so that is a huge increase in costs just in itself.

“Fortunately, I bought all our fertiliser before Christmas so we missed the biggest hike,” he revealed, adding that he uses Agrovista for his fertiliser and chemical needs.”

It all hints are difficult times ahead but for a man who waited 14 years to be given the opportunity, Andy is relishing all that his new position has in store for him.

BTME in the spring

BTME in the spring: It was strange, but reassuring at the same time, to arrive in Harrogate for BTME 2022. After a gap of 26 months since the last edition, which seemed like an absolute lifetime, it was great to see so many familiar faces and catch up with friends and acquaintances alike. Given the last two years, every returned smile – it was a mask free show – was proof that the deliverer of that smile had come through Covid and was still standing.

What was strange, though, was that it was all happening, not just at the end of March, but during a hot spell. The weather was lovely and seeing people enjoying themselves in pavement cafes and bars just added to the weirdness of it all.

BTME in the spring

BTME in the spring

As for the BTME itself. So much was as usual. Even the most skilled navigator could be seen examining the wall maps trying to establish not just where they were going but where they were. The multiple halls – complete with two Reds – are a feature of the Harrogate International Centre and very much the price you pay to enjoy everything else about the Harrogate experience.

It wouldn’t be unfair to hold up the NEC Hall, in which SALTEX is held, as a superior venue, but then that particular corner of Birmingham doesn’t possess what Harrogate offers. In an ideal world someone would come up with an NEC-style Hall in a Harrogate-style location.

That wonderful weather was, however, a doubled edged sword. Yes, it was great for those who were in and around Harrogate, but it was also perfect golf course prep weather, and warm enough to encourage grass growth. So many regular attendees had to remain back at their courses. A common opinion was that it was the Course Managers and Head Groundsmen who made the trip leaving behind the team to get on with the work, so the quality of visitor was high.

It did mean, however, a drop in visitor, and stand, numbers which will impact on BIGGA’s bottom line.

To be fair to BIGGA, and CEO Jim Croxton, there was no attempt to disguise the figures, instead embracing the fact that the BTME had returned and that so many had, in fact, made the effort to attend.

For those who prefer the lightweight shirt to the heavyweight jacket there is disappointment as BTME will return to its regular January slot in 2023.

One interesting aside. There was a significant number of people who Covid while in Harrogate. I remained clear but I heard of at least six people, with whom I had one-to-one chats during the three days, who subsequently tested positive.

We are not out of the woods and have to remain ever vigilant.

Visit the Turf Matters YouTube channel for exclusive BTME videos

On your side for 50 issues, and counting…

On your side for 50 issues, and counting…: When we launched Turf Matters back at the beginning of 2014, we had high, but realistic, hopes. We hoped that our readership would appreciate what we had to offer and that, perhaps, we might grow over the years to be a well-respected title.

With this, our 50th issue, we can look back with pride at having achieved that goal. We are definitely a respected title. We have won awards for our writing and our design and we are thrilled that more and more companies within the industry are deciding to share some of their marketing and advertising budgets with us. That is not something we ever take for granted, particularly in these tough times.

On your side for 50 issues, and counting…

On your side for 50 issues, and counting…

We are also pleased that so many have opened their doors to enable us to produce interesting features and over the last eight years these open doors have allowed us to showcase extraordinary work at virtually every major sporting venue in the country – not to mention the odd overseas assignment, which included a preview to the Ryder Cup matches at Golf National, in Paris.

We have also seen our digital presence grow and we now have over 22,000 on-line followers.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped to make Turf Matters what it is today and the promise that I make to you is that we will continue to work hard to produce the magazine you want to read and the digital platforms you want to visit.

Scott MacCallum, Editor/Publisher

On your side for 50 issues, and counting…

On your side for 50 issues, and counting…

The ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses

The ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses: SubAir Systems, a high-tech system provided by Bernhard and Company to EMEA and parts of Asia, is one of the most revolutionary products in the turf industry, being trusted by some of the most famous golf courses and natural grass stadiums around the globe.

We sat down with Steve Wilson, PAC-Asia Business Development Manager from Bernhard and Company, and Matt Cindea, Global Project Consultant from SubAir Systems, to learn more about the product and why it is the ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses.

The ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses

The ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses

“As a concept, SubAir is a vacuum and aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses,” said Matt.

“In pressure mode, the system simply pushes clean oxygen into the selected root zone of any pitch or green, encouraging the best possible growing conditions for the grass plants. This is extremely important, as grass naturally develops waste gas that formulates around the root zone – even more so during high temperatures. Being able to remove these gases and replace them with fresh oxygen means that the growing conditions can be regulated continuously and kept at optimal levels.

“The vacuum mode essentially works in the complete opposite way, by pulling air out and away from the bottom of the root zone.

When you remove air from this zone, it also pulls moisture away at the same time, which allows the user to be very calculated when determining the amount of moisture they want within their soil profile.

“This use of SubAir Systems is perhaps the most globally recognised and is certainly one that our customers appreciate, because it allows them to maintain a constant moisture level despite any large storms or deluges of water that might otherwise flood their pitch or course.

“We also install sensors in the playing surfaces that can monitor the salinity, moisture, temperature and oxygen levels of the turf. The information collected by those sensors then directly feeds into our system which can create an auto-response. For example, the system can be programmed so that if there is a spike in moisture levels, the vacuum will automatically pull air out until the moisture level drops back down to the desired number.

“Initially, the SubAir product was created purely to push air into a root zone. The prototype product was actually derived from a powerful leaf blower, which was used to blow air through a drainage system to provide fresh oxygen to a green that struggled particularly badly with flooding each year. Over the course of a couple of months, it became obvious that the green was able to recover quicker due to the better-quality air circulating beneath the soil. From that came the realisation that if you could push oxygen into the subsoil, with a reversed power source you could just as easily remove air and water.

The ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses

The ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses

“Every SubAir System that we install has to contend with a different growing environment. We have systems all over the world, in Asia, North America, South America and Europe. The systems in each of those locations need to be programmed differently to tackle each totally unique climate. We work very closely with the turf manager at each individual site to determine their exact treatment requirements. With so many variables in play at each location, it is extremely important for us to go through a rigorous consultation process to understand the bespoke needs of each client and how we can deliver the best possible results.

“An example of the differing climates and how they have totally unique requirements would be with one of our more recent installations in Qatar. The amount of rainfall each year in Qatar is extremely low and the temperature rarely drops below 25 degrees Celsius.

This kind of installation very much goes against the misconception that SubAir Systems are all about moisture control. In Qatar, the turf management teams will be using the system almost exclusively in pressure mode, to provide fresh, cool oxygen to the pitches and help remove the waste gases that build up much more quickly in intense heat.”

Steve added that they had learned a lot from installing SubAir in Qatar.

“At one particular venue that is located by the coast, there is a very high water table. At this time of year in Qatar, they will overseed with Rye grass, which means they are watering the surfaces a lot. As such, the moisture levels within the turf have been very high, so they have been using their vacuum system to pull some of that moisture down which inadvertently reduced the salinity of their soil.

“In addition to reducing salinity, some turf managers will also use the vacuum system to help with their chemical applications. If they are looking to apply a root treatment, they can use the vacuum system to draw the chemicals further down into the root profile for maximum efficiency. I really can’t overstate how valuable it is to have control of a natural grass pitch, and the ability to pump in clean air and remove water. Not just from a maintenance perspective, but it is also so important from a safety side of things. The ability to dictate a perfect playing surface means that the field will be in the safest possible condition for those competing on it.”

Matt explained that each system has its own control panel that is housed on-site and allows turf managers to quickly and easily control their system.

“We have access to all our installations through an oversight app that allows us to make manipulations if requested, and we are always happy to consult with our customers on process recommendations. Ultimately though, it is a tool that we are providing to turf managers that will give them the ultimate platform to deliver the healthiest and most effective pitch or golf green.

The ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses

The ultimate aerification system for natural grass pitches and golf courses

“It’s important to note that SubAir is by no means just a product for golf. It was developed to help and improve any natural grass pitch or green. We have installations across multiple different platforms, from golf to cricket, baseball, soccer, horse racing and tennis, just to name a few. Every installation is completely bespoke – our team of engineers will take a look at the space provided, then custom engineer a system to fit that location.

“A SubAir System is the best insurance policy in the world for sporting venues that host major events or tournaments. Events that take place on an international or global scale have millions, if not billions of dollars pumped into them – look at the World Cup for example. If the heavens opened and a deluge of rain came down, it is completely feasible that pitches would quickly become unplayable and the cancellation of games in international and global tournaments can cost organisers millions. In the grand scheme of a project, having that insurance when it comes to game day is priceless.

“The future of SubAir is extremely bright. Maintaining a pitch is far more than throwing some seed onto a field and applying some fertilisers. Turf care is a science and modern-day expectations are very high.

When new pitches and golf courses are being created, everything has to be done to the highest possible level, including the turf, and SubAir is essential if you are looking to deliver the very best possible turf.”

What is it about Durham?

What is it about Durham?:Scott MacCallum talks cricket with Durham School’s Head of Grounds Barry Boustead, learns how a merger with the city’s Chorister School has brought together 600 years of heritage, and muses about THAT song…

One of renowned singer song-writer (and whistler) Roger Whittaker’s most famous pieces of work was Durham Town, in which he sang “I’m going to leave old Durham town.” It’s a lovely song, but having been to Durham recently, I can’t see any reason why anyone would wish to leave.

What is it about Durham?

What is it about Durham?

There can be few more beautiful places in the country in which to earn a crust than Durham – named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. The sheer beauty of the famous cathedral, which sits majestically above the historic buildings, give it a mystic which would be hard to replicate anywhere. Oh, and it’s a City despite what Roger says. Probably “city” didn’t scan as well as “town”!

One man who has no intention of leaving Durham any time soon is Barry Boustead, Head of Grounds at Durham School, for whom gazing over his view after a full day’s graft is very much balm for the soul.

“My place of work really is quite spectacular. There are not many better settings than this,” said Barry.

“Like many jobs you can occasionally get a bit fed up, but then I just look out over our main rugby pitch to the cathedral and everything seems a little bit better.”

But the fact that Barry has been at the school for 13 years suggests that those days when a “fix” of the view is very much required are few and far between.

“It is a good place to work. I wouldn’t have stayed so long otherwise,” he said, before admitting that his original Plan A had been to remain for around four years and then emigrate to New Zealand!

The job Barry started out with has changed since he began as Head of Grounds, however. He has added the Gardens portfolio too, while a merger with The Chorister School in the city, just last September, bringing together a shared heritage of over 600 years, has increased the number of children using his beautifully prepared pitches and grounds, while adding to the complexity of his role.

“We have inherited two playing fields, one of which has three junior rugby pitches, while I don’t know what the plans are for the other as yet. Personally, I’d like to be a training area to keep them off my rugby pitch, but it will bedown to the sports department at the end of the day,” he laughed.

As part of the merger Barry has acquired one new part-time member of staff, Jon Bland, who had been working at The Chorister School, but with Barry himself and two other staff, Damian Merrigan and Darren Keeler, they are certainly kept extremely busy.

“Even visiting the new fields can be a challenge as they are on a busy road and at peak times, or as was recently the case, when a bridge was closed and traffic diverted, it can take 10 to 15 minutes just to make the right turn before we can get back. That sort of time can add up and over a week can be quite significant.”

What is it about Durham?

What is it about Durham?

And time is one thing the team can’t really afford to lose. Particularly over the autumn period when, on a site with so many mature trees, clearing leaves is the Durham School equivalent of painting the Forth Rail Bridge.

“It’s a daily job from October through to January and we clear every leaf off the site pretty much.

We collect them and put them in a pile behind our shed which just builds up and then rots down.”

How many man hours a week are devoted to the task?

“This week for example two of us have been on the job and all we have done is leaves so it’s anywhere upwards of 50 hours a week. Other jobs do take priority but so much time is devoted to leaf clearance. I always have a target of getting every leaf cleared by Christmas, but I’ve not done it yet!”

The other on-going issue, also tree related, is the school’s artificial hockey pitch, which sits in a lovely, secluded site surrounded by trees.

“Being surround by trees means that silt – dust or sap – has collected within the profile. Then when we get a heavy downpour the silt rises to the top and it gets very slippy – not something you would want on an artificial pitch.

“We’ve tried different brushing machines and it has improved slightly but we are going to see how this winter goes before we see what our next step is. We are using a SISIS Twinplay with stiff brushes and it seems to do a good job. Ideally, we’d like to do it twice a week but pressure of work means that we can only fit it in once a week. It’s an on-going problem.

“One solution would be to take out the existing sand and replace it but that is costly.”

With leaves taking up a significant part of the year it is grass cutting which occupies the rest and with cricket, in particular, it is an intense fixture list.

“We can have three or four fixtures a week and we have 12 match strips on our main cricket ground and three down on the bottom ground,” explained Barry, adding that the main cricket pitch shares its space with the first team rugby pitch – which boasts sets of posts which reach a remarkable 17 metres – the same height as those found at top grounds such as Twickenham.

To prepare the cricket wickets Barry and the team rely on a single Allett C20 wicket mower, which makes advanced planning an essential part of the job and leans heavily on the reliability of the mower.

“I get the fixtures in at the beginning of the season and then fit in the Cup fixtures as the teams progress through the tournament. I do have a good relationship with the Director of Cricket so he has a good idea of what we are capable of producing.

We can hold three fixtures at once – two on our upper field and one down in the other field.”

On the reliability? Well, that’s not always down to the machine itself.

“I did clip a stud and bent the bottom blade on our Allett,” confessed Barry.

“Fortunately, we do have a good relationship with the University. I started my career there and was at school with the Head Man, Paul Derek’s, kids, and we do help each other out. They helped me with a wicket mower after the bent bottom blade incident, and last summer they had a problem with their tractor, which they use to cut their big fields with gang mowers, so they were able to use our Kioti.”

That kind of mutual back scratching can help solve immediate problems, but also ease the budgetary strain on hire fees which can, with the now longer lead times on spare parts, mount up quickly.

If pushed, Barry would say that his first love is cricket and his aim is always to produce the best surface possible.

“I’m a big believer that a good cricketer will be able to react to any situation and while I do talk with the Director of Cricket I’m never under pressure to produce a wicket to suit our own team. What they see is what they get,” said Barry, who while he didn’t ever play the game, has a real passion for preparing cricket wickets.

So much so, in fact, that he spent a week with Vic Demain and his team at Chester-le-Street working at a Durham county match.

What is it about Durham?

What is it about Durham?

“The week I had was really good. I learned so much, mainly from seeing how the team all operate and come together to work towards the same goal. Vic and I are still in touch and he helps run the Durham Groundsman Association. He is a great communicator and having come from grass roots level has a real affinity with guys in our position – those working with one wicket mower!”

Barry’s arrival in the industry came about very much by chance. He’d begun a degree course in business management at Sunderland which involved a placement working for a year at a local council.

“It was working in the marketing department, but I soon learned that being stuck behind a computer just wasn’t for me. I left and found a position on a summer contract working on the grounds’ team at Durham University.

“When a full time contract came up I got the job and loved it.

They put me through my NVQs at Haughall College, which was just across the road. I did my NVQ 2 in sports turf and my NVQ 3 in sports turf management. I knew at that stage that it was the career for me,” said Barry, whose previous experience had amounted to cutting his dad’s lawn on a weekly basis!

After four and a half years the Durham School position came up and Barry got the job.

As he looks out at the fabulous view of the Cathedral, he has never had any doubts that he chose the right career and is very happy at Durham. Roger Whittaker on the other hand…

EQUIPMENT INVENTORY

JCB 354 tractor
JCB Workmax
Major tractor mounted
roller mower
Toro 6500d
Kioti WD 1260 ride
on mower
3 x STIHL battery
pack blowers
STIHLl BR 600 petrol blower
Billy Goat blower
2 x STIHL strimmers
2x Honda rotary mowers
Ferris FW25 mower
SISIS Twin play
SISIS Rotorake
Allett c20
Dennis 36inch cylinder mower
And my most important and favourite tool in the shed, says Barry, the SISIS Combi Rake.

Raising the bar

Raising the bar: Scott MacCallum headed to Hertfordshire to meet James Bonfield, a Course Manager for whom a change of club ownership has been a real tonic and a chance to set new standards.

Finding out that your company has been taken over, or that you have a new boss to whom you will be answering in future, is an unnerving situation. You see it in all walks of life. Your face no longer fits, or you find that your name appears on the list of potential redundancies.

Raising the bar

Raising the bar

It never ends well. Or does it?

James Bonfield, Course Manager at The Hertfordshire Golf and Country Club, found himself in that very position three years ago band went through all the anxiety and uncertainty that goes along with the territory. However, when we spoke in the ancient splendour of the mansion house around which the course flows, you could scarcely find a happier man.

However, there is no denying that the period before Elysium Golf Ltd, a company with no previous record of golf club ownership or management, was a worry.

“We knew that we were being taken over but didn’t have too much information about the people we would be working for or what their goals were – we knew they didn’t have a history in owning golf clubs. This is their first golf course and we didn’t know our position in their future plans. So, it was all up in the air,” recalled James.

What is never in doubt during these situations is that they inevitably become hotbeds for all sorts of rumours.

“In the months before there were rumours flying about. Everyone who was not working here seemed to have a direct line to the owner and knew what was happening,” said James.

“We were only going to be nine holes. We were going to be closed totally. We were going to be this. We were going to be that,” said James.

“We were only going to be nine holes. We were going to be closed totally. We were going to be this. We were going to be that,” said James.

Given that the land, north of London and in sight of the city of London itself, would be worth a fortune to developers, many of the rumours could possibly have carried some genuine mileage.

“The first couple of times that you hear it you think ‘Whatever’. Then, after we’d been hearing the same things for about six months, it got to some of the lads. I feel very fortunate that I still have half the team from 2019. My Deputy, my Mechanic and my First Assistant are still here,” said James, who stressed that he has no issues with those who left given the uncertainty of the times.

“You could say that we all took a chance and stayed, and we are very happy that we have. We have rebuilt team and added to the team.

We had six before the takeover and we are up to ten now – nine greenkeepers and a gardener. It is a sign of where we are moving.”

Raising the bar

Raising the bar

However, they didn’t know that their coin had come up ‘heads’ until they arrived for work the first day under the new owners.

“On that first morning they had no idea what to expect of what they were going to be told. But then we found Simon Doyle from Troon Golf was there waiting for us.”

Troon Golf had been brought in for six months during the transition and to assess the skills of James and his team. A very smart move by Elysium.

“Simon gave us an overview of what would be happening,” said James

“It was good to have Troon here. They were the contact to the owner and vice versa. Simon just came in that first morning and put everyone at ease. When Troon walk in it’s a sign that they are not going to be closing it down soon. You don’t get Troon in for no reason whatsoever.”

It was also a sign that Hertfordshire Golf and Country Club was going to change for the better.

“We were not to be dealing with mediocre – we’re going high-end. And every decision since then has been based on that objective.”

Simon sat down with the team and said this is the plan. This is where the owner wants to head and we went off and went through everything.

“Lucky for myself and my background we had a good chat and he soon appreciated where we came from, our abilities and collective drive to make the courses as good as we could make it.

“It was helpful to be able to achieve our machinery needs, what we would need going forward, as the machinery had in the sheds as a result of the sale, wasn’t fit for purpose.

“He helped us to get a machinery inventory together and get it across the line with the owners and start getting into it so we can move forward,” said James, adding that it was good that people were investing in them.

“The cost of the machinery fleet wasn’t cheap – Toro. And there were no corners cut.

Everything was Toro, other than a Kubota tractor.

“So that’s fantastic. Since then, machinery-wise, we’ve continued to add to it so we’ve got a fairway seeder, two Wiedenmann spikers – one for greens and one for fairways.

Also a trencher so we can do our own drainage works, and another tractor so that we would have more options. So we have got more and we are going to add next year.”

“Every year we continue to progress. It doesn’t always mean adding new machinery. We will not just get kit for the sake of getting it. But will get what we need to will make us more effective as a team and allow us to work more efficiently.

“I don’t want to waste the owner’s money. I don’t want him coming down and seeing a bit of kit that has been sitting around doing nothing for six months. That would kill me. I want him to come in and see that everything has been used and that it is all in good nick. That way we will build up trust.”

Having been given the tools there must be pressure to achieve great things and meet the new found expectations for the golf course.

“This is going to sound big-headed but it’s not meant to be,” said James. “My Deputy, John Hart, and my First Assistant, Karl Vincent, and I have always tried to be better than where we were.

“We’ve always tried to push this place forward. We play a lot of golf at other courses. All the team play from +3 to me at 16 handicap we know what better looks like and, more importantly, what it feels to play it.

“The frustration wasn’t quite having the resources to get to where you felt it could be. That is not to fault the previous owners, that’s just the market we were in at that point.

We are not in that market any more.”

How that manifests itself involves doing exactly what they’ve been doing but adding to it.

Raising the bar

Raising the bar

“Areas we wouldn’t have thought about doing in the past – we can dress tees now and so we discuss if we are to be doing it what do we need? We need to overseed, for example. So we need to build it all into the budget.

“And the same for approaches, because we’ve always grouped tees and approaches together. Then it was how could we improve the course, so we’ve added swales and run-offs round the greens, because we’ve got really nice undulations.”

All this work, as soon as the team were let off the lease, combined to prove to Simon, and ultimately the owner, that James and the team could be left to get on with it.

“Simon is a very knowledgeable guy and runs a lot of golf courses and after about three days he realised that we were confident in doing what we were doing. We were speaking his language. And that got fed back to the owner and he then has more faith in what is going on.

“We love this place and are always thinking about what we can do to make it better.”

Maximise workshop efficiency: Relief grind your cutting units

Maximise workshop efficiency: Relief grind your cutting units: Ian Robson, of ProSport UK Ltd, the UK & Ireland Importer/Distributor for Foley Company, explains why relief grinding maximises the performance of reels by giving a factory finish every time.

Avital question for a workshop manager is how to maximise efficiency and minimise labour and maintenance equipment costs. One area to achieve excellent savings is to look at how you maintain the sharpness of your cutting units.

Maximise workshop efficiency: Relief grind your cutting units

Maximise workshop efficiency: Relief grind your cutting units

Firstly, why is having sharp cylinders (reels) that are the correct shape so important anyway? The answer is obvious – unhealthy turf brings a whole host of other issues which are costly to correct.

Therefore, prevention is a far more economic approach than a cure.

A huge amount of research and development has gone into designing a cutting unit to produce the cleanest cut possible with the least amount of fraying and tissue damage to the plant. The result is that all manufacturers of grass cutting equipment supply new units with relief ground edges.

WHY RELIEF GRIND?

Tests carried out by leading manufacturers have established that relief ground cylinders stay on cut up to 3 times longer than spun ground ones and require less horse power to drive the unit, resulting in greater fuel efficiency and less stress on the hydraulic power systems. In addition, a relief ground cylinder will withstand the abrasive effects of top dressing far better than one spun ground because the relief edge on both the bed-knife and the cylinder allows the top dressing to clear the cutting blades easily, helping to prevent the dulling effect seen on spun only units.

Continual relief grinding also decreases the squeezing and tearing of the grass as the units get dull, and most importantly it allows the cylinder to be returned to a factory specification perfect cylinder as quickly as possible.

The overall cleaner cut achieved by relief grinding gives a better after-cut appearance, increased recovery rate due to the clean cut of the grass and reduces the stress on components because less horsepower is needed to drive the cylinder.

As a reel wears flat and loses shape (becomes coned), more stress and strain is put on the cutting systems.

A 5-gang cutting unit with relief can require up to 4.5 HP (5 x 0.88HP = 4.5HP) to drive the cutting units therefore a 35HP engine has 30.5HP remaining to drive the rest of the traction system. A 5-gang unit which has been spun ground only, can require up to 13Hp (5 x 2.59HP = 13HP) leaving only 22HP to drive the rest of the traction system.

Maximise workshop efficiency: Relief grind your cutting units

Maximise workshop efficiency: Relief grind your cutting units

So, it has been established that relief grinding your cutting units saves you money not only by reducing workshop maintenance time with far fewer grinds but also through a reduction in fuel costs and replacement parts.

It is also important to acknowledge what relief grinding does for a reel. By removing metal from the trailing edge of the blade it forms a relief angle, which reduces the contact area of the cutting edges, resulting in less friction, longer wear life.

Typically, when a new mower is delivered the reels will be a perfect cylindrical shape. Over time the blade naturally loses shape, and the sharp edge it arrives with becomes flat and dull, often meaning the reel is no longer a perfect cylinder from end to end. This is referred to as ‘coning’ and a natural point for grinding to take place. The decision then sits between touch-up and spin grinding, or relief grinding.

If there is sufficient relief still on the reel then a quick touch-up is fine but once more than 50% of the relief has gone my advice would be to relief grind again and remove any coning. Failure to remove the coning will eventually be seen in an uneven cut appearance of your turf.

Foley machines are set-up for both choices, and some models, such as the ACCU-Sharp, ACCU-Pro and ACCU-Master, have automatic grinding pre-sets and adjustment systems to decrease time and labour.

But, the main question mentioned at the beginning comes back; how to get the most out of your workshop resources by choosing the most effective method to sharpen your cutting units. The answer is to trust the manufacturer’s judgement and return the reels as close to the original factory standard as possible, and for that, relief grinding is the best option. The bonus is this method also maximises performance and gives the best cut.

A matter of trust

A matter of trust: Scott MacCallum visits John O’Gaunt, one of the best golf clubs in England, and talks with Course Manager Nigel Broadwith about achieving results by working with like-minded professionals in pursuit of the same aim…

You know you’ve made it when you get something named after you. Think of Halley’s Comet; Nelson’s Column; the Bosman Ruling or Duckworth-Lewis. All act as everlasting memorials to Edmond; Horatio; Jean-Marc; Frank and Tony, respectively.

A matter of trust

A matter of trust

I have no real insight into the leisure interests of John of Gaunt, the 14th century English Prince, military leader, and statesman, but my guess would be that he wasn’t a golfer. The truth is that the game was very much in its infancy around that time, and while slow play wasn’t the issue then as it is now, the lack of courses, particularly inland, not to mention poor quality clubs and balls, had it down the sporting pecking order behind the more popular pursuits of archery and jousting.

So, the likelihood is that John would have been extremely surprised and delighted to know that he has lent his name to one of the best golf clubs in England.

John O’Gaunt Golf Club boasts two superb 18 hole courses – John O’Gaunt itself, and the newer, Carthagena – which are kept extremely busy by the club’s 1,500 members and guests. The man whose job it is to keep those members happy and produce high quality playing conditions over the two courses is Course Manager Nigel Broadwith, a quietly spoken Yorkshireman who leaves no stone unturned in his desire to achieve the best for his courses.

With 15 years at the club Nigel has seen his challenges change over his time at the helm, starting out with a need to improve greens.

“For the first three or four years it was just a case of aeration, aeration, aeration, to remove thatch from the greens,” recalled Nigel, as we sat on the clubhouse veranda looking out over the 18th green of the John O’Gaunt course.

“My first reaction had been that we were going to have to rebuild up to 12 of the greens, which would obviously have been expensive, but through our aeration programme the greens began to drain much better which was fantastic news,” he explained, adding that he restricted it to needle tining, to give himself the opportunity to carry it out more extensively without the disruption to play hollow coring would have caused.

“It became such a regular thing that members would come up to me and ask if I was micro-coring again, but after a year they started to see the improvements it brought.”

With the greens showing steady improvement, Nigel and his team turned their attention to the bunkers, another of the areas where there had been member concern, particularly about the type of sand used and the drainage. “We did a full bunker refurb on John O’Gaunt in-house and got contractors in for Carthegina,” explained Nigel, who also oversaw the levelling of all but five of the tees, putting in irrigation at the same time.

“We now only have one or two left to finish.”

But if you harboured thoughts that with improved greens, bunkers and tees meant that the work was done, you would be sadly mistaken.

The more regular weather extremes we are now all experiencing cause problems at John O’Gaunt.

“Last year drought meant that the only part of the course that was green were the greens. The rest was brown.”

A matter of trust

A matter of trust

The simplistic solution would be to install wall-to-wall irrigation, but nothing in life is straightforward.

“We are trialling fairway irrigation on the 12th fairway at the moment, and it is going very well. However, we are very limited in the amount of water to which we have access. Our summer licence allows us just 9,090 cubic litres, while over the last three years we’ve probably taken 3,000 to 4,000 cubic litres off the mains.

That is obviously expensive and is one of the reasons that we don’t have fairway irrigation,” said Nigel, who has been spending £10,000 per annum overseeding fairways for the last eight years, the effectiveness of which is obviously enhanced with natural and/or artificial watering.

Not to be denied, however, there is a John O’Gaunt masterplan.

“The trial was intended to show what we could achieve if we were able to get enough water for a full irrigation system. Since the start of the trial, we have moved on and installed a new ring main into the John O’Gaunt course so that irrigation can be added. The plan is to bolt on another 12 fairways in January.”

So, how are they going to get over the water limitations?

“We’ve just applied to increase our mains water limit and are getting a new meter installed. However, we also have a water treatment plant next door to us, so we are examining the option of being able to use the effluent water from there.”

Our clubhouse veranda meeting wasn’t a two-person affair. There were two other guests around the table, and while they are pertinent to the latest of Nigel’s John O’Gaunt improvement phases, to be discussed anon, their contributions stretch further than that.

David Snowden, of Agronomic Services, and Matt Corbould, of MR Amenity, have worked with Nigel for a number of years covering an increasing number of course-related issues.

A matter of trust

A matter of trust

“We analysed the water from the treatment plant to assess its quality and impact on the turf. The upside was obviously the quantity, the quality was the downside. While not perfect it was still usable,” explained David, who uses a world-renowned testing laboratory, Harris Labs, in Nebraska, who operate in conjunction with Ana-Lync. Ana-Lync provides a precise soil and water analysis giving an in-depth look at turf soil, comparing data from over 30,000 samples. This can reveal nutrient deficiencies and is exclusive to Floratine products.

The estimate for fairway irrigation is that they would require just short of 300 cubic litres per day and with 500 cubic litres of effluent water, of which 200 to 300 could be available to the club, a solution would be within touching distance.

So, with the irrigation piece soon to be placed into Nigel’s John O’Gaunt jigsaw, you would have imagined that he was delighted with progress during his time at the club.

Not entirely…

“About four years ago I was playing a bit of golf at other courses, some close to here and some further afield, and, while people had been saying that our greens were great, I was looking at those I was playing on and thinking I want my greens like these,” revealed Nigel, who was Deputy at Fulford, In York, before moving south.

Density, grass variety, evenness and the growing habits in winter and spring his main niggles.

At that point he chatted with Matt, who had been both a supplier and a trusted friend for some years, who in turn put Nigel in touch with David, a man with over 35 years industry experience.

When Nigel approached his committee and explained his thoughts, they agreed with his assertion about the benefits of moving up a level, the budgetary increase was signed off.

“We got a lot of support from the General Manager, Gordon MacLeod, who had recently joined the club and who was very proactive in his desire to make improvements wherever possible,” revealed David.

“His view was that if Nigel wanted to do it, let’s push on and do it.”

So, with the green light given, Nigel, David and Matt began to implement the required changes.

The word most used between Nigel, David and Matt is trust and you get the feeling from the three of them that the excellent professional relationship they have has spilled over into personal friendships.

“It was a process like that of gently turning around an oil tanker, slowly. That started with improving the quality of the growing medium – the root zone. Nigel had taken the plant as far as he realistically could, given the tools he had at his disposal at the time. He’d done a phenomenal job,” said David.

David has been a consultant for Floratine for over 30 years and has been a huge advocate for the company, the only one in the world that has developed and manufactures products specifically for turf.

“The concept behind true foliar feeding, using high quality raw materials, means that we would enter into a programme of regular feeding at small rates, which will get the plants growing at the same height with the same nutrition,” David explained.

Matt, whose previous career as a Course Manager has given him a certain empathy with his customers. MR Amenity is now an established distributor for Agronomic Service’s products, and they work together alongside the Course Managers and Greenkeeping Teams, bringing their combined expertise.

“There are not many brands in the world, other that Floratine, which can give you specific solutions for specific problems. To my mind, no other brand out there gives you such control,” explained Matt.

The Floratine scientists have pulled cool and warm season plants apart and looked at the DNA to identify the ratios of elements, then they source raw material from around the world to build the products which work most sympathetically with the plant.

A matter of trust

A matter of trust

In layman’s terms Nigel was provided with a toolbox containing 40 different “tools”, in the form of soil conditioners, foliar feeding and thatch busters, among a host of others.

That toolbox has given Nigel exactly what he has needed to make the improvements he was looking for.

“This year has probably been the best because I’ve done something every week for the last 10 weeks.

It’s a case of rather than thinking they look fantastic, but I’ll leave it a week before the next application, I’ve given them a little feed the next day,” said Nigel, who relies on his own increasingly informed judgement as well as advice from David. David’s heritage is from five generations of family farmers, so understanding plants and crops, is a way of life. He was fortunate to have worked for Lindum Turf for ten years, prior to his move to Floratine.

“We are working with a crop that grows 365 days a year, but from which you don’t want a yield. In farming terms you’d want to generate five tonnes to an acre by filling the plant full of nitrogen and other goodies but in our case the grass is growing all the time, but we don’t want a yield. We just want consistent new growth and it’s a never-ending process – a case of constant tweaking and riding the crest of the wave,” said David.

Nigel has also experimented in dropping the height of cut to 2.9mil something that has only been possible thanks to a healthier plant and well performing root zone.

“If you want to have a grass that can be cut lower you have to have a whole raft of things in place and take so much into consideration,” said David

“Are you going to hand mow or mow with a triple? Is your thatch level able to cope with the lower height of cut as you can’t cut low on spongy greens? How do you manage a cool season grass in 25 to 30 degrees”? David uses the analogy using the IV drip, replenishing the sport’s turf to avoid stress.

Nigel has trust in his processes and his products and has achieved his aims. He has received incredible feedback from members and guests, saying how fantastic his greens are – he thinks they are pretty good now too!

So, while John of Gaunt knows nothing of the golf club which carries his name, you can be sure that if he did, he would be more than delighted with the improvements Nigel and his team have implemented in recent years.

Getting to the roots of sustainability

Getting to the roots of sustainability: Back in April, users of ‘turf Twitter’ bore witness to the effect extreme weather has on the sports turf industry.

A combination of 22 days of ground frost, record levels of sunshine and the fourth driest April on record made the preparing playing surfaces exceptionally challenging. Predictably, May was a washout with relentless heavy rain falling across most of the country.

Getting to the roots of sustainability

Getting to the roots of sustainability

Weather extremes add additional pressures and keep sustainability and climate change issues high on the industry’s agenda. The most commonly described approach to sustainability in turfgrass management is a reduction in inputs, such as fertiliser, fungicides and water, but grass breeders at Barenbrug have given turf managers the ability to underpin their sustainability strategy with Sustainable Grass Technology.

The result of years of specialist breeding, significant investment from the global leader in turfgrass seed production, and numerous independent and in-house trials, grasses in SGT blends have been bred to excel in one or more of four key areas of research;

  • nitrogen use efficiency to reduce fertiliser use and cost
  • drought tolerance to increase survival and reduce the need for irrigation in stress periods
  • increased disease tolerance to reduce fungicide use
  • lower clippings yield to reduce mowing frequency, labour and fuel consumption

“Our breeders had the foresight to anticipate the industry’s needs. These grasses have, in some instances, been decades in the making,” explained Dr David Greenshields, Barenbrug UK’s Amenity Commercial Manager.

“Our aim is to give turf managers all the desirable characteristics that help them meet the demands of the modern game, with minimal inputs, and for surfaces to retain their health, vibrancy and resilience under extreme conditions, such as drought or heavy wear. For turf managers looking to reduce their inputs and all the associated costs without compromising turf quality, using grasses specifically bred for that purpose and proven through independent testing is the ideal starting point.”

SGT’s breeding objectives led to the development of Barprium, a perennial ryegrass cultivar that has set a new benchmark for nitrogen efficiency.

Trials conducted at the STRI from 2016 to 2018 focused on identifying which perennial ryegrass varieties use lower levels of nitrogen most efficiently to deliver acceptable turf quality.

It compared the performance of seven of Barenbrug’s existing high performing perennial ryegrass cultivars against the new cultivar.

When low levels of nitrogen were applied to all cultivars, all performed to a good standard throughout the trials, but Barprium showed greater quality and coverage, even with a 50% nitrogen input. The other seven cultivars all ranked highly in the BSPB Turfgrass Seed Listings, making Barprium’s performance even more impressive.

Strong summer colour in Barprium has also proved an asset to the blend for low input golf fairways.

“SGT Rye Fairway is a great example of our global breeding and trials resource delivering excellent regional solutions. The fi ne fescue cultivars in the mix were selected for their sustainable performance characteristics,” explained David.

“Hardtop hard fescue and Barjessica strong creeping red fescue performed particularly well in periods of heat and drought.

Data from fi ne fescue performance trials conducted in 2018 showed that turf quality of hard fescue was unrivalled during the intense heat and drought of a memorable summer, and the recovery capacity of Barjessica was exceptional. The selected cultivars also provide excellent resistance to Red Thread – perfect for low nutrition fairways.”

David is urging Course Managers to consider the significant benefits of hard fescue on fairways.

“The summer of 2018 bought into sharp focus the situation turf managers face during lengthy periods without rainfall. Hard fescue has been used successfully on the continent, in the US and in Australia where summers are hotter and drier than ‘typical’ ones in the UK.

“It is the default species where there is no irrigation, which demonstrates its natural drought tolerance. It is also resilient and more nitrogen efficient than red fescue, and modern cultivars produce high quality turf.

“It currently makes up 50% and 20% of our two SGT mixtures, and I believe it will play a greater role in the long-term management of medium-fi ne turf with low maintenance requirements.

For new constructions and full renovations, sustainability starts with sowing the right cultivars. For established turf, overseeding with these new cultivars can enable the sward to adapt over time to provide additional resilience when and where it’s needed most.”

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village: There is a school in North Yorkshire which marches to its own beat. Celebrating the individual is at the heart of its ethos, with academic results to back-up its unique approach.

Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate, in Thorpe Underwood, half-way between York and Harrogate, is one of most prestigious schools in the country.

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village

In a trail blazing move in 2015 the school invested heavily in a new multi-million-pound Sports Village on the campus. Well, six years on that Sports Village is now well established, offering Queen Ethelburga’s pupils some of the finest facilities to be found anywhere and attracting top level professional teams for summer training.

The man whose role is to maintain the spectacular range of pitches and continually improve what is in place is someone whose own CV contains some of the biggest names and finest sporting venues around.

Ben Grigor was attracted by “a big advert” posted by Queen Ethelburga’s in the trade press and decided that what was on offer was an opportunity too good to miss.

“From memory it showed the pitches under construction,” recalled Ben.

“It very much looked like a job which would be a dream come true for whoever got it – to be building something from scratch ,” added the man whose CV contains the names of Rangers, at both Murray Park and Ibrox, and SIS Pitches, for which he was part of the early preparations for the Luzhniki Stadium, venue for the 2018 World Cup final, as well as other top sporting venues.

Having secured his interview, Ben’s approach during questioning was, to say the least, “high risk”.

“The CEO asked what I thought of the newly laid pitches. I’d had a walk round earlier in the day and picked up on a few things. So I said, ‘Can I be honest?’ When she agreed, I told her that actually the natural pitches needed improving.”

When constructed, the clay topsoil had been removed to install the drainage and the irrigation and then that original soil was put back on top.

“You are not going to get a high-performance pitch built on clay.

Ben’s honest assessment was taken in the spirit it was intended and the job was his. Things have not looked back since.

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village

“We agree a budget at the beginning of the year and we then get on with it,” said Ben, tempting fate by adding that he hadn’t had a complaint in five years.

On day one Ben arrived with no staff and no equipment, but it was building the right team which was his priority.

“Machinery is only as good as the people using it. So, I wanted a good team. I set up the rotas and procedures at a level that you would expect at a top-level training ground or stadium,” said Ben.

“I needed people who weren’t concerned when told that they weren’t going to get a day off in July, when we might have Newcastle United or England Ladies here doing double training sessions. I needed a team who were happy to be going in at 7am and finishing at 8pm and enjoying doing the work for the teams.”

“I’ve got a fantastic team now, many of them have worked at stadiums in the Premier League environment,” said Ben.

With the closure of schools as part of the Government enforced lockdown, Ben placed himself on flexible furlough during the pandemic to enable him to spend more time with his children in Glasgow, but also to make more working hours available to his guys.

“I was very conscious of their own circumstances.”

As to the machinery, there may be some manufacturers kicking themselves for not paying more attention when Ben put his requirements out to tender.

“I’d created a list of our needs and specifications. For example, what we needed from a tractor – air con, number of kilos it would need to lift, the width etc. The Toro Pro Core was the only one that had a company name attached to it.

“I put it out to all the main names in the industry but only a couple got back to me at the time. Perhaps they thought we were just a small school!”

Ben works to ensure the team is getting the best deal long-term as his purchase of a Koro proves, “We started Koroing pitches in-house, when timings suit us best.

It paid for itself very quickly when set against bringing in contractors to do the work.”

Ben has taken on board a working practice that he first experienced when a young greenkeeper at Crow Wood Golf Club, just outside Glasgow.

“The two other greenkeepers and I were given our own six holes to look after and it created great competition between the three of us. You always take pride in what is yours. So here the guys have their own pitches to look after.

If there is a limited amount of fertiliser left they will ask if they can have it for their pitches and that creates a bit of healthy argument about who gets it,” said Ben.

Having teams set up training camps during the 10 weeks of the summer break is very much part of the estates commercial offer.

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village

“Last summer when teams couldn’t go abroad, we hosted Newcastle United here. I think the team may have had reservations about coming to a school, but they were amazed at the quality of our facilities. So much so that they are looking to return again this year, if they are training in country again.” said Ben, who added that Leeds United also used the facilities while their own training ground was being renovated.

Queen Ethelburga’s facilities include five artificial pitches and a workout area, constructed by S&C Slatter; a five-a-bay cricket practice net facility; two multi-games areas for football, basketball and netball, a larger multi-games area for netball, tennis and basketball, a water-based hockey pitch. Every pitch is floodlit to a standard good enough for HD filming.

“We’ve also got three underwater treadmills, ice bath recovery and a sport science area. The CEO visited St George’s Park to see what was there before the project started.

Our facilities are equal to many of those in the Premiership.”

So why does Queen Ethelburga’s have such stunning sporting facilities, and what was the catalyst for investment such a vast sum of money?

Well, the school threw its hat into the ring in 2013 to be training base for one of the Rugby Union World Cup 2015 finalists only to be knocked back because the facilities weren’t up to the required standard.

“We were told that we were a lovely place but that our facilities were not up to it. All we were at the time was a traditional school playing field with no irrigation or anything else in place. They said that the accommodation and everything else required was great.” explained Ben.

While the new facilities have helped to maximise the sporting talents of some to move into the professional game, the ethos of Queen Ethelburga’s is very much to enhance the talents of their own students, right from nursery age, rather than to bring in pupils who have already been identified as having sporting potential.

One of those is certainly 17 year-old Jason Qareqare, who made a huge impact on his debut for Castleford Tigers against Hull. With his very first touch in professional rugby league, and less than a minute into the match he scored a brilliant try – a try you could say born on the playing fields of Queen Ethelburga’s.

Speaking with Ben you very much get a feeling of a man not only on top of his job but relishing the challenge of meeting the expectations of an ambitious school, prepared to invest in making itself the best it can be.

And while the career ladder for an ambitious groundsman might see a top school as a stopping off point on the way to a high-profile professional club, the job of a Head of Grounds at a top school can be very much a career pinnacle.

“Initially I think there were reservations by the school about how long I would stay, but I really I can’t see myself going anywhere else,” admitted Ben.

The improvements to the school pitches, which were the subject of Ben’s honest feedback at his interview, have been built and improved on as part of a planned phased programme.

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village

“We’ve been rejuvenating the surfaces. As I say they were clay-based and while they had put in sand bands it wasn’t enough, so what we’ve been doing is stripping the surfaces off and replacing them with a sand profile on the surface.

“It has meant a fair amount of time and investment, but I’m pleased to say that they trusted me.

“Once we’d done the first pitch, the benefits were clear,” said Ben, whose aim is to get every pitch to the same level across the complex.

Much of the renovation work was carried out last year, whilst the campus had to remain closed to all but key worker students, but now the aim is to have all the pitches back and available all year.

“The school is our primary focus.

We want the teachers to be happy and we want the students to be happy with the service we provide.”

While Queen Ethelburga’s might have been ahead of the pack when investing in their facilities, other schools have since followed suit.

“What we achieved, nobody else was even considering, we were ahead of our time. We’ll need to keep being dedicated to continuous improvement though, to remain at the top of our game.”

That’s Queen Ethelburga’s. Always marching to that beat of its own drum.