Time to do things differently?

Time to do things differently?: With the world’s oldest golf courses being almost exclusively links courses it is no coincidence that very sandy materials have traditionally been used for the construction and refurbishment of coastal and inland golf courses across the world. 

Sand provides a firm, level and well drained playing surface. Because it is inert it does not hold onto nutrients or water and this allows greenkeepers to manufacture the environment required through the addition of artificial fertiliser and the introduction of water through irrigation.

Time to do things differently?

Time to do things differently?

Notwithstanding the unprecedented, and unexpected, positive impact of the current pandemic on the global environment, our climate continues to change. For some time, scientists and consultants working in the industry have been looking at how golf course construction and refurbishment could be done differently in the future, using materials that are better suited to work with the vagaries of the climate, have a less detrimental impact on our environment, and reduce annual costs.

The use of soil and soil-based products to construct, refurbish and maintain tees, bunkers and green surrounds is proving increasingly popular with greenkeepers and golf course consultants who have been encouraged by STRI research, feedback from scientists, and industry case studies and testimonials.

A good soil is a mixture of mineral particles – sand, silt and clay – water, nutrients – predominantly nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium – organic matter, air and living organisms. ‘Virgin’ or ‘as dug’ natural topsoil as a construction material for shaping course features, tees, bunkers etc. is neither sustainable nor reliable.

Not only are the world’s soil resources being depleted at an alarming rate but virgin soil is also a ‘take it or leave it’ material that may lack the right balance of the constituents listed above, affecting its performance.

British Sugar Topsoil products are sustainable, being derived from the prime arable soils that adhere to the sugar beet brought in to British Sugar factories. The soil is washed from the beet and collected in settlement ponds before being conditioned and blended.

To comply with the British Standard for Topsoil BS3882:2015, each batch is sampled and sent to a UKAS and MCERTS accredited laboratory for a range of tests.

Topsoil products have also undergone comprehensive replicated trials at the STRI.

Good grass establishment and growth, particularly in periods of drought, and the recovery of the sward following periods of heavy rain, make soil-based materials for course construction and refurbishment a very attractive proposition.

The clay component in soil holds on to nutrients (N, P, K, Mg) and the microbes present in the organic matter make for a healthy soil, resulting in good grass establishment and growth and minimising the requirement for additional and expensive inorganic fertiliser. Soil also has a considerably slower percolation rate than sand and this increased waterholding capacity means that areas are less reliant on irrigation. And in terms of course design, soil’s plasticity allows the creation of more interesting and challenging contours and features.

With all that said, maintenance remains key to the successful use of soil products and, where used, the ground must still be aerated on a regular basis to prevent compaction and puddling.

Perhaps, in this period of unexpected lockdown, there is time to look at doing things differently, working with the natural world’s own resources in a sustainable, cost-efficient and environmentally beneficial way.

At Bury St Edmunds Golf Club Consultant Peter Jones, of Peter Jones Associates, selected British Sugar Topsoil’s Landscape20 topsoil for the re-shaping and re-contouring of the entire green complex. 120 tonnes were spread at a depth of 15-20cm over the course’s natural sandy loam soil, which had been de-compacted and levelled using a purpose-built rake.

Finally, a dwarf perennial rye grass turf was laid over the Landscape20. Throughout the entire operation the putting surface of each green was left intact.

Peter chose Landscape20 because of the success he had had with it on similar projects: “The properties of Landscape20 allow you to create the shapes needed around bunkers and greens, and the naturally occurring nutrients within it result in great turf growth.”

At Peterborough Milton Golf Course, 13 bunkers were re-shaped and five tees levelled with 174 tonnes of British Sugar TOPSOIL’s Sports&Turf topdressing prior to re-turfing. “Sports&Turf is by far the best product I have used in my years as a greenkeeper and I am delighted with how easy it is to use. The drainage and percolation rate it gives is second to none,” said Manager Steve Smail.

Dealing with global extremes

Dealing with global extremes: STRI’s head of sports surface technology, Dr Stephen Baker, considers the problems of turf management in some of the more extreme climates that he has visited in his 38-year career.

Working conditions

Grass selection and maintenance is very dependent on climate, and in many parts of the world there is not the relatively benign climate for turf grass growth that we experience in the United Kingdom.

Whilst there can be significant issues with snow and frost in the winter, average monthly temperatures in the UK typically range from around 0°C to 20°C and this is a relatively comfortable range for grass growth for most of the year.

Dealing with global extremes

Dealing with global extremes

Contrast this with some of the sixty countries that I have worked in. Parts of Russia or Scandinavia where the average minimum January temperature of -15°C to -20°C (and lows of -40°C) and average maximum monthly temperatures of 38°C to 43°C in India, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, with peak temperatures sometimes exceeding 50°C, made for some interesting working conditions.

Similarly, in the UK we have a relatively reliable rainfall and without the very high intensities experienced in some tropical areas.

Annual average rainfall in the UK typically ranges from around 700-1250mm per year for the more heavily populated parts of the country where most sports facilities are found.

In contrast annual rainfall can be as low as 100mm in Saudi Arabia. At the other extreme, average monthly totals can reach over 300mm in Manaus in the Amazon Basin in Brazil or in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and massive 840mm in Mumbai, India. It should be noted that these are just average values and at times the temperature range and rainfall differences can be much greater. It is inevitable that extreme variations in temperature and rainfall will increase the challenge of producing high quality sports surfaces.

Low temperatures

The map, above, shows the range of climates around the world from the perspective of turf management.

Each of the climate areas has a major influence on selection of the appropriate grass species in relation to the ideal temperature range. However, there is also a wide range of other issues such as drought and salinity tolerance, the sports to be played and the potential standard of maintenance, including irrigation demand.

Fortunately, a very wide range of grass species are available, and they can be split into two very different groups depending on their basic biology: the cool-season grasses and warm-season species. Cool-season grasses would include species such as smooth-stalked meadow-grass (Poa pratensis) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), which are used on areas of more intensively used turf such as football or rugby pitches, and finer fescue (Festuca spp.) or bent species (Agrostis spp.) that may be suitable on areas such as golf courses.

For areas of extremely low temperatures it is inevitable that appropriate cool-season grasses will be used, but there are several aspects of management that may need to be considered:

• Minimum temperatures that are likely to be encountered
• The length of the growing season, in particular how much of the playing season coincides with periods of minimum growth
• Duration of snow cover and the need for snow removal. Snow cover is indeed often used as an insulating blanket to protect the turf during the coldest months of the year, but there can be significant challenges in clearing the snow and making the surface ready for the start of the new playing season
• The potential risks for disease, especially under snow cover or during periods of limited growth
• The opportunities for pitch renovation. In the more extreme climates for example of North America, Scandinavia and Russia the main playing season will coincide with spring, summer and early autumn when growing conditions are generally better. However, this may limit the amount of time available for renovation, as for example end-ofseason work would coincide with lower temperatures thus preventing effective grass establishment

As well as selection of suitable grass types there are several management options that may improve the standard of turf in very cold climates.

Undersoil heating and pitch covers are generally essential for the major stadiums in such climate areas and, as latitude and cloud cover have a major influence on light levels, most stadiums in these colder climates would also need supplementary lighting to extend the period of grass growth.

Maintaining a high standard of grass cover can also be a big issue in these colder climates. Annual meadow-grass (Poa annua) is very well adapted to the colder, wetter climates such as Iceland or the west coast of Norway.

Without the possibility of extensive end of season renovation there are only limited opportunities to establish preferred species, so annual meadowgrass tends to increase rapidly with time. To maintain a reasonable balance of grass species there is a need for regular over sowing throughout the summer months, with ideally a break in the middle of the playing season to allow a short renovation window.

High temperatures

High temperatures cannot be isolated from rainfall and there tends to be two main extremes where high temperature and rainfall interact: (1) high temperature but low rainfall in desert or semi-arid environments, (2) high temperature, high rainfall areas, although these can have a distinct wet season and a dry season which will have a major impact on turf management. For the monsoon season in Mumbai, India, the four months between June and September have a combined average of about 2250mm rainfall, while the four months from January to April have a combined rainfall of less than 5mm.

The main factor influencing grass quality in hot climates with either low annual rainfall or seasonal drought, will be water supply through irrigation and a good quality irrigation supply will be essential. For high standard stadiums water will generally be delivered using an appropriate pop-up irrigation system, but for more general, lower maintenance areas techniques such as subsurface irrigation may also have to be considered to improve water conservation.

Grass selection is normally based on warm-season species such as bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.), seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) or various Zoysia species, but there may be other considerations.

Dealing with global extremes

Dealing with global extremes

In the absence of cloud cover, nighttime temperatures in some desert climates can be very low giving a risk of dormancy of the warm-season grass. In some wetter tropical climates, particularly where there is significant photochemical air pollution in major urban areas, light levels might be insufficient to maintain healthy grass growth at certain times of the year, especially in stadium environments.

A further factor compounding issues of heat stress in many of the drier climates is the quality of the irrigation water and the potential build-up of salts in the soil. Assessment of water sources for irrigation becomes a major item in turf design in such areas and regular excess irrigation may be needed to flush accumulated salts out of the rootzone.

Very hot, wet areas also have some very specific challenges: these include high intensity rainfall (which I’ll discuss later) but also high rates of biologically activity and this can have particular challenges with disease, insect pests and weed invasion.

Management of the turf in the hottest parts of the world must consider all these issues. There are however some management techniques that can also restrict temperature stress, including:

• air circulation systems by which cooler area can be pushed from lower in the soil profile to cool the grass at the surface
• syringing with light applications of irrigation water to dissipate heat by evaporation
• shade covers mounted well above the grass surface to restrict the incoming solar radiation
• installing cooling pipes, reversing the principle of undersoil heating.

Transition zones

Some of the biggest challenges with grass selection occur in transition zones where there are extreme ranges of temperature. These include Mediterranean type climates in parts of Europe, South America, South Africa and Australia but also some of the continental extremes, where winter temperatures can be as low as -30°C, while summer temperatures may hit 35°C.

Under these circumstances a single grass type is very unlikely to be able to tolerate the annual temperature range: warm-season grasses will go brown and dormant in the winter and cool-season grasses are likely to be lost to heat stress and disease in the summer period.

Good management is obviously essential in such climates, but inevitably more than one grass species will be required, with the warm-season grass used in the summer and then being oversown with a cool-season grass to give the colour and performance required for the winter months.


It is impossible to provide a good quality turf surface without adequate irrigation and issues of turf management in hot, dry climates have already been discussed above. However, there are methods to improve the water retention properties of sports turf rootzones using various organic and inorganic amendments. The type and concentration of these amendments is critical – too little amendment and the surface may remain dry and hard. Excess amendment can lead to a soft playing surface, with shallow rooting that is easily damaged by play. Laboratory testing and a very good understanding of requirements for the growing medium is essential to help formulate the most suitable rootzone characteristics for a specific climate zone.

Very high rainfall is also an issue, as most sports surfaces rely on a relatively dry, stable surface for optimum playing conditions. Well-constructed rootzones, usually based on a high percentage of a suitably selected sand, are generally essential to give adequate drainage performance.

However even a well-constructed rootzone with a drainage rate of say 150mm/hr will not be able to cope with the most extreme rainfall events. In such circumstances it may be necessary to construct a turf facility with greater slopes to encourage surface runoff of water.

Dealing with global extremes

Dealing with global extremes

Technology can also help – many of the subsurface air circulation systems used for temperature control can be used to generate sufficient suction within the soil to help remove extreme rainfall from the surface.


Excess wind may sound more like a complaint of the digestive system than a problem faced by most sports turf managers, however there can be situations where high winds (or indeed a lack of air movement) can be a factor in sports turf management.

Aside from destructive events such as hurricanes, the most likely problems of high wind would be on exposed sites where irrigation can be affected.

If there are strong prevailing or drying winds, evaporation rates are likely to be higher and therefore water consumption greater. However, it is the effects on water distribution that may be the greatest challenge, as the effect on the uniformity of water application can be significant.

This may necessitate changes in the basic design of the irrigation system with for example changes in the specification for the pop-up heads or sprinklers at closer spacings than on a less exposed site. It will also increase the need for careful monitoring to ensure that there are no dry areas that are being missed and for selective hand watering to supplement moisture levels on any drier areas.

Lack of significant air movement should also not be under-estimated. In modern stadium environments the surrounding stands may restrict air movement to the extent that drying of the surface is compromised and the risk of disease and surface algae may increase.

Where there is temperature stress this can be even more important, for example with cool-season grasses growing at times of elevated summer temperatures. Under these circumstances the use of fans around the pitch to help air movement can be a very important factor in reducing turf stress and sustaining a high-quality playing surface.

Modern sports turf management

In the last 40 years the range of available technology has expanded to an unbelievable extent. The understanding of turf construction and management principles has improved, by both technological innovation and research investment. More marginal climates that gave high levels of stress affecting grass development can now have much better-quality turf surfaces, provided that development projects are well designed and constructed and that there are sufficient levels of resources to deal with these climate extremes.

New lawns shown NO MERCY

New lawns shown NO MERCY: Scott MacCallum gets to grips with EGO’s battery powered mower.

As a journalist, I am far more adept at writing about things than actually doing them. A theatre critic cannot be expected to deliver an emotion drenched soliloquy, nor could you rely on a sports writer to produce a smooth Cruyff turn.

New lawns shown NO MERCY

New lawns shown NO MERCY

And so we come to me and lawn mowers.

I must admit I’m what Capability Brown would be to feature writing, or Shakespeare to designing a Chelsea Garden. Not the best.

However, we have three lawns on our recently-acquired home and, once there is a little heat in the air, that grass does grow.

So, I was delighted when EGO asked me to road test their latest battery powered mower – the 42cm cordless self propelled mower – which joined the EGO stable earlier this year.

The excitement when the delivery van dropped off the large box was palpable, and, I’ll admit it now, tinged with a little apprehension. How easy would it be to transform the contents of the box into a working lawnmower?

The answer? Simple! Even a man of my limited practical means had it up and running in 15 minutes – a more proficient human being would have achieved the same feat in five, but I still saw it as both a feather in my cap and that of the EGO.

The mower is beautifully powerful and given that not only was it my first outing with the mower, it was my first attempt at circumnavigating our new lawns. Now I can tell you that while the intricate scallops and dainty satellite flower beds looked absolutely superb on the Estate Agent particulars, when it comes to lawns, I’d far rather have straight up and down squares and rectangles. So much easier.

However, we are where we are and while my first two cuts saw a degree of trial and error on the part of the driver, by the third cut I considered myself to be pretty capable. Those early attempts were characterised by my efforts to control the throttle. The self-propelled element is absolutely wonderful, but a brain has to become acquainted with the fact that the mower won’t stop until you released the handles on the top of the steering console.

I haven’t told my wife yet, but the odd area of the border where the shrubs and flowers are a little more dishevelled and scruffy – I’d be inclined to use the word “gouged”, are not the legacy of the previous owners, or next door’s dog, but my failure to adapt quickly enough to the self-propelled nature of the EGO.

It can run away with you a little and if one of the wheels slips off the side of the lawn it can leave an impact, in most parts negative, on the vegetation.

But once I had mastered both the mower and the lawn I truly was poetry in motion. The speed is controlled by a very simple dial in the middle of the console and this can be ramped up on a straight run – our lawns do possess a few – and reduced when it comes to the more twisty bits.

At 42 cm wide it is a nice balance of wide enough to reduce your mowing mileage and narrow enough to negotiate tighter spaces.

The grass box, part hard plastic, part fabric, is easily accessible and roomy – is that a word you can use for a grass box? A full box roughly fills a standard black bin bag and it is extremely simple to remove and reattach.

All that power I mentioned takes a little bit or servicing and I was pleased that I had been sent an additional 56 volt 5ah battery to complement the 2.5ah battery which came with the mower.

Our grass take around 40 minutes to cut and that would account for the entire life of the smaller battery or around three fifths of the larger – the battery indicator is split into well illuminated fifths so you can see how much you have left – so having a spare battery, which you can have charged and ready to step in, is extremely useful.

I have now used the mower for around half a dozen cuts and it has not caused me a single problem. I’d go so far as to say that it has made cutting the grass a real pleasure and I’ve not gone looking for an excuse for not mowing the lawn – a weather forecast showing even a slight chance of rain would previously have been enough for me to shelve the idea.

I’m certainly sold on battery power. My previous mower was a fine electric powered model and unwrapping from clothes poles and deciding which was the better option – a left or right turn to avoid running over the cable were all part of the experience.

So, I might not be the finest lawn mower man in the country but, at least, I’ve been able to come to some sort of definitive conclusion as a lawn mower tester!

Eon Bio – a time capsule with a difference

Eon Bio – a time capsule with a difference: David Snowden discusses the benefits of improving your growing medium and why using a soil conditioner is such a valuable tool…

The main benefits of soil conditioners are to improve the soil structure and therefore increase nutrient uptake and root mass. When applying to new greens at renovation time and when used on sports pitches to create a root zone with life in, soil conditioners increase the efficiency of nutrition.

Eon Bio – a time capsule with a difference

Eon Bio – a time capsule with a difference

We want to bring life to the soil and this is what Eon Bio enables our Greenkeepers and Groundsmen to do. When the grass plant germinates, it needs a bio-available food source and we require rapid establishment of the new plant to secure a healthy sward.

We have seen great success working with numerous Premier and Championship Football Clubs, when using Eon Bio, which has the benefit of a prill form, particularly easy to use.

Eon Bio is 100% organic and contains high concentrations of soluble, slow release Humic acid. This ‘time capsule’ releases and encapsulates mycorrhiza fungi and multiple forms of beneficial bacteria, which solubilise phosphates. We need to feed our soils to create the best growing environment.

With Eon Bio, the guess work is taken out, as the bacteria is specifically cultured and proven to benefit the soils and our grass plant, all wrapped up in a Humic acid food source for bacteria.

Surf ‘n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf: A horse’s impact on a surface, whether a racecourse or eventing track, has been much debated in sporting circles. On a professional sports stage the horse, averaging around 500kg, makes a significant collision with any surface. STRI agronomy manager, Steve Gingell, puts on his farrier’s hat to study hoof interaction with grass.

There have been several publications on the action and stages of horse’s hoof interaction with a surface. However, most are related to artificial sand surfaces and less so to grass surfaces.

Surf 'n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf

The key works are from the FEI Equestrian Surfaces Guide published through the Swedish Equestrian Foundation and Natural Turf for Sport and Amenity by Adams and Gibbs. ‘Science and Practice’ reviews the surface interactions at several racecourses in terms of firmness, penetration and resilience over time.

This is also a useful guide to how a hoof interacts with the surface.

There are a few testing devices simulating hoof interaction with different types of turf surface. The main equipment used on artificial surfaces is the Orano Biomechanical Surface Tester. This aims to mimic the phases of a hoof’s interaction with a surface.

Testing is also undertaken on turf using devices such as the TurfTrax Going Stick and the STRI Toro Precision Sense Testing, which gives data and maps indicating the surface performance. So how does a sports turf manager adapt their surfaces to ensure a safe and fast or competitive surface for a range of equestrian sports?


The majority of professionals accept that there are four stages of a hoof interaction with the surface.

Touch down

Where the hoof initially impacts the surface; this is a braking force. The hoof will receive a shock/feedback from the surface depending on whether it is hard or soft. Very hard surfaces will give injuries to the hoof and leg bones. Very soft surfaces give very little feedback as most of the energy of the initial shock is absorbed through the surface.


Where the full weight and impact of the horse focuses through the hoof. Typically, forces are vertical and therefore the surface firmness is much more important. Hard surfaces will injure tendons, ligaments and bones.

Soft ones give little feedback to the hoof and therefore energy of the motion is lost.

Surf 'n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf

Roll over

Where the toe of the hoof starts to push into the surface. A firm, surface can give little grip as the hoof slides on the surface. A very soft surface could dig in and lead to significant divot removal and lack of pace.

Push off

The most important aspect of this stage is a strong turf as this is where the horse is gaining propulsion. The toe is at the maximum penetration and the flat of the hoof is pushing backwards. Traction is vital and therefore an over soft or damaged surface could give little traction.


Impact firmness

The surface needs to have impact firmness, ie absorb shock when the hoof hits the ground. This is most important in a profile upper layer hardness. As an example, a very soft surface will have low impact firmness and a tarmac or a bound surface have very high impact firmness. This is very important in avoiding horse injury.


A surface needs to dampen and reduce impact forces (cushioning) and is achieved in various layers within the surface. A well cushioned surface reduces stress, ie soft racecourse, whereas a firm surface is fast but could cause injury.


Grip is important because a very low grip surface means the hoof slides and therefore injury can occur, whereas a very high grip surface can often have high impact forces. A surface must be able to withstand push off. It is important that some slide occurs to reduce the forces on the hoof.

Surf 'n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf


Responsiveness is a measure of how active or springy the surface is. A responsive surface gives energy back to the horse and this aspect is also related to the firmness and cushioning. A very compacted hard surface may rebound too quickly, whereas a very soft surface will give very little responsiveness.


A surface needs to be uniform so that the horse has confidence to reach its maximum performance. Variable surfaces, particularly in very short distances, can be significantly problematical.


In horse racing, the key aim is to provide a fast track that is both safe and fair. In flat racing typically, surfaces are maintained to a slightly firmer level with slightly shorter grass length than jump racing. The aim however must be to provide a reasonable level of cushioning and a medium to high level of impact firmness.

If a course becomes too firm, then the impact firmness becomes high and horses can suffer injury. Conversely, an over soft surface means speed and times are slower, therefore horses will tire more quickly. Grip is also important as horses will be using their maximum level of propulsion push off due to the high speeds of travel. There would be less grip issues as the hoof is not having to absorb any braking that would occur when using a jump.

In jump horse racing speeds are lower, and in between jumps over firm ground can create issues in a similar manner as flat racing. There is also a tendency to prefer a slightly softer going to ensure reasonable safety and moderate times. This is partially achieved through racing in winter months when soils are naturally wetter and therefore have less impact firmness, but also through a slightly longer height of cut at around 4-5 inches to give a little more cushioning.

When a horse jumps, grip in the initial stages is important, and then impact firmness and cushioning is vital on the landing phases.

Over a racecourse there will invariably be a degree of difference in uniformity as often different soils will occur, unless that track has been completely reconstructed. It is difficult sometimes to manage uniformity which is only achieved through varying aeration, irrigation cycles and fertility.

Surf 'n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf


Cross-country builds on the comments in horse racing. There will be sections of galloping between the sets of fences, coupled with explosive takeoffs, moderate impact landing forces and often turns a stride or two after.

It is important for horse safety that the track is of medium firmness to reduce the impact and has a good level of cushioning. This is usually achieved through a reasonable grass length, although grass height is much lower in eventing than would be in racecourses. So there needs to be appropriate irrigation strategies and grass health management through aeration and fertility to maximise the soil cushioning.

Grip is very important as a horse needs to feel confident to take on the various obstacles. Lack of grip means the horse may slide forward towards a jump or not have suitable footing on landing. As an event progresses the take-offs and landings will often become quite worn. Therefore, exceptional management with good levels of repair in these areas, running up to a meeting, is very important. Frequently woodchip or even gravels are put in and around a landing zone and these will tend to make surfaces very firm over time and should be avoided.

Aeration and an overseeding or returfing of poor areas immediately following an event is essential to maximise the turf condition.


Polo is interesting in that each horse will only be used for a very short period, but under a very intense level of activity. Due to polo being a ball sport the surface is also kept very short. The surface needs to have a moderate to elevated level of impact firmness, but not to a level that the horse becomes injured because of the shock impact with the ground. This high impact firmness gives good responsiveness, although it should be noted thatsometimes a very firm surface may not be as responsive as one would expect. It is moderately difficult to achieve a high level of cushioning on a very short sward, although the soil profile needs to be medium firm, well aerated and have deep rooting. A little organic matter is quite beneficial to ensure cushioning. However, elevated levels of organic matter can often lead to reduced grip and at significant levels give poor impact firmness.

Probably the most important factor is grip. Polo ponies turn very quickly, execute fast decelerations and accelerations. This means that the surface has to give confidence to the rider and the horse. A very dry soil profile may have less grip as the pony can slide on the dry top.

This is often relieved through sand dressings and through significant quantities of irrigation to create a slightly softer upper surface. Watering can be a problem as insufficient irrigation may only wet the surface and therefore create a shear layer.

Each site will have a different ideal moisture content for performance. It is not uncommon to find the centre sections of a polo field being firmer than the edges as this is where most of the play occurs and therefore targeted verti-draining through the middle of the ground is important.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry: Scott MacCallum catches up with Andy Richards to learn about his new role at the prestigious Haileybury School.

Many Wimbledon champions have taken inspiration from the poem “If”, which is written on the wall of the Players’ Entrance at the All England Club. You know the one – “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same”.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

I have no way of knowing if, back in the second half of the 19th century, its author Rudyard Kipling had an interest in sport, or a particular aptitude for cricket or rugby, but one thing is for sure he didn’t benefit from any such stirring words if he were to have marched from the pavilion of Haileybury School to open the batting, or lock the Haileybury first team scrum.

It may have been, however, that it was dealing with the highs and lows of his sporting time at Haileybury that inspired Rudyard a few years later to pen what is one of the best known and finest poems in the English language.

A school can be judged by its alumni and in that regard Haileybury, near Hertford, has an honours board to match most. In addition to Rudyard Kipling we have dramatist Alan Ayckbourn;
film director, Christopher Nolan; actor Stephen Mangan, and comedian Dom Joly, to name just a notable few.

The list of Haileybury’s Old Boys is interesting and eclectic and marks the school out as somewhere special, as do the superb grounds in which the school rests.

It was seeing those wonderful grounds which persuaded Andy Richards that he should move from Shrewsbury School, which he had transformed into a school with sports surfaces the envy of many professional clubs, to create sports pitches to match the quality of the rest of the school.

“Shrewsbury was a great place to work and I really enjoyed it but when the Haileybury job became available I was intrigued,” explained Andy, talking to Turf Matters eight weeks into his new role as Grounds Manager at Haileybury.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

“I didn’t know too much about the school but I looked into it and it looked impressive. When I came down for interview I was blown away by the buildings and the wonderful grounds.

The school had a really positive outlook into how they wanted to move forward and it was they who sold me the school and its potential,” explained Andy.

And that potential is truly huge.

The total area of 520 acres, all on one site, includes 300 acres of woodland.

“Woodland management is new to me, but I do enjoy it,” revealed Andy. Pitch wise, there are 17 grass pitches, two astroturf pitches, five cricket squares – soon to be eight squares to embrace girls’ cricket which the school wishes to expand.

“There is a masterplan in place stretching forward into the next 10 years and beyond with most of the facilities being upgraded. This is going to include a new cricket centre, new astroturf pitches, fitness suites, sports centres etc. It is really an exciting time to be involved here as we are right at the start of that programme.”

Sports facilities are very much what differentiates the private sector from the state sector and it is the quality of the sporting facilities and the coaching which marks one private school out from another private school.

“It’s a bit like selling a house. It is those first 20 or 30 seconds which leaves the biggest impression for the prospective pupil and parents. It is the feeling they get in those first couple of minutes, when they are driving into the school, and it can inform their whole outlook into whether they are going to invest the money into sending their child to that particular school.”

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

“It is our job to produce the best surfaces, grounds and gardens as we possibly can, and help influence that decision.”

Andy and his new team have very much hit the ground running and within his first two months in post a lot had already been achieved.

“In my first week we fraised mowed all five cricket squares and took three quarters of an inch off each square,” said Andy, revealing that it could have been the first time it had ever been done.

“We also fraised mowed the first team cricket outfield and took 20 mm off it and then we completely reseeded it.”

A recently appointed team at the head of the school, including a new Headmaster, has brought a vision to Haileybury and an ambition to improve standards. This includes a battery of new equipment.

“We are slightly limited on the machinery that we’ve got at the moment but I am working on a machinery replacement programme which will operate on a rolling basis. The school realises that it must invest in machinery and is well aware of the sort of money that will be required.”

“I have always done my own renovations and try not to use contractors at all and be completely self-sufficient. To me it’s the most important part of the job and you live and die by your renovations. I don’t like playing the blame game. We are the people who are going to be working with the pitch going forward so we are going to make sure it is right in the first place and if we don’t get it quite right we learn from it and do it right next year.”

“So, it means we need our own kit. We did a couple of passes with the GKB machine and there was a couple of wickets I still wasn’t happy with so we did them again, we got the surface exactly how I wanted. If that had been a contractor they might have done the two passes and gone on to the next job.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

I like being master of my own destiny.”

With a man possessing of such a perfectionist streak the answer to the question, “What are your own expectations for Haileybury going forwards and that 10 year plan?” brought about the expected response.

“I’d like to get there before then. I’d like to think that in 12 months people will have started to take notice of Haileybury’s pitches, heard about us and will have seen lots of the things we have done. Within three years I’d expect it to be on a par with quite a lot of the other schools and then, within five years, I’d like it to be pushing to be as good as it possibly could be.”

“I’d like it to be THE school in the south of England, it not the country. I want Haileybury to be known for having the best sports pitches and grounds in the country.”

And that ambition is shared by the rest of the school.

“My thoughts are mirrored by the Master, the Bursar, the Estates Bursar and the Director of Sport. We all want to get to the same place, be as good as we can possibly be and be the place to be.

It really is an exciting time to be here.”

Andy has been able to make a sharp start to fulfilling those ambitions because of his time within the industry which means that manufacturers and dealers are happy to lend him machines until such time as his new battalion of machinery arrives.

He has been delighted by the manner in which his staff – there are 12 in total including himself – have bought into the new regime.

“After I was offered the job I met the staff. They put a chair in the middle of the room and I outlined my thoughts. To be honest I’ve never known a more enthusiastic staff. They wanted to change and be let off the leash.”

“I told them that I’d come here to make the school the best in the country and that I wouldn’t leave until I’d done that. If they gave me 100% I’d give them 150%. They have all bought into that and are enthusiastic about doing new things. We’ve started to hand cut the rugby pitches so they are walking behind mowers for the first time.”

“The keenness of the staff was what sold me the place as much as anything.”

In general terms Andy is delighted to be a part of a thriving sector on the amenity turf industry.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

“To me the schools’ sector is almost in a league of its own and an extremely strong part of the industry. We all have to be multi-taskers and be able to lay out an athletics’ track as well as producing high quality football and cricket surfaces. We are evolving, there is money available and everyone is pushing each other,” said Andy.

“I know most of the Grounds’ Managers at most of the independent schools in the country and we all get on well. They all love what they are doing. Time goes so quickly because we are all working one term ahead of ourselves. In the rugby term you are already planning what you need for the football term and in the football term you are already planning what’s happening in the cricket term.

“I absolutely love it. I’ve worked in professional football, having been Head Groundsman at Birmingham City for five years, but I can’t see me ever moving into any other part of the industry,” revealed Andy, who attributes social media for promoting the work of groundsmen and for promoting the quality now seen at schools such as Haileybury.

“People who had never been to Shrewsbury School knew about the quality of pitches we had and that was in part down to Twitter.”

Those who know Andy well, know that he will achieve his goals, no matter how high the bar is set, but to help him all he needs to do is return to the work of that famous Old Boy, Rudyard Kipling and his magnificent poem, if he reads on to the final verse and the last five lines he will find whatever inspiration he requires for what lies ahead:

If all men count with you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

It’s all about Grass Seed

It’s all about Grass Seed: Stronger germination and faster establishment are key.

DLF Seed’s ProNitro Coating Technology has been helping greenkeepers and groundsmen achieve stronger germination, faster establishment and lower input costs.

It’s all about Grass Seed

It’s all about Grass Seed

Four years on from its launch, the next generation of ProNitro is now available, featuring DLF’s new Hydroactive Water Management Technology. ProNitro’s targeted combination of controlled release nitrogen and sustainable water distribution optimises the delivery of essential nutrients and moisture to the developing seedling.

With sustainability an everincreasing priority for turf managers around the world, the ProNitro coating ensures available water is used more efficiently.

“The new ProNitro formulation has been conceived and developed as a direct action for input optimization on grasses, improving water distribution in the field. Making the best of every drop of water gives both the grass seed and the fertiliser the optimum conditions for establishment, strong root development and healthy, vigorous
growth,” explained Giovanny Lopez, Lead Seed Coat Technologist for DLF.

In trials, the coated seed contributed to a 34% increase in establishing plants and a 30% improvement in root growth. In addition, the targeted nitrogen application system reduces the leaching of unutilised fertiliser into the environment by more than 50% when compared to traditional chemical applications.

ProNitro combines sources of both fast-acting and slow release nitrogen with water management technology, encapsulated in a smooth outer coating for improved seed flow and accurate delivery. This ensures the new seed receives the full benefit of the available water and nutrition, encouraging the roots and shoots to grow rapidly – particularly important when overseeding into a competitive sward.

It is suitable for use on all types of playing surfaces and is available on a selection of popular mixtures from across the Johnsons Sports Seed range. On golf greens and football pitches, even those with low-fertility, sandy soils, ProNitro provides faster establishment, bringing surfaces back into play quicker. The improved uniformity and sward density also make it ideal for turf producers by reducing the invasion of Poa annua and broad-leaved weeds. Replacing the need for seedbed fertiliser, ProNitro saves both time and money.

Leaving the Brits in the shade

Leaving the Brits in the shade: Tuesday February 18 saw two high profile events on the UK calendar. Both had a superb venue, both had a stellar cast of “performers”, both were celebrating significant birthdays, and both had an appreciative audience, many of whom had travelled considerable distances to attend.

But while the 40th anniversary of The Brits, at the O2 in London’s Docklands, experienced its fair share of drunkenness, swearing and miscellaneous bad behaviour, the 10th annual Dennis SISIS Seminar at the Emirates Riverside, home of Durham County Cricket Club, was conducted in impeccable style and there was no need for anyone to resort to the mute button to shield the audience from fruity language.

Leaving the Brits in the shade

Leaving the Brits in the shade

The weather was superb, ironic as Storm Dennis had wreaked havoc in many parts of the country but Seminar Dennis seemed to be blessed, fitting as host for the day was Durham CCC Head Groundsman Vic Demain, the man who had approached Roger Moore, of Dennis SISIS, 10 years ago to float the idea of a cricket-focussed seminar.

In 2020, with an audience of 130 plus and a list of speakers out of the very top drawer, the Seminar has come a long way since that first event in Uxbridge School back in 2011.

Delegates and speakers gathered the night before at Lumley Castle Hotel, overlooking the cricket ground and under the stewardship of the Dennis SISIS staff, Roger, Alison Pickering and Ewen Wilson, everyone enjoyed a superb meal, sharing the sort of tales and gossip which wouldn’t be surfacing in the more formal environment the following day.

Ewen and Vic kicked things off with the latter introducing Marcus North, the Durham Director of Cricket and a former Australian Test batsman. Marcus talked of the need for a strong relationship between the Director of Cricket and the Head Groundsman and how best results were achieved through establishing such a relationship and keeping their respective office doors open.

Following Marcus was Dr Iain James, of TGMA, who spoke on the Construction and Maintenance of a Cricket Pitch. Ian was followed by Ian Powell, the IOG’s Regional Pitch Advisor, who discussed Decision Making for Pre-season preparations.

Among the messages delivered was that good groundsmanship should always be tried before pitch reconstruction and that waiting was invariably a sensible option before undertaking tasks because the addition time often allowed the pitch to dry out even more.

Groundsman’s Corner preceded lunch. Hosted by Vic, an illustrious group comprising Karl McDermott, Head Groundsman at Lords; Sean Williams, Head Groundsman at Gloucester CCC; Gordon Gill, Head Groundsman at Bath Cricket Club as well as two rugby infiltrators, Jim Dawson, Head Groundsman at BT Murrayfield, and Keith Kent, Head Pitch Advisor to Rugby Groundsmen Connected and former Head Groundsman at both Old Trafford (football not cricket) and Twickenham. They talked about how they had entered the profession and shared best advice and best practice with the audience.

The afternoon session was launched by Barry Glynn, who expressed his well known frustrations of a Groundsman. Barry, now retired and based in Brighton where he plays three rounds of golf a week, is such a well regarded speaker that he has been booked to speak at the 150th birthday of WG Grace’s very own cricket club.

Barry was on safe ground and the nods of recognition and guffaws from the floor when he highlighted a perennial gripe made for an entertaining talk.

Keith Kent then took to the floor and he pointed out the synergies which exist when it comes to maintaining cricket and rugby pitches and how often, because a rugby field becomes a cricket outfield in the summer, special care was needed to ensure rogue bounces were avoided as much as possible from a well struck cricket ball.

He also reminisced about his time at both Old Trafford – complete with a picture of him playing for the Manchester United staff team – and Twickenham, where he and his small team were responsible for everything green – with the exception of the seats!

The question and answer session which closed the day was one of the highlights and covered everything from avoiding inadvertently offering information which could be used by illegal betting gangs, to the latest information on worm eradication.

Sponsors for the day included your very own Turf Matters, Limegrain, Poweroll, CricketWorld, Boughton, Fleet, Thomas Sherriff, Headland Amenity Products, SIS Pitches, Stuart Canvas Products and Facility and Sports Club Development.

Big thanks to Vic, Roger, Alison and Ewen for all the work involved in pulling such an event together, and for putting those Brits in the shade!

Case for the defence

Case for the defence: The Christmas and New Year festivities are now just a lingering memory but though the days are starting to lengthen, there’s a long way to go before the onset of warmer weather.

With the turf suffering from prolonged periods of wet weather, waterlogged and weakened roots, the grass will be stressed and more open to disease attack. Deciding on which fungicide to defend your turf territory is key to ensuring a successful outcome. For winter applications, the requirement is to identify fungicides that contain ‘actives’ which work well under cool and cold conditions and, where possible, provide added physiological benefits.

Case for the defence

Particularly effective under cool, cold conditions is the broad spectrum turf fungicide Eland and applications now will provide disease protection for up to 50 days.

This long term protection is achieved through the spray deposit being held on the leaf long enough to penetrate and be held within the leaf tissue, which serves as a fungicide reservoir constantly releasing its active ingredient, pyraclostrobin, to provide long term protection.

Eland is specially suited to being applied as a preventative treatment, especially when disease pressure is high. It is very effective against all stages of the fungus within minutes of being applied and can restrain mycelial growth to provide additional curative activity.

Case for the defence

In addition to its proven abilities as a turf fungicide, research has shown Eland to have a number of additional physiological benefits.

Such benefits include improving plant health in the form of stress management under cold conditions and during aerification. This has the effect of helping the plant and root system to endure a stressful event and overcome stress through root system retention.

In addition to combating Microdochium Patch attack, a major benefit during early winter months is that applications of pyraclostrobin allows a plant to recover more quickly from root damage or surface foliar damage caused by ball mark injury.

Of course, prevention is always preferable and more effective than reacting after the event. STRI research trials prove that preventative disease control programmes outperform curative options when analysed for turf quality, colour and presence of Microdochium Patch (right).

The eight months trial compared nine preventative and three curative programmes, as well as one untreated plot. The first three programmes used purely preventative fungicides from Bayer. The rest of the preventative plots used a combination of Rigby Taylor fungicides, together as tank mixes with plant health products to reflect a more realistic approach. See bar chart, below right.

Case for the defence

In general, preventative programmes five to seven (see graph RT prog’s 1, 2 and 3) showed the most consistent results across turf colour, quality and Microdochium Patch presence by using an integrated approach with both fungicides and plant health products. The fungicides within the curative programmes (11 -13) were applied as and when disease developed to an unacceptable level, mimicking traditional control strategies. It is important to note that none of the trial plots had any cultural controls or biological practices applied prior to or during the trial, other than mowing and switching, which was carried out when necessary.

Pre-planning and control are essential requirements as it may be necessary to integrate some of the aforementioned products into the winter programme, which will enable the plant to resist or repel disease attack and be in an ideal state to advance into the spring in a healthy state.

Revolution in professional turf care

Revolution in professional turf care: Strained sports turf surfaces are particularly stressed by the influence of walking on, playing on or driving on, which can lead to a change in the physical or chemical properties of the soil due to compaction. 

Compaction has negative effects on the vital growth of a healthy and durable grass population as well as on the functional safety due to the often highly reduced air and water permeability of the soil, a lack of water and nutrients available to plants, poor regeneration growth and changes in soil organic structure.

Revolution in professional turf care

The remedy can be found with the airter light 14160 – pneumatic soil aeration device for professionals, which loosens the lawn root zone homogeneously into a depth of 22 cm and supplies it with fresh oxygen.

This is done by steplessly adjustable compressed air in a continuous process. A football field can be completely processed in seven hours.

A total of 14 specially developed compressed air injection lances with triple jets push up to one million litres of air per pitch into the ground in an efficient working process.

The airter aerates the root zone homogeneously and with full coverage without any significant visible damage to the top surface. The penetration depth can be selected to match local soil conditions by using different lances so the soil compaction can be reduced up to 30% (verifiably tested). As a result, water flow and air circulation improve remarkably. Novokraft’s airsoftroll roller technology guarantees low ground pressure during sustainable aeration of the root zone with oxygen! Unique and unrivalled!

Advantages at a glance

• Effective and sustainable aeration of hybrid, sports and golf surfaces.
• Reduction of pesticide use and prevention of black layer through active ventilation. Efficient and biological pest control (e.g. larvae & grubs).
• Improved water absorption/storage within the root zone enabling shorter irrigation cycles and reduced water consumption, especially during the vegetation and heat periods.
• A measurable, homogeneous de-compaction of about 30% in the treated root zone layer.
• Reduction of downtime (no need for post-processing work, play areas can be walked on and played on directly, less waterlogging due to improved separating effect).
• Reduction of maintenance time (reduction of traditional aeration intervals and top-dressing needs, lower patch work and over-seeding requirements).
• Low maintenance cost (simple pneumatic/hydraulic system).
• Scientifically validated system (STRI in the UK and University of Hohenheim in Germany).
• Efficient operation (continuous operation, simple machine operation, high productivity).

The airter can demonstrably loosen the hardened hybrid turf systems. In all hybrid turf systems, the root zone cannot be optimally and professionally ventilated using conventional mechanical loosening methods (e.g. deep loosening with solid chisels).

Over time, these procedures inevitably lead to vertical compaction of the lawn base layer.

Novokraft has developed the airter to solve this problem and to professionally loosen the root zone. This prevents the formation of decomposition gases, which are toxic for lawn roots.

Practical tests on new hybrid turf fields have shown that with the loosening effect of the airter, the players subsequently felt the fields to be much softer.

Likewise, this homogeneous pneumatic loosening method massively improves all bioactivity in the soil. The airter is also ideally suited for the reliable maintenance of water permeability.