For sustainability, meet the EPG

For sustainability, meet the EPG: Senior Environmental Consultant Dr Tom Young introduces the newest member of the STRI family, The Environmental Protection Group (EPG), and takes a closer look as to how the new partnership can help manage water at sports facilities.

The Environmental Protection Group (EPG), established in 1998, is a leading independent geo-environmental engineering design consultancy delivering cost-effective, sustainable designs focused in the areas of contaminated land remediation and gas protection, sustainable water management, flood risk assessment and structural waterproofing.

For sustainability, meet the EPG

For sustainability, meet the EPG

STRI and EPG have been working closely with one another since 2010 when the two companies worked together on a number of London 2012 Olympics projects. It was formally announced in August 2020 that STRI and EPG had joined forces and EPG is now part of the STRI Group.

Figure 1

Figure 1

EPG has a huge amount of experience in water management plans, site-wide drainage schemes and sustainable water harvesting. Coupled with STRI’s agronomic, research and design capabilities, the Group now has the ability to further assist sports facilities. In particular, EPG has vast experience in designing Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), which are now more commonplace and often required as part of any planning conditions. EPG was actually co-author of the CIRIA SuDS Manual, a key piece of industry guidance, which is the go-to document for any SuDS engineer.

Harvesting water from buildings

  • STRI and EPG can accurately model and predict volumes of water that can be collected from buildings, which can be easily collected and stored for later reuse
  • This solution can be ideal for small sports facilities that currently rely on mains water
  • Water collected can easily be incorporated into a small-scale irrigation system with the pump station preferentially using collected rainwater before mains water
  • In the example in
    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    Figure 1, a small cricket club in London could potentially harvest nearly 270m3 a year from their clubhouse roof and 400m3 a year from the club car park. This could potentially reduce the club’s mains water requirements by 20-50%. The design of the storage tank is critical in these situations; in order to provide a cost effect solution, but to also be large enough to take advantage of large storm events

Harvesting water from whole sites

  • STRI and EPG can also produce much larger water models for whole sites. This allows us to predict:
    a) how much water falls across an whole site and when
    b) where this water ends up
    c) how much of this water can be transported and stored for later reuse
  • This detailed approach is very much cutting edge, with STRI and EPG optimising hydraulic models based on experience from other sectors and making them appropriate for sports turf situations
  • Key issues to consider include detailed analysis of site drainage systems, rootzone composition, = effect of vegetation on runoff and effect of climate change on future rainfall events
  • In the case study shown in Figure 2, STRI and EPG were able to accurately model the entire drainage network of an 18-hole golf course
Figure 3

Figure 3

  • It was found that an average volume of 3750m3 a month was potentially available for the club once local topographical issues, losses in ground infiltration and inherent water capture by
    vegetation were taken into account
  • With a current demand of 10,000m3 a month, water harvested from the course easily accommodates all the club’s irrigation demand, and also allows the club to seriously look into the addition of fairway irrigation
  • Runoff from the winter when demand is low can be stored to create a surplus of water for the summer when the irrigation demands are at their peak. Therefore, the club would require a reservoir largeenough to not only meet demand throughout the year but also to build up surpluses during the winter
  • The club is now looking into the concept in more detail, with STRI and EPG supporting with detailed designs, reservoir sizing and help with Environment Agency permission

Flood risk Assessments/ mitigating effects of flooding

  • In some situations, flooding of certain areas of buildings is problematic and STRI and EPG are required to design sites to accommodate water from elsewhere
  • EPG is very experienced in running detailed Flood Risk Assessments (FRA) for sites and then designing solutions if flooding is predicted
  • In Figure 3, a site was predicted to undergo serious flooding on a regular basis. EPG was able to mitigate against this by designing the site to accommodate water elsewhere. This was achieved by a simple depression across the site that could accommodate additional flood water (Figure 4)
Figure 4a & 4b

Figure 4a & 4b

Green/Blue roofs

  • The runoff from most new buildings needs to be slowed down in order to reduce the amount and speed of runoff from the building. This can be achieved via the use of rainwater storage tanks as shown in Figure 1. However, sometimes it is more appropriate to store the water on the roofs of buildings (for example in more built up areas or when excavation for tanks is expensive). This can also be combined with vegetation of a roof. Known as Blue (storage of water), Green (vegetation) or Blue-Green (water storage with vegetation) roofs, this method can really improve the look as well as environmental credentials of most buildings
  • In the example given in Figure 5, STRI and EPG were tasked with reducing the runoff from the roof of a new building, whilst storing the water for later reuse in irrigating large planters placed on the roof to provide screening for the building
  • The innovative design stored water across the entire roof level in a shallow modular tank (85mmdeep) which was located across the entire roof slab removing the need to have a large storage tank located in the development boundary. Each roof on the building is connected so once one tank is full, it cascades into the one below
Figure 5

Figure 5

  • Underneath the planters, subsurface irrigation ‘wicks’ were installed to passively wick water from the shallow storage area into the rootzone above. This provides sufficient water for the plants to survive, whilst reducing the need for potable water across the site
  • The design allowed the site engineers to save significant amounts of money by removing an entire large soakaway tank (50m x 4m x 2m)

These examples only demonstrate a small amount of the joint expertise that the two companies have now combined. If you are interested in any of the problem-solving methods discussed, please get in contact with Tom Young at

Reproduced from the STRI Bulletin, September 2020, with thanks.

Introducing a WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor: Scott MacCallum talks with Michaelyan Hip and discovers why Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh attracts – and produces – illustrious sporting elite.

There are some things that are perceived to be quintessentially English. The jangling Morris Dancers parading down a high street; the strains of Jerusalem and the sound of leather on willow.

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

All paint a Vicar of Dibley image of  England, whether real or imagined, but that last one, leather on willow? Can England lay claim to the game of cricket? Yes, there is huge heritage going all the way back to WG Grace and the home of the game is recognised as Lords, but can it be claimed as English?

Well, one man, Michael Yan Hip, Head Groundsman at the exclusive Merchiston Castle School, in Edinburgh, makes a great case for Scotland’s place in the cricketing firmament.

“People, particularly from down south, say that Scotland is not recognised for its cricket, but there are more cricket clubs in Scotland than there are rugby clubs,” explained Michael, who has been in charge of preparing high quality sports surfaces at the school for the last 10 years, having moved to the school from BT Murrayfield, where he was a member of the ground staff.

“More people play rugby in Scotland than cricket but that’s because there are 15 in a team for rugby. Take Edinburgh as an example. In the Premier League there are Carlton, Grange and Heriots and then there are seven leagues below that. It’s the same in Glasgow.”

It was cricket that pulled Michael into groundmanship, at the age of 30, after a career in insurance and advertising. He’d already developed a taste for groundsmanship acting as a volunteer at Penicuik Cricket Club.

“The love of cricket came from my father, who was from the Caribbean, born in Trinidad. He was a very good cricketer. I was a pretend cricketer. He had an excellent eye while I didn’t at all. I had to wait for the ball to come to me and deflect it down to fine leg because I didn’t see it early enough.

“I had to work very hard with my limited ability, but what I did have was a real passion for the game,” said Michael.

“I played a lot of cricket in the Border League but being a short man of five foot five, I wasn’t very comfortable with getting close to the ball. The pitches were generally uncovered and lacking in clay or loam so the ball was always going to jump and spit at you on some of the pitches we played on,” said Michael, who was quick to list the cricketers – Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Sunil Gavaskar, even Don Bradman – who were on the diminutive side.

“I wanted young cricketers learning the game to be comfortable getting their head over the ball and not worried that it would be jumping up and hitting them. I was hit quite a few times as a youngster and it sets a trend and you lose confidence.”

It was all the more worrying that back in those days helmets hadn’t been invented!

“So I didn’t have a helmet back in 1976, but then my father was old school even frowned on a thigh pad His view was that you had a bat so why would you need a thigh pad.”

Michael gives great credit to a legendary figure within Scottish cricket – Willie Morton, a superb spin bowler, coach and national selector, who captained Scotland, played County cricket for Warwickshire, and was Head Groundsman at George Watson’s College, in Edinburgh, for over 30 years.

“It was the great Willie Morton who had me playing for five years longer in the first team than I should have. I was playing National League cricket on the better pitches in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“That was what got me into groundsmanship. The minutiae and nuances of what goes into producing a good cricket wicket was what got me really excited,” said Michael, who was extremely proud when Merchiston won the IOG’s Independent Schools Grounds Team of the Year in 2019.

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

“Dave Stewart and Stuart Chalmers have been with me virtually from day one and they do remarkable jobs here at Merchiston. They both fully deserved the Team of the Year Award.”

Michael actually began his groundsmanship career at Merchiston, in March 1995, and via a short stay at another Edinburgh school, Stewarts Melville, arrived at Myerside, home of George Watson.

“Willie Morton came in for me, because I am a qualified cricket coach, he wanted me to coach a bit of cricket on top of working on the grounds and knew I was an experienced groundsman. So, I coached the second 11 and was Assistant to Willie for six and a half years.”

Via spells at another Edinburgh school, Loretto, and King Edward’s School, in Birmingham, plus a period on the Ground Staff at BT Murrayfield he returned to Merchiston as Head Groundsman, 10 years ago.

Merchiston Castle School is an independent boarding and day school for boys, and is open to boys between the ages of seven and 18, either boarding or day.

A range of sports and activities is available at the school; most notably in rugby union, which 70 Merchistonians have played at international level. Hooker Dave Cherry became Merchiston’s latest Scotland cap when he took to the field against England at Twickenham in February.

The former 1st XV coach, Frank Hadden, who was at the school from 1983-2000, was the head coach of the Scottish national team from 2005-2009, while Rob Moffat, another international level coach, and current coach, Roddy Deans, ensure high quality pupil input and that the conveyor belt of high quality Scottish players is in good order.

“We have 97 acres at the school of which around 20 are woodland,” explained Michael, who is head of a team of five.

“We have eight rugby pitches, two smaller football pitches while we recently had a 2G sand-based hockey pitch installed. Our main pitch is 130 metres by 68 metres wide while the rest are all of varying sizes including the 80 metre by 40 metre pitch for the under 11s.

“For cricket, we have five grass areas – the main one on which we spend most of the time and the others where we spend as much time as we can, given we are a team of five,” said Michael, who explained that he had also introduced an scheme whereby Old Boys working as seasonal help in the summer.

“Recently, we have had Chris and Tom Sole, who have gone on to play cricket at a high level, and who are sons of Scottish rugby legend and 1990 Grand Slam winning Captain, David.

“We have two sets on cricket covers, the latest set arriving a couple of years ago which help our pitch preparation while the old set are used to keep a wicket dry to give the boys somewhere to practise.”

A football pitch is transformed into an athletic track in the summer. Michael is well versed with coping with the Scottish weather and can think back to his induction in ’95 and how since then the industry has evolved and developed since then and taken in the requirements from various parts of the country.

“I was given a photocopied piece of paper which explained that we should start rolling our square in mid-March. My view was that you could perhaps do that in the south of England but if he were to take his roller out in March it would get stuck!

“Up here our cricket wicket doesn’t start growing until the middle of June.”

His fertiliser programme has evolved over the last 10 years and working with his industry partners he has been able to remove his summer feed.

“I’ve recently started using a new product because it gives a longevity of 20-24 weeks. So, we are hoping that when we put it on in March it will take us all the way through to September, because it takes longer to break down.”

Having seen the level at which his English-based colleagues operate Michael is refreshingly frank.

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

“When you see schools hosting county second team matches or Premier League football clubs for their summer training you wouldn’t be much of a groundsman if you didn’t have a little bit of the green-eyed monster when you see the facilities they have and the standards that they reach.”

However, Michael and the team have had their fair share of illustrious guests. England, pre Calcutta Cup, the All Blacks during a visit to Scotland and Pakistan and Afghanistan cricket teams, during short tours of Scotland..

“Coach, Mickey Arthur, was particularly complimentary about the pitch on which his Pakistan team practised.”

Michael is a huge advocate of groundsmanship across the board and believes that not enough credit is given to the work that is done.

“We create the pitches which enable high quality play to take place sometimes that is only noticed when planned renovations are shelved for whatever reason.

“We are as key an element of performance as the nutritionists and physios at a club. If a pitch is too soft, or the sward too long, fatigue and then injury is much more likely. We can determine how the various games are played by the very nature of the surfaces we produce.”

While he is very much a cricket man, it is all of the sports played at the school which given him pleasure and a pride in what he and his team achieve.

“I love seeing the boys out on the pitch in one of our local derbies, on pitches that we’ve create for them,” said Michael, name checking Jamie Dobie, Rufus McLean, Matt Currie and Dan Gamble, all recent professional players and who are more than likely to join the alumni who have worn the dark blue of Scotland before long.

“We also have an incredible cricketer, Tom McIntosh, who has recently signed for Durham, for whom great things are expected.”

Michael of also proud of how the school is presented and shows itself to anyone arriving up the school drive.

“I was asked at my interview what I would bring to the school and I said the Wow factor and I think when we have people visiting the school in the height of the summer and we have it cut, strimmed, edged and shaded we achieve that.”

When the snow disappears Michael will be back on his pitches making sure the best possible surfaces for all sports, including his beloved cricket.

So, how are we doing?

So, how are we doing?: By Ian Mather-Brewster, Key Account Manager/Regional Pitch Advisor at the Grounds Management Association.

This year has been particularly difficult for everyone. Sport clubs and organisations have dealt with sudden openings and closures, along with furloughs, adverse weather conditions and relentless uncertainty.

So, how are we doing?

So, how are we doing?

However, throughout the upheaval, grounds staff – whether volunteer or professional – have continued to work hard each day, holding sport together by ensuring pitches are ready to go at a moment’s notice. At the GMA, these challenges are the reason we felt that this year was the perfect time to launch GroundsWeek.

This inaugural celebration week was an opportunity to give all those in the industry the much-needed credit they deserve, while welcoming others into the sector. Here’s a run-down of how the sector’s doing as sport begins to unlock, and why grounds staff are so central to making sport possible.

Volunteers at the helm

The importance of outdoor exercise has been hugely emphasised as a result of Covid-19. While gyms and other indoor sport facilities have been closed, outdoor facilities have acted as a lifeline for the public to go out and exercise during this turbulent period. Grounds staff have played a pivotal role in making this happen.

Volunteers at local clubs have used their permitted daily exercise to ensure these local pitches continue to be ready to be used at a moment’s notice, giving the public a place to exercise and play. It’s no secret that sport has a transformative impact on our wellbeing – after the past year, the need to supercharge both our mental and physical health is going to be paramount. With the pandemic having had a devastating fallout on mental wellbeing, it’s essential that the public have access to outdoor sport facilities once we’re permitted to play.

After the initial national lockdown was announced last year, volunteer grounds staff had to get surfaces back to a top standard after facilities had been unused for quite some time. Volunteers had to suddenly adopt different skills and learn new ways of working. With industry guidance about how to return and when it was safe to do so, grounds volunteers across the country were able to get back out there and provide high quality, playable surfaces.

Getting the professional game back on

Professional sport resuming during the pandemic has also been a lifeline for many – something to focus on and enjoy, it has also acted as a conversation starter for many who’ve been sat at home with very little to do or talk about. While many are keen to get back to playing themselves with their local teams, friends and family, being able to watch your favourite team play on TV has been a welcome distraction from the outside world. With professional sport having the power to lift us up in times of turmoil, grounds managers and staff’s role in making that possible has been pivotal.

Some staff have worked completely on their own throughout the pandemic, without the help of volunteers or a team, yet still have managed to produce immaculate surfaces which have been televised for professional games. They’ve also had new, additional responsibilities: sanitising all equipment before and after large-scale games in huge venues – many have miraculously managed to do this single-handedly. Reduced budgets from the previous season have meant smaller renovations for many professional sport facilities, however, grounds managers and volunteers have still managed to produce top-standard playing surfaces, despite the condensed season leading professional sport grounds to be used far more often than usual, multiplying the workload for grounds managers and volunteers.

Due to the pandemic, clubs and organisations within professional sport have also had to increase the number of areas used for training to comply with safe distancing rules, with some lower league clubs having had to train at bigger stadiums to reduce risk – this has meant grounds staff have had an even bigger job to do in making sure all these areas are ready for use, time and time again.

At cricket clubs, grounds workers have had to start preparing and covering practice areas far earlier than usual – usually, cricket players would get flown overseas for international fixtures, but currently they are stuck in the UK, meaning these pitches need to be in top condition consistently.

The unsung heroes of sport

Despite the strain put on grounds managers and volunteers at a grassroots and professional level, they have continued to keep facilities in top condition so that we can continue to play after lockdown. Grounds staff are the overlooked upholders of sport, without whom, the game simply could not go ahead.

Among furloughs taking place, budget cuts and a lack of investment, as well as the shorter seasons but the same number of games on the pitches, the grounds industry has had to put more effort than ever before into keeping sport pitches playable, and have managed to do an incredible job. Without grounds staff, sports pitches would be non-existent, compromising the future of sport as we know it.

Grounds staff have also gone beyond keeping sport pitches immaculate – to giving up space at their grounds to allow for Covid-testing to take place, and local clubs have helped set up food banks as well as assisted in delivering food to the vulnerable. The grounds community has had to become more resilient than ever, sticking together in the face of unwanted criticism, and
keeping sport going through these difficult times.

Joining the sector

Despite this, we know the sector is facing a crisis – without a new generation of grounds staff and volunteers, there will be a knock-on effect both for the public wanting to get active, and on professional games. Grounds maintenance requires considerable knowledge, time and dedication to provide a pitch that meets rigorous standards set out by professional sporting bodies, with year-round attention to detail, and intensive labour to ensure surfaces get enough care.

GMA’s new research* shows that young people aren’t considering grounds management as a career, and the grounds sector is facing a significant skills gap as a result. Our research shows that 40% of the workforce is over 50, and 9% of grounds managers and volunteers will be retiring in the next five years. If things continue the way they’re going, unfortunately, 5,120 pitches across the UK could be left without a grounds person soon. However, hope is not lost: 6,000 young people are needed to join the profession, to help the turf care sector get on the road to recovery.

#GroundsWeek was a call on the nation to celebrate the vital contribution of grounds staff, while urging young sports fans to consider the profession. The week was set up to celebrate the vital role that professional grounds staff, volunteers, and the turf sector plays in making sport possible. After what has been a really difficult year for the sector and beyond, we wanted to use this celebration to showcase grounds staff and the brilliant work that they do – and have continued to do – despite sport stopping and starting. #GroundsWeek, which will continue each year, is an opportunity to celebrate our sector, and emphasise the vital role grounds staff play in driving sport forward, from grassroots to a professional level. We’re hoping sports fans and the general public have been inspired to consider volunteering at their local pitches or joining the sector as professionals in the future.

*(Data gathered from Sport England’s Active Lives report, GMA’s Sports Vital Profession Report and Back to Play)

Complete stadium branding solution

Complete stadium branding solution: Scott MacCallum meets up with David Pritchard, Chief Commercial Officer for GroundWOW.

It was at Saltex in late 2019 that we first met. Neither of us had a crystal ball at the Show but 12 months on how is everyone at GroundWOW? Safe and well and finding a way to work…?

Amazing how quickly the year since Saltex has passed and I am pleased to report that we are in fantastic shape. As for our way of working, the team is well organised and ahead of the first lockdown, we put together a detailed plan that supported our transition to home working for as and when we’ve needed to.

Complete stadium branding solution

Complete stadium branding solution

The faith we had in our team and our processes through that period was paid back times over. Remote working during lockdown worked especially well on areas that sometimes struggle for airtime in a busy production setting.

That all sounds very positive. Does that mean you have you already reconciled the last 12 months and moved on?

Absolutely. Despite the many positives that occurred in GroundWOW during this difficult time, such as new products for the sports sector and in healthcare, I think we are all looking forward to moving on.

Looking back, what we ended up seeing was a split between organisations that were forced to wait for the pandemic ‘storm’ to pass versus others who had decided they would maintain business as usual as best they could. We saw two very different approaches to life “behind closed doors” and to be fair, both were entirely understandable. For anybody less familiar with our business, outside of core sports marking products, we manage a pipeline of development projects, some that we will deliver in to sport and others that leverage our modular technology and state of the art factory into other sectors. It is an approach we envisaged from the outset, endorsed and encouraged by our backers who are profoundly bought into the vision of our core autonomous robotic technology, and our wider RAAS (Robotics As A Service) offering. For them, that is all part of investing in a deep technology business. For us, it is this diversity of opportunity that minimises our exposure to any single sector.

Can you tell us any more about these other opportunities for your core technology?

Outside of sport, we are approached regularly with alternative use suggestions for GroundWOW’s multi-patented technology (now eight patents and counting!). A quick look through the newspapers and you can see that RAAS Technology businesses everywhere have continued to grow massively despite the pandemic.

In our case, it is easy to see how autonomous robotics might transition into transportation infrastructure or last mile delivery for example.

So, while our primary focus today is sport, it was our constant review of analogous markets that led us into discussions with the NHS in 2020. Appetite is all the way to the top of Government and as a result, we are delighted to have an offer currently under consideration for the whole of the Worldwide health care market.

Coming back to opportunity in sport, something we are regularly asked of our technology is, can it service any of our other wider needs. Well, I am pleased to exclusively announce that we’ll be unveiling something new for the sector very soon that will excite and delight everyone in sport – from the grounds crew to the Executive Board. As a self-sufficient manufacturer, we can take a project from the design phase to production readiness in literally a matter of days. But just because we can, doesn’t always mean that we will. Every idea must go via a rigorous research protocol to establish a meaningful strategic benefit, or otherwise.

How has the company grown over the last 12 months?

Commercially, we have continued to build relationships around the globe including with organisations who are either keen to deploy our technology or collaborate with us in their part of the world on one project or another. In the same way as so many others during the lockdown, we developed different ways to demonstrate our technology remotely, but hand on heart, I cannot wait to get back to more in person face to face conversations.

Team wise, we have recruited heavily over the last 12 months, building out a multi-national team of engineers and developers all based at our HQ, and we are still actively recruiting. The unwavering commitment to recruitment was also a clear signal to everybody else at GroundWOW that their livelihood was secure and the business still building proactively despite the biggest downturn in history.

Finally, with a larger team comes a larger space requirement and so we decided that we would accelerate our plans to create the Smart Factory we had envisioned from day one. We are thrilled with the result and the reactions from visitors. We occupy a large facility with an indoor test track in the middle and if you walked through the door today you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Silicon Valley rather than South Manchester.

World class teams deserve world class environments and we have taken huge steps in that direction to invest in our people and our customer journey.

Complete stadium branding solution

Complete stadium branding solution

The return of televised sport plays into your hands and I know you had big success at Cheltenham and Soccer Aid. Can you talk a little bit about those and some of the other major relationships you build during these difficult times?

Yes, Cheltenham and Soccer-Aid were like the book ends of a spring/summer period that is normally the prime time for sport in this country.

At Cheltenham, we installed for The Jockey Club’s headline sponsor (Magners) one week before the Festival and we ended up in lockdown a week after the actual event.

The Jockey Club were brilliant partners and hugely excited about new inventory facilitated by GroundWOW technology. As you might imagine, when you deliver an event of that profile, there is an inevitable spike in interest in the weeks and months that follow.

It was during Cheltenham week when Soccer Aid for UNICEF made their initial approach to ask if we would be interested to deliver pitch side branding for their main event sponsors at Old Trafford. As you now know, the original June date was postponed but we picked up in summer and delivered in September. Exactly like Cheltenham, delivering on a major stage like Old Trafford supercharges the level of inbound interest – but it is a nice problem considering these times of general uncertainty across the sector.

Relationship wise, our travel plans to certain parts of the world were put on hold. However, we found we were suddenly receiving a major level of interest from football. Typically, our discussions have been with proactive leaders looking for innovative logo and large-scale branding solutions to support their event delivery.

The other notable and enjoyable feature of our process is the sheer variety of discussions we are having with organisations who differ wildly in terms of available resources. Our technology is not cost-prohibitive and so we are able to engage prospects from all levels of sport.

What can you offer sporting events or sporting venues as revenue generating options during their televised/behind closed doors events?

This has always been the central proposition of GroundWOW, enabling a partner to drive revenue streams by printing sponsor brands and advertising logos on their real estate. Ie. sweating their asset. The main topics for discussion are either about selling pitchside real estate to matchday sponsors or in other cases, activating the pitch perimeter to drive added value for existing sponsors. We have all heard about spikes in TV audience figures and we know the value is always in fixed positions in front of the cameras.

That is what ground printed logos are.

The fact too that we run an autonomous vehicle and don’t rely on huge teams of people to carry out our work is also noteworthy given current stringent controls around stadium access.

What about opportunity outside of game day? You talk a lot about being a complete stadium solution, are these two elements related?

The main point here is that our conversations are not rooted in game day activations only. While conference and exhibition are largely stalled for now, non-game day brand activations are core GroundWOW opportunities.

In football for example, there may be 30 to 40 game days each year (depending on cup runs) but on the other 320 days, it is not uncommon for stadia owners to host multiple events every single day. In many cases, companies that hire out a venue are willing to pay for brand presence in incredible environments like stadia.

GroundWOW makes this possible, as the World’s first enterprise-wide ‘ground printer’ solution that literally anybody in the club can use. Not just the Grounds Team but also the marketing department, the sales department, the conference and exhibition team, and the charitable foundation. Teams have brought to us their own list of desired applications including end of season pitch days, stadium tours, car parks, media use, training grounds, concerts, wayfinding, grand scale art, product launches, partner films – that is what we mean when we talk about a complete stadium solution. Suddenly, the concept of a fully branded campus becomes a year-round reality.

For interested parties, what can they expect of a technology product business model?

Our business model is a really simple monthly subscription for Robot/ Software As A Service. Easiest analogy is a person’s mobile phone subscription. All relevant hardware and software are provided to the client including access to our full cloud infrastructure. How exciting is that?

You have grown the company significantly during the toughest economic downturn in our lifetime. What opportunities do you see for yourselves when we do get back to some sort of normality – whether that be in 2021 or heaven forbid, beyond that?

We feel good about where we are but we are sensitive to the proper process of emerging from lockdown safely. When the time is right, we’ll operationalise our growth plan further in sports marking and whole campus activation and we will also open offices this year in Australia and the United States. In the meantime, our new products in sport and healthcare, will continue to build value for us.

As history has shown, lots of innovative businesses have emerged and thrived as the result of a downturn exposing a need for things to change. We are looking forward with great optimism to whatever 2021 has in store. Watch this space.

Towards a new normal

Towards a new normal: The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. Scott MacCallum finds out what’s next as a Coronavirus-ravaged world starts to get back on its feet.

Twelve months ago we didn’t know what was ahead of us. What we did know was that we were heading into territory none of us had ever visited previously.

Towards a new normal

Towards a new normal

Back then, I don’t think we could have envisaged the extent to which Covid 19 would impact on our lives, and we’d never even heard the word “furlough” never mind knowing what it meant.

Here on Turf Matters we have tried to be supportive, knowing that job security should be renamed job insecurity, and that many of us, or our nearest and dearest, have been touched by the virus and that there are now many, many broken families as a result of it.

But there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, variants are complicating matters but there are now vaccines and the more people who receive one of the several vaccines out there the closer we will get to some sort of new normality. Grasping at this positivity Geoff Webb and Jim Croxton, the Heads of the GMA and BIGGA respectively both took time to talk with Turf Matters, giving their thoughts on the impact Covid has had on various sports, in Geoff’s case, and golf in Jim’s.

Geoff Webb

Going back to the first lockdown it was the summer sports, cricket and bowls, which took the initial impact of the pandemic and suffered that bit more.

As it continued, the winter sports were hit too and this has been compounded by the weather over the last two months. I’m down in the south, but the cold and wet have been at record levels. It certainly was the wettest January that I can remember.

On those summer sports, the saving grace for cricket, and our sector indeed, is that it has meant that pitch preparation has come to the forefront. People are far more concerned with the quality of the playing surface than ever before, and it has meant that the role of grounds management has gone through the roof in terms of public perception. It is all gaining traction which is good news.

As we speak, we’ve just had the first round of Six Nations matches and the guys have done a fantastic job across rugby in tough conditions but if you go down the pyramid it’s tough when you don’t have the resources of the bigger facilities.

That said those working at smaller venues are doing fabulous work. For example, in football, the Women’s Super League only had one match postponed this weekend when there was freezing conditions. These are at grounds where they have fewer resources, but certainly equal passion and dedication. They are doing a brilliant job in maintaining the surfaces.

Then there is the situation at Leeds United where Elland Road’s drainage system was dated and in need of renovation, but weren’t in a position to do it because of the pandemic. The solution they came up with was to take a pitch which was being grown for the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and transport it up to Yorkshire to see them through to the end of the season.

What a great example of the industry pulling together with good contractors, in this case Hewitt’s, and a remarkable job of engineering, logistics and of two different grounds teams communicating.

Also, I’d like to say it’s been a remarkable job done by Leeds United, who came out actively and backed their groundsman. If more boardrooms worked in the manner of Leeds United, you’d have many more successful outcomes.

Towards a new normal

Towards a new normal

We are also starting to see some parallels in terms of data collection which shows some correlation over professional level and lower tier success in the pitch investment programmes. We now have data collected over a series of visits which demonstrates what the issues really are.

We actually found in some occasions that Premier League level drainage had been installed into grass roots projects. It should never have been put in in because of the work required to maintain it. What was really needed in these cases was good basic fundamentals, to enable the pitch to be kept alive though the season. This would come in at a much lower investment level. It’s got to be appropriate use for appropriate schemes.

From the GMA’s perspective we’ve done some impactful work over the last 12 months. We had our Grounds for Sport campaign and followed that up with our White Paper on the Impact of Sport and what’s needed to be one to get it back to a high level. We also looked at gaps in terms of volunteer provision and we’ve worked to address that. We have increased our volunteer online training up to Level 3, We’d brought the Level 1 training in at the end of the first lockdown and we’ve had 1,000 people taking part in that already.

Interestingly, most of the volunteers came from football, when traditionally it would have been cricket. That said we will have cricket courses online through to July as well.

We’ve also picked up on the need to understand how artificial surfaces are maintained and are working on more new courses to help people understand what is required.

What is great is that much more priority is placed on the playing surface so I would hope that this will continue into the future.

As an industry we have always talked to each other and I’d say we’re sometimes like a disruptive family – sometimes we agree with each other and sometimes there seems to conflict.

But what we need to do as a turf care industry is recognise everyone’s strengths and not focus on the weaknesses. Working as one is important because we are all trying to do the same thing – raise the profile of the profession.

We are working to better the pay and conditions for all grounds teams anywhere, whether that be the independent school sector, universities, indeed, right across the board.

We have a professional industry which stands out uniquely on a global scale. We’ve just had the Superbowl, but that is looked at on a world scale in the same manner as the FA Cup final of the Champions League Final or Wimbledon.

The surfaces are maintained by really good people, with really good skill sets, but they have flown under the radar for too long.

We have a really resilient group of people but they are really stretched and should be recognised for their work.

It is changing and during our Grounds for Sport campaign we had one day when we hit four national newspapers, all with positive stories. We now have journalists who are interested in our sector and who do want to promote it in the same way as we all do.

With jobs not as secure as they have been, we have set up Covid pages on our website which offer practical advice and help. It means that our members can get on top of it and become so valuable to their employers that they make themselves unsackable. It has worked as we have seen limited redundancies.

But where we have seen redundancies they have been brought about because the employer has not thought things through. So, I believe, what redundancies there will be won’t be the fault or lack of skill or worth of the ground staff but the lack of foresight from the owners and where they have prioritised investment.

However, we are seeing a better understanding of grounds management and the principles attached to it.

I do hope that our shop window, Saltex, will be back in November, where we can showcase the innovation that our wonderful companies develop whether than be battery technology, seed technology. There is so much there.

All our planning for Saltex is surrounding ensuring that everyone who turns up is as safe as we can make them. That is our priority. It will be a different show to what we’ve seen before because we’ve got to work in a new environment. All fist and elbow bumps.

Jim Croxton

In general terms the last 12 months have been brilliant for golf and the upturn in people playing the game has been great – partly because it was the only thing that they were able to do. It’s probably the only thing that we can say has had a silver lining in what is a very unpleasant situation.

Also, I do believe that being in lockdown reminded everyone how much they enjoyed the great outdoors, and there is no better way of enjoying the great outdoors than being out on a golf course with friends, or even on your own.

So, there are couple of things which have gone on golf’s favour and there is no doubt that golfing numbers have been up enormously from the moment the lockdown opened up in May through to October.

The average course had an average 1,000 additional rounds a month for that six month period – that’s 30 extra people a day and if you think those extra wouldn’t have been at the weekend, it would be 40 people a day during the week. That equates to two hours of tee times, given that at certain times it would be two ball only.

So it has been a huge boost, backed up by numbers.

It has also benefitted memberships, because for periods of time clubs where open to members only, together with travel bans and restrictions which made it sensible to play your golf at one facility, so membership numbers have increased. It’s not the really the time for the nomad golfer.

Towards a new normal

Towards a new normal

However, it all puts much more pressure on the golf course itself. A single golfer is going to make 12,000 footprints during a round; he or she is going to take something between 15 and 20 divots – some of which won’t be repairable – and make 10 or 11 pitchmarks – even the good guys miss one or two. There is going to be an impact and clubs can’t go on thinking that it will be fine.

Some of the stats are extraordinary if you add the figures up. An extra 12 million footprints on a golf course each month. An extra 20,000 divots per month – that’s a lot of divoting, sanding and seeding. Pitchmarks are becoming a massive problem. Even if it is 10 per golfer per round, that’s an extra 10,000 pitchmarks per month.

Busier golf courses are great, but there is a flip side. It may also mean clubs introducing new shift patterns for their Green Staff. You might need eight greenkeepers from 6am to 10am and then not need anyone until 4pm, to ensure all the necessary maintenance work is carried out without problems of golfers and greenkeepers getting in each others’ way.

Right at the beginning there was not real role for golf unions as there was no golf being played but they were important in passing out our messages about what can be done on the golf courses. The PGA were brilliant. They recognised almost immediately that their members were in a difficult position, so they worked hard with us to put messages out.

They also used their staff who were not organising tournaments to contact every PGA member to offer support.

So, the game has come together, and delivered the message really well. However, my thought is that the future of the game is in the hands of 2,500 small businesses and we know they will deal with it in different ways.

Some clubs will be fantastic at it. They have already attracted new customers and they will look after them and keep them. I do think a lot of clubs will change their business model and their focus.

Propriatory clubs tend to do better because they look to be welcoming to visitors who bring revenue into the club. When the profit motive is strong usually customer service is strong and the proprietory sector has always been the best at that.

That said, members’ clubs are improving at this and have good people and good management in place but I do think that the furlough money has kept some golf clubs afloat.

Some clubs have said it has been catastrophic to be closed for the last couple of months, but in January weather can close many courses. The joke in January was that “if we were open we’d be shut!”

Yes, driving ranges which normally do well when the weather is bad are struggling, but most of them are solid businesses. But I do think that in 2021 and 2022 we will see some golf clubs go to the wall and I’ve already been hearing of Course Managers being made redundant.

These are financial decisions rather than performance led decisions.

I have to say that a lot of clubs have handled, what is a very difficult situation really well. They have had to reduce their work force, but it has been done in a civilised way with engagement with the staff. We can’t pretend that every job is sacrosanct, but the least we can expect is a proper process.

We have set up a new section on our website “Available for Work” where you can anonymously post your location, qualifications etc and we’ve had people find work that way. It’s a free service to members.

On the whole, I think golf has fared as well as anything as it has driven people back to golf courses and we now have an opportunity to look after them.

And it benefits us as an industry because the reason people have gone back to playing golf. It hasn’t been for the locker rooms, the bacon rolls or even the welcome in the clubhouse. It’s been to play golf on the golf course and the focus has gone back on the turf.

What golfers want is a golf course in good condition – they’ve managed without the clubhouse all year, with no catering, no bar, no changing rooms.

So hopefully people will now realise that without the golf course they don’t have a business so let’s make sure that it gets the resources that it needs.

I’ve been speaking to clubs who are now going to have maintenance weeks for the first time. Others are going to close more regularly in the winter because there is no point in destroying your golf course for a few rounds in January.

We at BIGGA didn’t quite have the staff to do what the PGA did, in contacting all their members by phone, but we have contacted many more of our members this year.

The focus between the first lockdown in March and now is that we have got back to our core which is supporting our members and we could devote time to that as we wouldn’t be running BTME. It reminded us that we are not an events business. We are a member organisation and legal assistance and mental health education is a big focus for us and that’s a good thing.

In the shadow of BT Murrayfield

In the shadow of BT Murrayfield: Edinburgh Rugby has a new home, a short pass away from the grandeur of BT Murrayfield. Scott MacCallum talks with Jim Dawson, head groundsman, to find out more.

As we enter a new year and say “Good riddance” to 2020, we can reflect on what has been an extraordinary difficult time for us all. One sector which has had more challenges to cope with than most is that of elite sport, where competition has continued but without crowds and all the related revenue streams that huge numbers of supporters generate.

In the shadow of BT Murrayfield

In the shadow of BT Murrayfield

One of those bodies was the Scottish Rugby Union, but throughout everything Edinburgh Rugby’s new home was being constructed.

Just outside the main BT Murrayfield stadium the new stadium was conceived to provide a permanent home for Edinburgh in a more intimate environment of a 7,800-seater stadium.

That latter fact is a little ironic given  that Scotland, and every other northern hemisphere national team, have been busting a gut in front of empty seats since the autumn. But there is no doubt the ability to provide that 16th man is made more easy in a compact arena.

One man how has watched its development closely over its various developmental stages is Head Groundsman, Jim Dawson.

“The stadium is more or less complete. The stands are in, the carpet is in and the posts are going in as we speak,” said Jim, as we chatted towards the end of November and, by the time you read this, the ground would almost certainly have been Christened.

“The pitch is exactly the same as the one we have a Scotstoun (Home of Scotland’s other pro team Glasgow Warriors) which has been down four or five years and which has been brilliant,” said Jim, who is in charge of both the BT Murrayfield and Scotstoun surfaces.

The new pitch is a Greenfields MX Elite. Pile Height: 60mm; Total thickness: 62 mm; Number of tufts per square metre: 4,750; Number of filaments per square metre: 114,000; Roll Width: 400 cm; Colour Fastness: Xenon test: blue-scale more than 7, grey-scale more than 4.

In the shadow of BT Murrayfield

In the shadow of BT Murrayfield

“Paddy (Ferrie) won the Best Managed Artificial Surface of the Year at the 2017/18 IOG Awards for the pitch, and the work he does is second to none. He does an absolutely fantastic job in the way he maintains the carpet and we will just incorporate the practices he carries out at the new ground.”

With an artificial training pitch already at BT Murrayfield, Jim doesn’t need to add to his machinery inventory to cope with the new pitch.

“We have the brushes we need and the Campey Unirake, while the pitch does come with a one year warranty from Malcolm’s so they will be coming in and do whatever needs to be done for the first 12 months.

“We will carry on with the same testing that Paddy does at Scotstoun, measuring the depth of rubber crumb, and using the Clegg Hammer to ensure that it always plays its best.”

While the new build adds to the variety of work for Jim and his team, it will also be a real change for Head Coach Richard Cockerill and his Edinburgh team.

“They have been used to playing on a top quality grass pitch and to go and train and play on an artificial every day will be a bit different for them.”

Throughout the pandemic the pitch will be fully disinfected every week. Previously it had been once every six weeks.

“We are all really looking forward to taking the new pitch on board and it’s really good for Edinburgh to finally have their own home.

Back at the main BT Murrayfield Jim dealt with a full autumn schedule which this year incorporate the Nations Cup – all of which went on without crowds. Jim and his team had just prepared the pitch for the visit of France.

“Alex (Latto) and I watched the game from the disabled bay and, without crowd noise, you really do hear the big tackles going in as the players making their calls on the pitch,” said Jim, who also acknowledged he did notice how the lack of crowd meant that the build up of tension which Murrayfield normally sees just wasn’t there in the last five minutes of the game.

The BT Murrayfield DESSO pitch is now six years old but with loving and expert care, Jim reckons he can look forward to a 13-14 year lifespan.

In the shadow of BT Murrayfield

In the shadow of BT Murrayfield

One of the main issues with which Jim has to deal, ironically enough for Scotland’s national stadium, is that it is in Scotland.

“We are the most northerly rugby stadium in Britain. The main difference between ourselves and Twickenham is daylight. As soon as the clocks change the grass wants to lie flat and shut itself down. With our stadium lighting and our undersoil heating we’re telling it not to go to sleep and to keep working which does stress it out.”

Jim and Deputy, Alex, review turf management practices regularly including their fertiliser programmes and to keep even more on top of things they are looking at reviewing more regularly.

“It has got to the stage that we are looking at things on a weekly, rather than a monthly, basis. Sometimes it’s just to tweak things a little but it might also mean leaving it alone for three or four days. And all groundsmen know, that to do nothing, is the hardest thing for us.”

Unlike the majority of the Scottish Rugby staff Jim was retained for most of the time during lockdown as, like so many in his position, he had to ensure the pitch continued to be cut, rather than left to its own devices.

But his workload didn’t stop there. “I got a couple of weeks in but was trying to spin so many plates and that fact that the weather had improved, I asked if Alex could come back too. He’d been climbing the walls. He’s a keen cyclist but had done virtually every route close to his home so he was delighted.

That helped me a lot, particularly with the back pitches and the many bankings that we have on the site.”

One of the jobs that they, and the Facilities Team – a total of seven – had to carry out, wouldn’t necessarily appear on any Job Description for a groundsman role.

“We had to turn every tap in the stadium on for five minutes to flush the system and prevent any outbreak of Legionella. We had a system where we had cable ties on them to keep them on otherwise it would have been a struggle,” said Jim with a degree of understatement.

All in a day’s work for Jim and his team at BT Murrayfield.

‘I’m much more worried about you’

‘I’m much more worried about you’: Jim Dawson speaks candidly about how stress got too much – and how support was quickly forthcoming.

Jim Dawson has been a Liverpool supporter since he was a boy growing up on the Isle of Bute. He’d taken his dad’s advice not to align himself to either of the Old Firm, and with Kenny Dalglish having recently moved to Liverpool it was the Reds who became his team from then on.

2’I’m much more worried about you’

So there was huge excitement when his beloved team, recently crowned European and World Champions, were scheduled to play a friendly match against Napoli at BT Murrayfield in July 2019.

BT Murrayfield got the call as a result of the pitch at Anfield being renovated, and delays to the completion of the second option, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“I was one of the most excited people at BT Murrayfield when it was announced,” recalls Jim, the IOG Groundsman of the Year in 2015

There was just one issue. A Spice Girls concert was due to be held at the Stadium, and then the pitch was going to be renovated by Premier Pitches, with the big match five and a half weeks later.

So, while The Spice Girls were doing their stuff on the stage what Jim wanted, what he really, really wanted, was a bit more time to ensure that the pitch was in perfect shape for his heroes.

“Premier Pitches did a first class job, but I was so keen that the pitch be perfect that I was checking the pitch every day and, to me, the seed wasn’t coming through fast enough.

“We had a couple of weeks when it was dark and overcast with hardly any sunshine and it wasn’t coming on strong enough. Well, to me it wasn’t coming on strongly enough… because I was looking at it every day.”

Even the reassuring words of his Deputy, Alex Latto, weren’t helping, and Jim was just getting himself more and more worked up.

“It all came to a head. I think it was week three. To me, it wasn’t coming through and thickening up and we were having the Champions of Europe – World Champions – my team, coming to play on my pitch. People like Virgil Van Dijk and Andy Robertson.

“So many thoughts were going through my head. It was just building and building. Normally, I’d go in and make myself and Kenny Scott, the Facilities Manager, a coffee and we’d go through to the bothy,” recalled Jim.

“On this day, I just went through to my office and shut the door. Kenny asked if I was ok and I said that, no I was struggling. So, we had a chat and then a walk over the pitch.”

Kenny reassured him that his pitch was fantastic, while, at the same time, Jim was explaining where he could see all the faults.

“We then sat in the stand and I talked through everything with him. I was in tears,” Kenny, an ex-Army man, explained to Jim that it was as though he was on a march, carrying a rucksack, and picking up everyone else’s troubles.

“He said that I just wasn’t flinging them back off again. It was a good thought.” What happened next is a gold-plated example of best practice for any mental health sufferer and any organisation with an employee who comes to them with a mental health issue.

Jim decided to speak with the HR (Human Resources) Department, where, again, he broke down in tears. He was taken into the Board room where he explained everything and how it was affecting him.

He then asked if he could speak with Dominic McKay, Scottish Rugby’s Chief Operating Officer.

“Within five minutes Dom was with me, and I told him all my worries about the pitch and my concerns about whether it was going to be ready.

“The one thing that really changed my thinking was what Dom said to me.

“He said that they could play on sand for all he cared and that he was much more worried about me and your mental health. He then asked what he could do to help,” revealed Jim.

“That one sentence took the rucksack off my back and I was able to calm myself down. Dom has a great manner, and an ability to make you believe that your problem is his problem. He has a way of talking to you which makes you feel good.”

After talking to Dom, Jim returned to HR where he was asked if he felt that he needed to see a specialist.

“I said that I thought that I still needed some help so within an hour I was sitting in a consultation with a psychiatrist. That’s how fast it was from me breaking the news to them and me seeing someone. That was the level of support that I had,” said Jim, who had his only other episode in 2014, equally well dealt with by Scottish Rugby, when the catalyst was the nematode infestation on the BT Murrayfield pitch.

Once he’d had his talk with HR and Dom, Jim then went to his own team and explained everything and what was going to be happening.

“They were right behind me. The whole team here at BT Murrayfield have each other’s backs which is a big thing. We are always there for each other. Even young Callum, who has come through our ranks wonderfully, often asks if I’m alright and if there is anything he can do for me.”

Scottish Rugby booked Jim a series of consultations, where he was able to talk through how he could better manage his feelings.

“Some people need to take medication for mental health, but I was one of those who didn’t. Talking to people helps me get through my mental health issues,” explained Jim.

To assist with the process, he went to Turkey on holiday for two weeks, leaving Alex to tend the pitch towards its inevitable high standard in time for the match.

“I didn’t take my phone and didn’t have any contact with work while I was away. I flew back into Scotland on the Wednesday before the Saturday match and Alex had done a fantastic job while I was away. The pitch had come together at the last minute.”

The day of the match is something that Jim will remember for the rest of his career.

“It was an absolute pleasure to go out and cut that pitch for those guys, knowing the quality of player who was going to be playing on it.”

The cherry on top came after the game while Jim and the team were doing their divoting.

“I was radioed and asked to go to the tunnel. When I arrived there was Dom, along with one of the Liverpool executives, and I was presented with a football, signed by Jurgen Klopp, to thank me for my efforts.”

Jim continued his consultations after the game, but the specialist said that they could see a change in him.

“They saw a happier human being. But I already knew that I was feeling a whole lot better with the pressure of the match over.”

For a man who is used to his pitch being played on by rugby superstars and seen by 67,000 supporters and millions on television it does seem strange that the change in ball shape resulted in such stress.

“Doing international rugby matches is just second nature to me and those people who come and lend a hand on match day are just blown away by the experience but having my own football team – Champions of Europe and Champions of the World – come to BT Murrayfield, meant everything came together and I just couldn’t handle.”

So, having been through the experience and come through the other side what advice does Jim have for other groundsmen or greenkeepers who might be struggling to cope?

“The hardest thing is to acknowledge that you have an issue, because you can think that you are admitting defeat. Sometimes you just have to say to yourself that you need help.

“People deal with things differently and some are able to manage their own aspirations, but I think it is always good to talk to somebody. It might be that you are the one helping them the next time,” explained Jim.

Eighteen months on Jim is feeling back to his best and getting ready for another Guinness 6 Nations where he will be preparing the BT Murrayfield pitch for the visit of Wales, Ireland and Italy.

And that Jurgen Klopp signed football? Well, that has pride of place in the Dawson home – sitting proudly above the fish tank.

Lawn Care Legends – Who, What and Why

Lawn Care Legends – Who, What and Why: John Ryan, Founder of Lawn Care Legends, gives Turf Matters an insight to the thinking behind one of the fastest growing groups in the industry.

I’m John Ryan and I am a self-employed lawn care contractor based in Bangor, Northern Ireland and the founder of Lawn Care Legends, who grew from an idea formed back in July, 2017.

Lawn Care Legends - Who, What and Why

Lawn Care Legends – Who, What and Why

My thinking was that the lawn care community has expanded on social media across the world from YouTube to Facebook and Instagram particularly.

However, an unfortunate aspect of social media in this day and age, is that it creates a platform often with little accountability and, depending on an individual’s position, perhaps anonymity. This makes it easy for those who would choose to belittle or criticise anyone wanting to learn more about their trade, craft or industry to do so without any consequences.

This can typically be seen in Facebook groups across a range of industries. Where someone will ask a question, in the hope that someone with experience and knowledge would be willing to share their knowledge to help a peer achieve better results either in their current project or self-development, but be met with mocking and abuse. (Sometimes as banter, but mostly in criticism).

These prevalent negative attitudes see people holding back from asking questions, or not feeling comfortable to share their views perspectives or to ask questions for fear of being ridiculed.

Lawn Care Legends - Who, What and Why

Lawn Care Legends – Who, What and Why

This prompted me to create Lawn Care Legends, the Facebook group.

Our aims are simple. To create a Facebook group where we try to operate on the basis of respect, encouragement and passion for what we do in a professional environment on social media. An international collective.

One aspect of the lawn care community online is the difference that can be seen across the globe with varying styles and approaches to our respective trades.

Although each country has its own standards for operation in our industry, I felt Lawn Care Legends could benefit from the various perspectives that people from different countries could add as valuable content. In an industry that has a lot of service providers, it can be difficult to stand out and so with the ability to access information shared by people from other countries as well as our own we can gain inspiration and drive for our businesses.

So, Lawn Care Legends allowed the development of a new addition to the community we are all a part of in one way or another. We enjoy members contributions mainly from the UK, Ireland but we have members who contribute from the USA, Norway, France, Australia, Canada, Serbia and more which makes for a lot of variety.

To run a Facebook group is not an easy task and the people behind the scenes that make this possible are the admin team of LCL. A friendly bunch with a wide variety of skills, qualifications and knowledge in all aspects of the lawn care industry.

From the basics of grass cutting, shrub/tree cutting, to treatments, landscaping, pond installations and maintenance, and also insight from the dealers side of the industry.

The admin team is currently made up of: Alan Adams from (NI); Paul McGill (Scot); Ryan Powala Higgins (Eng); Richard Jones (Eng); Kaz Dunsmore (Scot); Robert Ross (Scot); Tom Duchesne (Eng); Jay Chillingworth (Eng); Danny Clegg (Eng); Ben Morrison (Scot), and Di Dodds (Aus).

Lawn Care Legends - Who, What and Why

Lawn Care Legends – Who, What and Why

There have been many people who have contributed to the success of LCL during their time on the admin team before moving onto other projects or priorities. One key individual who really helped LCL become more connected with manufacturers and reps, is Ashley Bevan, from Weston Garden Machinery. His amazing support really played a huge role in get the industry to support the LCL Awards.

As we encountered more and more people on-line, I think we’ll agree that we still enjoy a good meet up with people in the real world. It is hard to replace the benefits of shaking someone’s hand and getting to know others better without giving your thumbs or fingers an ache from typing.

So, one thing that we have tried to do is organise LCL meet ups where possible. We started doing this in early 2018, with our first meet up at Rochford’s Garden Machinery, in Wincanton, and we have gone on to host meet ups in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with the intention to organise and host more events in the future.

We hope to organise an LCL business training event in 2021 as well as an LCL demo day, then we will combine those events into one event in 2022 for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If it proves successful we will look to more locations, with the aim of helping more people.

The purpose is simple really. Everyone loves a good meet up and it is a great way to network, training and education. It allows people, who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance, to demo machinery and get a feel for different brands and their equipment.

Back in January of 2020 we had organised a factory tour and LCL meet up at the Ariens factory, in Oxford, where we were greeted with amazing hospitality and open arms by another manufacturer that wanted to support our community and the desire to connect people better. We had demos of Ariens zero turns as these are now made at the facility.

We also took part in a zero turn challenge with prizes awarded, while Ariens collaborated with Kawasaki Engines Europe to conduct a workshop class on engine maintenance on xero turns. We even had our own pizza van on the day and topped off with a swag bag with gifts and discount vouchers to buy some products.

It took around five months from the time Lawn Care Legends was created, to start gaining traction and membership started to increase. From that point it has grown to over 5,000 members representing.

To make the group stand out and to try and bring value to the members, the idea of LCL awards was floated, with the aim of creating our own event within the industry to celebrate the small business owner.

And so the Lawn Care Legends Awards were created. Of course, they would be operated online, in the spirit that this new digital age that has benefited so many in different ways. However, there is still a lot to be said for face-to-face contact and discussions with people.

I then set out to see if it was possible to collaborate with an industry event that would allow us to host our Awards’ presentation.

An obvious choice was to reach out to the IOG, so named at the time, and Saltex. I pitched the idea of a little Awards’ event, that would celebrate the average business owner in our trade. I believe if you don’t ask, you are guaranteed the answer is “No”.

Lawn Care Legends - Who, What and Why

Lawn Care Legends – Who, What and Why

Well, I got an amazing reply that displayed a real desire to work with us.

From originally asking if it was possible to use a little corner of the show, we were being allocated the use of a large private room. Fusion Media also produced a press release about our awards, which got our name out to industry magazines and online media platforms.

In addition, we were featured in the opening letter by the IOG CEO Geoff Webb. So, in 2018, we held our first LCL Saltex Awards. We had an amazing turn out of over 100 members. We had started with a little vision and pitched the idea to just a few companies to gain support on which we could build.

The first company to see the potential of a positive contribution to our community, came from Weibang Ireland. They were so excited about the idea and wanted to be a part of it and offered a lawn mower as the first prize.

Those first Awards began with just three sponsors: The IOG, Weibang Ireland and Blinc NI. By the time we came back a year later we had grown our sponsors to 12: Weibang Ireland and Weibang UK, ECHO, EGO, Hendon Ladders, Kawasaki Engines Europe, Ferris Mowers UK, Wright Mowers UK, Cub Cadet, Jobber, Green Touch Industries and the IOG.

Despite so many things having been disrupted in 2020, we already have over 20 sponsors lined up for the LCL Saltex Awards 2021, with around £10,000 worth of prizes.

We just want to be able to give the average guy in our industry the opportunity to have his picture taken, be praised for his high standard of work, be presented with a trophy and win awesome equipment which will contribute to his business and service for the better.

It is all part of our dream, and with the support and recognition from industry manufacturers, to spur our community on to do better and take pride, we can come together in a positive manner… and that includes everyone from the end user; landscapers; greenkeepers; groundsmen; gardeners; business owners/operators; dealers; distributors and manufacturers.

Some might think that we are just a little Facebook group, but we are determined to be so much more, and have already come a long way.

Perhaps we might see you guys around some day, either in our group or at one of our events – something positive for us all to look forward to.

Superb in Singapore

Superb in Singapore: Sentosa Golf Club is widely respected as one of the world’s greatest golf clubs. 

It is also home to two world-class championship golf courses – The Tanjong and The Serapong – with the latter recently being voted ‘Singapore’s Best Golf Course’ for the second year in a row at the World Golf Awards.

Superb in Singapore

Superb in Singapore

The Serapong re-opened in December after an extensive renovations project, led by the club’s General Manager & Director of Agronomy, Andrew Johnston, to maintain and rejuvenate the world-class standards the course has set in recent years.

The club is also one of the world’s leading environmentally sustainable golf clubs, having implemented a number of initiatives through its two ground-breaking campaigns, #KeepItGreen and GAME ON, and were named the ‘World’s Best Eco-Friendly Golf Facility’ at last year’s World Golf Awards.

We sat down with Andrew Johnston to discuss what makes Sentosa’s environmental vision so unique and how they managed to maintain it throughout The Serapong’s renovations.

Sentosa Golf Club was named the ‘World’s Best Eco-Friendly Golf Facility’ in the latest edition of the World Golf Awards. What does it mean to the club to receive this accolade?

It is an exciting, proud and humbling achievement to be recognised as the ‘World’s Best Eco-Friendly Golf Facility’ by our fellow industry professionals and golf consumers throughout the world.

There is nothing more critical and important than taking care of the world we live in, and the culture we have created and implemented at the club, from our committee all the way down to our guests, is based around our environmental sustainability vision for the future.

Tell us a bit more about the sustainability work that the club has undertaken in the last 12 months?

With everything that has happened in the world over the past year, it definitely would have been the year that we would all look back on and wish we could hit the reset button. However, for the team at Sentosa, it was another ground-breaking year in terms of our sustainability work at the club.

In July, we became a full-time member of GEO Foundation, as well as the first golf club to join the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, which looks to guide the sports industry on a path to achieving climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

We also set out plans for the redevelopment of our herb garden, as well as building and installing electric car charging points through a partnership with Porsche. The development of a floating solar farm is also another initiative that is on our agenda for 2021 and more news will be announced on these initiatives soon.

The Circuit Breaker left us in an awkward position, but we continued to press forward with our plans. The most important thing for the club moving forward now is to establish our carbon footprint number, so that we can work towards becoming carbon zero.

Superb in Singapore

Superb in Singapore

Are there any further sustainability projects that you are looking to implemented in the near future? And what is the ultimate goal in terms of sustainability for SGC?

We hope to convert our energy source from brown to green, as well as develop the carbon free rounds of golf. This involves mapping out each of our golfers at Sentosa and adding one dollar to their games, so that it can be used to purchase local Renewable Energy Certificate.

The club also aims to develop its relationship with GEO Foundation by becoming GEO Certified, a comprehensive modern certification that recognises facilities around the world for their outstanding and ongoing commitment to sustainable golf.

The Serapong was also named ‘Singapore’s Best Golf Course’ for the second year in a row. How do you manage to maintain such high-quality course conditions, while dedicating so much attention to a sustainability agenda?

We are lucky to have such a strong team who are dedicated to achieving excellence day in day out on The Serapong. While it was named ‘Singapore’s Best Golf Course’ for the second year in a row, the course has also previously collected the same accolade at the Asian Golf Awards for 16 years in a row, as well as being named Number One for 18 years out of the past two decades in Golf Digest’s Singapore rankings.

Our sustainability agenda is part of the club culture, so all the staff and team have bought into it ever since we launched our Keep it Green campaign in 2018. In fact, Keep it Green has become a way of life at the club now. As an example, every member of staff is challenged to pick at least 15 weeds a day before they leave the property. It’s measures like these, and others such as our sustainable herb gardens and bee colonies, that help inject energy and fun, as well as a sense of team camaraderie, into our sustainability agenda and day to day life at the club.

Do you have a specific strategy that helps set up the golf courses on a daily basis/for tournaments, such as the SMBC Singapore Open?

Our set up strategy for tournaments, such as the SMBC Singapore Open, takes us nearly four months to follow and prepare the course. This involves a detailed fertility plan that is custom built each year in order for the course to reach peak conditions for event week.

What equipment/processes do you operate to maintain the golf courses and how do these fall in-line with your sustainability agenda?

We have recently acquired six new GPS spray rigs that are extremely high-tech, but also really help us to make a big impact in regard to our sustainability agenda. The rigs are so intelligent they will automatically turn off the nozzles if they cross over any location that has previously been sprayed.

How many staff do you have working in your agronomy/golf course maintenance team? And what does a normal day look like for them out on the golf courses?

We currently have 75 people working in our agronomy and course maintenance team. Every day starts the same for our team with a morning briefing before we head out on the courses early to set them up ahead of the days play. However, in reality, we are always making tactical adjustments to our work in order to be as efficient as we possibly can be.

How do changing weather patterns, especially heavy downpours frequently seen in Singapore, affect the maintenance of the courses?

We are very prepared for handling the changing weather patterns that are often seen in the region. The club invested in a drainage infrastructure that can handle the heavy monsoonal weather very well and allows our members and guests to be back playing golf within 30 minutes of any storm event. Additionally, the SubAir investment in our greens has made for an excellent tool to combat the excessive moisture created.

The club recently re-opened The Serapong after closing it for renovations back in March last year. Can you tell us about the specific works that took place?

As part of the renovations, we removed the existing grass surface on the fairways to rejuvenate them with grading adjustments and improved drainage strategies. We also re-lasered the tee boxes to reinstate a tabletop, flat finish and maintain the grass at a super low mowing height of 3mm.

The bunkers were also renovated with the caps and bays being restored, and a serrated edge look has been introduced to really transform The Serapong deeper into a world-class location.

What was the thinking behind renovating The Serapong?

The Serapong is one of the world’s greatest courses and having to maintain and improve it year on year is a tremendous responsibility. The thoughtprocess behind the renovations was to keep driving excellence, be better than we were the previous year and maintain the high-quality standards that are set 365 days of the year for our members and guests, whilst also looking to find new improvements to the course. We try to instil a mantra into the team of ‘nobody cares about the awards you won yesterday’. That drives us to better ourselves each and every day.

Finally, what would you say to other golf clubs who are looking to implement sustainable initiatives on-site but also want to maintain high-quality course conditions?

There is no substitute for maintaining quality. If you want to become a world-class facility, then this is critical to your business plan. However, while always maintaining quality is crucial, the development of on-site sustainability measures is of even more importance now. Golf clubs can no longer sit on the bench and watch.

Everyone must get onboard and begin to participate, otherwise we will soon reach the point of no return in our fight against climate change. In our view, when it comes to climate change, it isn’t game over. It’s very much game on!

Dew diligence

Dew diligence: Water management is an essential element of every turf maintenance programme. We work hard to keep the soil moisture content at the right level to maintain good turf health and to optimise surface playing qualities. We aerate, top dress, install drainage and try to keep soil organic matter content under control to create a soil profile with the required water retention and drainage properties. We also have irrigation systems to supplement soil moisture deficits and we guide their careful use with the help of accurate moisture probes.

Surfactant technologies are also used to help optimise the penetration, spread and retention of water within the soil profile. Moisture management is of huge importance and it is at the heart of all our modern turf maintenance programmes.

Dew diligence

Dew diligence

But it is not only the soil water content that needs managing. Moisture at the turf surface and within the sward canopy also needs to be controlled. Damp autumn/winter conditions can lead to the deposition of a significant amount of moisture at the turf surface in the form of dew. This condensation of atmospheric water can adversely affect playing qualities, it can reduce the effectiveness of maintenance operations and it can encourage the rapid development of fungal disease activity.

These are the reasons that we commonly employ switching, brushing, blowing and surfactant-based dew dispersants to remove the moisture from the surface and alleviate the potentially significant negative impacts.

We know the main problem with the physical methods of dew dispersal (switching, brushing, blowing etc.) is that they can be temporary and the dew can continue to form afterwards. This is where the surfactant-based dew dispersants come into their own, because during the time of their activity they continue to work 24 hours a day.

A close look at turf successfully treated with a surfactant-based dew dispersant will reveal an amazing reduction in moisture being held within the leaf canopy. The significant reduction in canopy moisture provided by H2Pro DewSmart has been repeatedly shown in independent trials to slow down the rate of development of Microdochium patch disease and can credibly be included as an important element within autumn ITM disease control programmes.

The problem with surfactant-based dew dispersants, however, is getting them to work consistently for more than a couple of weeks. This is because to work effectively, we generally need to stick them to a dry leaf and a truly dry leaf can be a rare commodity during the autumn and winter period. Of course, any late autumn growth and subsequent mowing will also remove the surfactant from the treated leaf blade, shortening the longevity of dew dispersion.

You will find that some “penetrant” surfactant based formulations will also suppress dew for a short period, but again reasonable longevity is the problem. In our trials we have found that the most effective results in terms of effectively contributing to an autumn disease reduction programme is to alternate between treatments of H2Pro DewSmart and H2Pro FlowSmart penetrant surfactant every fortnight during late autumn and early winter because it brings together the benefits of taking both approaches.

Moisture management is always an important part of turf maintenance and leaf moisture management during the autumn and winter is no different. There are several approaches that you can take, ranging from switching the surface through to spraying a dew dispersant surfactant and because all of them have their limitations then you should probably be employing them all to some degree at different times. We know that dew dispersants can be really effective and can play an important part in a progressive ITM programme but they need to be applied correctly. Rest assured that a new generation of dew dispersants could soon become available where the surface conditions are not so critical to achieving successful results. In the meantime, a diligent approach is needed with different techniques being employed when conditions allow to help maintain turf health and playing qualities throughout this most difficult time of the year.