Welcome to our side of the business

Welcome to our side of the business: Scott MacCallum chats with Henri Lansbury, who has swapped his football boots and designer washbag for gardening gloves and a directorship of a burgeoning new company in the amenity and retail turf industry.

It could have been the shortest chat of all time, but I thought in for a penny, in for a pound, when I said to my latest interviewee. “Your family must be delighted that, having pottered around in sport for most of your life, you now have a proper job!”

Welcome to our side of the business

Welcome to our side of the business

Fortunately Henri Lansbury, he of Arsenal, Nottingham Forest, West Ham, Aston Villa and Luton fame, to name just a few of the clubs whose jersey he has worn, took the comment in the manner in which it was intended, and laughed.

In fairness, we had met before, as I’d interviewed him on stage at last year’s GroundsFest, so I was pretty sure I was on safe(ish) grounds.

“You could say that. The famliy keep calling to ask me to do their garden, but just I tell them I’m too busy,” he smiled.

Henri was talking about his new post-football life as Director of Grass Gains, a company he founded with two groundsmen friends he knew for his footballing days.

And to show just how wrapped up in his new career he has become, he had to delay the Zoom call as he had been held up while out cutting a client’s lawn!

With most retired footballers gravitating towards getting their coaching badges and ultimately moving into management, or becoming a TV pundit, Henri’s new role is perhaps surprising. But not if you caught him doing a unique lawn mowing goal celebration following a goal for Luton against Hull in 2022.

And if anyone thinks it’s just a case of someone with time on their hands exploring a glorified hobby, they too will be pleasantly surprised. Grass Gains has hit the ground running and is attacking the industry on two fronts – the amenity sports turf sector and the potentially lucrative retail market.

Grass Gains has professional “Black” Editions, of its range of products – Lawn Bulk, Super Seed and One Shot Wonder – which are tailored specifically for sports teams. They are also able to create programmes for football clubs and golf clubs.

“If clubs book us in and want a certain bespoke programme designed for them, we can do that. We are now going into the sports side, including liquids for hybrid pitches. We’ve done a lot of research with some friendly boffins in white coats which has complemented the experience of life at the sharp end that our guys bring to the table” explained Henri.

He is very much looking at tapping into the new approach being taken by the more recent intake of sports turf professionals.

“The older generation of groundsmen is coming to the end so, for me, to be able to go in with the new generation of groundsmen, is what I really want to do. I love it. I follow all the groundsmen on Linkedin,” said Henri.

“Craven Cottage was one of the best pitches I played on and at BTME this year I met up with guys at Fulham, who asked me to spend a day with them, take in a match and even help with the divotting at half time,” he said, with all excitement of a young club mascot.

Seeing things from “the other side” has given Henri a real understanding of the work that generally goes on behind the scenes.

“When playing you are going in there and training and playing. You’re not really taking in what has gone into getting the playing surface to where it is. I then started to learn more about the work that goes into producing that pitch and that a team of guys is out there night and day getting it ready for us.

“I started to chat to them a lot more and they gave me a lot of knowledge. I’ve got so much respect for every groundsman out there.

It is incredible what they do.”

“Speaking as an ex-player I can say that pitches are so good now that no player can seriously blame their injuries on the surface. It may be a little too hard, or a little too soft for them, but they are all so good. The ground staff put so much effort into a pitch. It is like their baby at the end of the day.

“It hasn’t always been the case. I used to think it was never my fault if I slipped on the pitch, but now I blame the player. He’s got the wrong boots on!”

But not everyone has the privilege of playing their football on the highest quality of surfaces. Many Sunday league and junior games are played on pitches which are not remotely close to that level. One of Henri’s goals is to improve those pitches and thus increase the enjoyment of football for those who are not going to be gracing the magnificent stadiums around the country.

“We are developing a grass roots blend, as my main thing is for kids to be able to play on nice pitches. Providing a grass roots blend for them will make a huge difference,” he explained.

He talked about helping a friend with his council run pitch and the issues he faced.

“The council had a moan at me when they saw that I’d cut the pitch, but I told them that they’d put a big tractor on the pitch and were leaving inprints and I asked how they expected people to play football with tractor prints on their pitch?

“So I took along a tractor-drawn vertidrain and showed them the turf tyres that they needed for the tractor. I even offered to lend them some kit, just because I wanted the pitch to be nice for my friend.

I fertilised it, sprayed it and asked the council to keep it in good nick, but I went back the other day they had the big tractor, with the agricultural tyres, out again.”

Henri is sure that their grass roots blend will be ideal for councils and sports clubs.

“I’m hoping to team up with the FA because I know they give a lot of funding for the grass roots game. Every player started out at a grass roots team and if I’m not giving back through coaching I’d like to give back in another way, by giving them a nice pitch.”

That love of the gardens and pitches, together with a desire to find a role when his football career came to a conclusion in 2023 after a 16 year professional career, at the age of 33 all came about during Covid.

Henri takes up the story… “During Covid we were at home and I had a guy come round and cut the grass but he left it a bit long, which wasn’t ideal as I was training on it. I couldn’t get him to come back so I asked one of my groundsmen friends, Mark Pettit – who had been at Arsenal and who is now Premiership Lawn Care – if he could get me a lawn mower.

“Mark asked what I needed one for and I told him that I wanted to cut the grass. He got me a Hayter Harrier and I was hooked. I just l loved looking back and seeing the stripe in the grass.

Ever since then it just sucked me in and I continued doing it.”

As things progressed Henri became more interested in the subject and how he could get his lawn to look as good as possible.

“I’d spray it for weeds and fertilise it but my missus was going through an organic phase and didn’t want me to put anything that was toxic because of the kids and the dog. I was telling them they had to stay off the lawn for 48 hours… even if the sun was out.

“So I asked Mark if there was any organic fertilisers out there but he said there was nothing on the market. I had tried some off the shelf products but they just weren’t doing it for me. Then my wife suggested that we make an organic fertiliser, as there was obviously a gap in the market.”

So, inspired by the words of Mrs Lansbury Henri sat down with Mark and Josef Farrow, Groundsman at Oakham School, a former Young Groundsman of the Year, and Mark’s brother-in-law.

“Working with our scientist colleagues, we came up with a product and trialled it on our lawn and around the kids and the dog.

Initially it was going to be just for our garden but because it was so much better than the products that were out there already, we decided that we should look to expand out horizons,” explained Henri.

“We just got a small batch initially and I would go to my mum’s house, my nan’s house and my auntie’s house, put it down and they’d all say that it was amazing. My nan’s a big gardener and she couldn’t believe how good it was and said that there was obviously a gap in the market and that we should start to make it commercially.

“So we came up with the name, Grass Gains. We started going on Instagram with before and after pics. That was when we decided to take it to the next level.”

Initially they launched their aforementioned range of three products – Lawn Bulk, Super Seed and One Shot Wonder – into the retail market and these are now available through Home Base.

Henri is certainly not playing at his new vocation. He worked out that they needed a fresh modern look to attracted the younger people who are buying their first houses and wanting to make something of their first garden.

“If you make a garden look good it is like having an extra room in your house. You definitely want to be outside in the summer,” explained Henri.

“We took that leap of faith and it is now paying off. As you said we are going into Home Base on-line and in stores and they are very happy with it. We are building up the brand and looking to modernise gardening for the younger generation,” said Henri, adding that he’s now got a lot of his mates into gardening who see how therapeutic it can be.

Henri is now so confident in his ability to restore his lawn that he is more than happy for bouncy castles to be a feature of the Lansbury children’s parties.

“If the lawn is damaged I enjoy bringing it back to its best.”

Far removed from his once a day training sessions Henri is now discovering just what real work is really like.

“This has taken up so much time. My phone goes non stop. I tellpeople that I’m available 10 to 2 and 8 to 10, to fit in with dropping the kids off at school and picking them up. When we’re at home I ask not to be messaged until later in the evening.

As a recognised sporting figure Henri knows that he can open doors in a manner in which most new starters can’t, but he also knows where he gets most job satisfaction.

“I try and do a bit of all elements of the job and attend the meetings when I can, but my happy place is getting people’s gardens to how they want them. I’ve currently got about four or five renovations to do. Today I was just out cutting and strimming a lawn for a client.“

Grass Gains is trying to gain a foothold in a very competitive market filled with multi-national companies. It’s very much David against a bunch of Goliaths.

“I love being the underdog and am very ambitious for the company. From the retail market we want to be the number one go-to product in five years’ time. We are really going to push that side of it. On the sports side of it we want to be known for giving quality to the groundsmen and something that they can rely on. It’s not just me, who is a novice at it all.

“There are many great people behind it all and I’m just the face of the company. It is a passion for me to love good pitches and golf courses. Any grass area, I want to have our products on there. I think we have ruffled some feathers already.”

Who would doubt him and, having been used to the stands and terracing singing his name, it may be that Henri will still have his name ringing out but this time from the depths of the stadium, or the practice ground, and emanating from the maintenance facilities.

The most famous school grounds in the world

The most famous school grounds in the world: Eton College’s Lee Marshallsay became the first school Grounds Manager to become the GMA Grounds Manager of the Year, proving that it’s not just the boys in the Eton classrooms who are high achievers. Lee spoke with Scott MacCallum.

The Battle of Waterloo, perhaps one of the most famous triumphs to be carved onto the bedpost of British military history, was said by the very man who led our forces, to have been won on the playing fields of Eton.

The most famous school grounds in the world

The most famous school grounds in the world

Now in all likelihood the Duke of Wellington didn’t say it, or to be charitable, no-one is around to prove that he did or didn’t, but what it did was ensure that those very playing fields became the most famous school grounds in the world. An accolade held to this very day.

Can you think of anywhere to rival them?

What the quote actually meant, apocryphal or not, was that the excellence embodied by Eton, and its fellow British public schools, was what carried the country to victory. That ethos remains in place in 2024, a mere 584 years after Eton was founded in 1440.

So, it is perhaps fitting that the man charged with looking after those famous fields has also achieved a degree of excellence which marks him, and his superb team, out from the crowd.

Lee Marshallsay was crowned Grounds Manager of the Year at the recent GMA Awards, held at Headingley, in Leeds.

“It was a real shock as the winner normally comes from football, cricket, tennis or horse racing, so I certainly didn’t expect my name to be called out. I believe it is the first time that someone from a school has won the award.

“But it was great as it was only possible for me to win because the team had won the Top Independent Schools Grounds Team award earlier in the evening, so it is an award for the whole team.

At 37, Lee is still a young man but he has packed a lot into his 20 years as a groundsman and grounds manager and he has a CV which includes two other schools at the very top of the independent school tree – Harrow and Charterhouse, both of which he was Grounds Manager.

But the role at which he has excelled was very much second choice by way of a career.

The most famous school grounds in the world

The most famous school grounds in the world

“I actually wanted to work in taxes and excise, but I didn’t get the grades,” laughed Lee, as we stood on the balcony of one of Eton’s famous pavilions, about to conduct a Turf Matters, YouTube video interview.

It says a lot for Lee’s single minded focus that he would have contemplated a job which doesn’t feature strongly on many people’s list of dream occupations, but having seen those aspirations dashed, he embarked on another activity which doesn’t offer much by way of love and affection either.

“I was a football referee to quite a decent standard,” he revealed, adding that he was a referee at Conference level and assistant referee at National League level.

With his commitments at the school he has retired his whistle and flag, but he does attribute refereeing for adding to his man management skills.

“Dealing and managing people in stressful situations on the pitch showed me that everyone is different and everyone has to be handled in different ways. I miss the 90 minutes of a game, but I don’t miss everything else that goes along with it.”

It was actually flicking through the prospectus of Oaklands College, shortly after his tax man dreams had been thwarted, that he fell upon the Greenkeeping and Grounds Management course.

“So that’s what I did,” he said of a decision which must go down as one of his best ever.

“I did a one year’s course including some work experience at Tottenham before getting an interview at Harrow School.”

Lee worked his way through the ranks at Harrow before eventually becoming Grounds Manager. He made the move to Charterhouse after 12 years and it was further four years before the attraction of his current employer saw him make the move… four years ago in the middle of Covid!

His attitude to being the man in charge of the most famous sporting fields in the world is refreshingly down to earth.

“I personally don’t look at the fact that it is Eton any differently to how I looked at it at either of my previous schools.

First and foremost I’m looking to produce playing surfaces for the boys. It’s just on a bigger scale.”

Lee manages a team of 30 at Eton which is split into three areas – the playing fields team, which looks after 38 winter sports pitches covering 600 acres; the gardens team which looks after the formal areas of the school and the gardens of the 25 boarding houses, and the landscaping team which works on the meadows, the hedges, the trees and the management of Dorney Lake, which was the venue for the 2012 Olympic Rowing regatta.

The most famous school grounds in the world

The most famous school grounds in the world

There are also 500 acres of farmland which doesn’t come under the management of Lee and his team.

“My goal is always to try and improve year on year and I feel that as a team we’ve gone on a bit of a journey since I came here. We aren’t perfect but we always want to be better, and always try to be better.

“We came second to Whitgift School in the GMA Awards last year so to win it this year shows that we haven’t rested on our laurels. We went again and have been recognised and that is great for the team to show them that the hard work they’ve put in has been recognised,” said Lee.

If there is one thing that Lee is particularly hot on, it’s presentation.

“We have parents and grandparents visiting the school, as well as other visitors and people who walk around the grounds, as we are an open site in the town, so presentation is very important.

I want to make sure that we are always on point, that pins are straight goal posts are clean etc.

All small things, but they are noticeable if they are not done well.”

Lee may not have learned the phrase back at school in Borehamwood, but he is an advocate of Carpe Diem – seizing the day!

“The biggest thing I’d say about this site is when the opportunity comes up to do work, you’ve got to do it because if you miss the boat you may not get the chance again for some time.

“The reason that is the case here at Eton is the weather. We are getting more rain and with the Thames so close to us our water table is higher than most, while our fixture list, with over 1500 boys on the role, is packed. There is play on most pitches every single day but if there is a gap we will go on and carry out work,” said Lee, who explained that the boys play sport from 2pm every day.

There is one sport that doesn’t give Lee too many headaches when it comes to presentation. The Eton Wall Game is unique to the school, and bizarre barely covers it.

Two teams, one comprising pupils from College, which is one of the boarding houses, pit themselves against a team made up of the “Oppidans”, pupils from all the other boarding houses. The combination of rugby and football doesn’t produce much by the way of scoring with many matches finishing 0-0 but it is a spectacle nonetheless.

The most famous school grounds in the world

The most famous school grounds in the world

It is played on a strip of ground called the Furrow five metres wide and 110 metres long, next to a slightly curved brick wall erected in 1717.

The St Andrew’s Day match, in particular, is viewed by many as one of the highlights of the year which sees almost the entire school turns out to watch.

It is a bitterly contested clash, with the Oppidans currently holding a slight advantage at 48 victories to the 43 of College, with the remainder ending in draws.

“We don’t have to prepare the pitch for the Wall Game, but it is tradition for the Head Groundsman to toss the coin before it starts,” revealed Lee.

While that is not something any other Grounds Manager has on his list of tasks, there are many others which are just the same as any grounds team up and down the country.

“A few summers ago we had the dry hot weather where everything burnt off and died while we had the frosts at the end of that year while we’ve had the floods as well.

“As people who work on grounds we have to adapt and we learn how to know where we can make a difference and which parts of our land that we need to avoid. This time last year was a nightmare for us in terms of trying to get things done to the cricket square.”

Lee has come a long way from that 16 year old unfulfilled tax man back in Borehamwood. What would the Lee, with 20 more years’ of experience under his belt, say to him to cheer him up?

“I would say to grab every opportunity that comes your way because you just don’t know where it is going to take you. And in this job, if there is something you want, you can really go out and get it.”

And coming from the man who now looks after the most famous sports fields in the world, that is very sound advice.

The Best Golf Course in the World

The Best Golf Course in the World: Scott MacCallum chats with Andy Johnston, the man who has steered Sentosa Golf Club to the top of the golfing tree.

It’s just after Christmas so I’m guessing that your quizzing skills are still fairly sharp. So here’s one for you.

The Best Golf Course in the World

The Best Golf Course in the World

Which of these golf courses is the odd one out? The Old Course, St Andrews; Augusta National, the Serapong Course at Sentosa Golf Club, Singapore; Shinnecock Hills, New York, or Carnoustie?

The Answer?

None of them! They have all been voted The Best Golf Course in the World by the World Golf Awards.

Of course, Serapong is also the only course among that elite group not to have hosted a Major, and the only one in Asia, but it’s my quiz and I decide the answers!

Seriously though with The Old Course having won the category each of the first five years following the Awards’ inception in 2014, Carnoustie was the next winner, then Augusta National who retaining the title the next year, before its American cousin, Shinnecock.

The triumph of Sentosa Golf Club, the first Asian winner, late last year, did raise a few eyebrows. Not least from the Club’s own General Manager and Director of Agronomy, Andy Johnston.

“Best golf course in the world. I mean, Holy Smoke – really? I was pinching myself,” recalled Andy.

The Best Golf Course in the World

The Best Golf Course in the World

“I was floating of Cloud Nine, and still am,” added the American, who, as a golf course architect, first became associated with the club when he was brought in to do some remodelling work in 2014, and never really left.

He was also blown away by the reception he received from the Sentosa team when he arrive back from the airport having collected the Award.

“It takes a world class team to make a world class club and when you talk about the best in the world the greeting I got from 80 plus of them was pretty special.”

Being the first Asian golf club to win the award, and following in such illustrious company is significant.

“It shows that the growth of Asian golf is gathering pace and how much more progress we are making. It also shows that we are getting to the point where we are becoming competitive within that ‘Big Boy’ fraternity.”

So what it is about Sentosa Golf Club, and the Serapong course in particular, that has enabled this huge geographic breakthrough? Who better to tell us, than Andrew himself.

The Best Golf Course in the World

The Best Golf Course in the World

“It’s one of those tracks that touches your soul. As soon as you head off to the 1st tee you are thinking that this is something special – you know immediately that it is special. Then when you get to the 2nd you get a peek at what’s coming. Hit the 3rd and you have the entire world in front of you. You’re looking down on the town three kilometres away and you are on an elevated spot which sits over the entire bay. You see the ship yards down below you and, downtown, all the sky scrapers. The next five or six holes are all different, and each one memorable. The whole course has a unique playing strategy and you can’t wait to play it again and again.

“You just can’t get enough of it,” enthused Andy.

But that wasn’t always the case for the Serapong, and Sentosa Golf Club, founded by the then Prime Minister of Singapore and which celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

“Back in 2005 the Serapong wasn’t even the best course in town, never mind the world, but at the time I was working on a project in Beijing when I got a call from a friend of mine saying that Sentosa was looking for an architect. They weren’t looking at a huge project just some fairly small tweaks so I jumped on a plane and made a pitch to the Green Committee.

“I must have made a really compelling case because we signed an agreement, almost on a napkin and I got to work the next day.”

With the project completed, six months later the club called Andy to say that he was still the club’s architect and that they wanted to renovate the Serapong fully and was he interested. Was he ever!

“I literally got on a plane that night and came over. The club had a new business plan and wanted to get into hosting tournaments,” said Andy.

The course had been designed originally by Ron Fream and was built on 80% reclaimed land.

“Ron did an unbelievable job because he tracked the course when it was basically still in the ocean. I’ve seen pictures of him in a boat pointing out a green. How he was measuring, in the  life of me, I have not a clue.”

But while the course was excellent, it had really small greens which couldn’t take the traffic and while the bunkers were ok they didn’t support modern day golf strategy.

“So we made some significant changes to the course’s personality. That’s when the course started to get going to where it is today. We introduced massive greens with subtle undulations, we increased the bunkering and made these huge tees so we could take the traffic and have surfaces fit for championship golf. That’s when the engine really got running,” said Andy, who added that they now cut the tees to the same height as the greens.

The tees are Platinum Paspalum, because it recovers quickly from divot damage, with the rest of the course Zoysia.

The Best Golf Course in the World

The Best Golf Course in the World

It wasn’t an overnight success, however, and from 2006 to 2010 it was a difficult time for the club. Then, with 60 days to go until a Singapore Open, and having just lost their Superintendent, Andy took another phone call from the club asking for help.

“The previous General Manager called me and asked that, as nobody knew the property as well as me, would I help them out.

“I have an agronomy background – of all the skills I have, design, operation, agronomy, agronomy is the thing I really excel at, and ultimately we were able to pull a rabbit out of a hat On the Monday pro-am we were running at 13 on the stimp. Singapore had never seen speeds faster than that.

“We’d exceeded everybody’s expectations when it came to conditioning and I just never went home after that, and I hadn’t meant to stay!” he revealed.

And not only that, in addition to his role of Director of Agronomy he found himself General Manager when his predecessor left.

“I didn’t mean to become GM. I was just told that I was going to be GM, even when I told them I didn’t want to be GM. Even today I hate being GM… kind of!” he added with a smile.

But it is still the golf courses, there is also the 18 hole Tanjong course, rather than the food and beverage side of things, which rocks his boat.

“I’m the first person here every morning at 5.30 and that has never changed in the 14 years I’ve been here. I get every morning started with the crew and work closely with our Superintendent, Irishman Rodney McEwan.

“I couldn’t have a better sidekick, if I could call him that. He takes it personally and it means something to him. No matter what I dish out to him it gets done and it’s quite incredible how he does it.”

And it’s not an easy gig maintaining a golf course on the equator.

The Best Golf Course in the World

The Best Golf Course in the World

“I’ve worked in every corner of the world and I think this is the most challenging. We have every disease known to man sitting in the soil 365 days a year, just waiting for the right conditions to flourish.

“Everything is full on. Most of the world goes through the seasons and there are times when you have to work hard and there are heavy growth periods but there are also off periods and simpler windows. It never stops here for us. Every day is full on.

“To put it in a UK context. August is probably the most difficult time of the year for you, because it is the hottest and the most humid. Guys are chasing hot spots and there are disease pressures coming out of their ears. Every day is August for us and our aim is to be thinking ahead of Mother Nature. That’s the goal. If you can be ahead of Mother Nature you will win.”

With two golf courses and the surrounding grounds to maintain Andy has an agronomy team of 75.

“It sounds a lot but if you break it down it’s probably comparable with a South Florida course. We have 25 guys on each course, there are eight mechanics, four in the admin office, then there is a small landscaping team of six or seven. So it’s not as big as it sounds.”

So how does he keep everyone motivated to achieve the standards that takes a course to Best in the World status?

“We have something called the 10 Five Star Touch points. In at number eight is ‘Earn Your Five Stars Every Day’. I say this to the team on such a routine basis that they are sick of me.

“No-one gives a rat’s ass about the awards we’ve won – and they have won a plethora of huge awards including World’s Best Eco-Friendly Golf Facility three years in a row – after that day. They measure us by the experience they have had on that day. So every morning I tell them to wake up and earn their five stars.”

Having reach the pinnacle what now for Sentosa Golf Club?

“The Chairman asked me the same thing not long ago and I said that the runway was still very long and we still had a lot to that we could do. We may not win awards like this every year but we are attempting to build a brand and it is extremely important that we can continue to expand upon that and deliver the best service possible and produce the best conditions possible.

“The ceiling is unlimited on what we are going to achieve.”

Key to that is Sentosa’s position on the planet.

“When you look at Asia, albeit Singapore is a small city state, we are in the best spot. We have the best airport, which is a hub where everything comes in and out. It is the safest city in Asia. You don’t have to worry about that when you get here whole at the club we are surrounded by 17 high end hotels. We have everything at our fingertips to continue to grow.

“We are no longer just a great golf course. We are a brand, and that is what I want to continue to develop.”

And with the attraction of playing the best course in the world, golfers will be swarming around Sentosa like bees to the honeypot and spreading the name of Sentosa to all their golfing buddies.

The Future…

The Future…: With Turf Matters celebrating its 10th birthday thoughts go to 10 years down the line and what life will be like in the mid 2030s. Scott MacCallum was given a glimpse into the future by Husqvarna and JCB.

In many ways, 2014 seems like ancient history. Back then, we saw Scotland voting to remain as part of the United Kingdom; Brazil were tonked 7-1 in the semi-final of a World Cup… held on home turf in Brazil, and Conchita Worst, sporting a very fine gown and a very fine beard, won the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria.

The Future…

The Future…

It was also the year that Turf Matters was launched, and this issue represents the 10th anniversary of the magazine.

With so much, good and bad, occurring over the last 10 years, it led to me to ponder where we might be 10 years from now. Could we be being picked up from the pub in our driverless car; might we have all our mail and deliveries dropped down to us from drones, while might we all have chips inserted in our wrists, thus removing the need for all money, keys and forgettable passwords?

But what about our industry? What are some of the things that we might expect when the 20th anniversary Turf Matters drops to you from your friendly drone… Hang on… will we still have printed magazines in 10 years’ time?

Now I don’ t have a crystal ball but I have been lucky enough recently to attend two events which shed some considerable light on what developments are being made towards 2034 and beyond. A quote which is attributed to either science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke or Bill Gates, and raised in Paris, and tweaked slightly for our needs is also worth re-stating.

“We tend to overestimate what can be achieved in two years but underestimate what can be achieved in 10.”

Husqvarna’s Living City 2023, held in the wonderfully nostalgic Jardin d’Acclimatation, in Paris, was a two day look into the future, while a couple of weeks later I was one of a select group of journalists invited to attend a briefing at JCB’s Headquarters, in Staffordshire, to look at the extraordinary progress they have made in hydrogen power.

What I discovered was that 10 years is well within the scope of some amazing advances in technology and thinking. Looks like Arthur or Bill might have been spot on.

Living City 2023, saw 160 people attend for 13 different countries and covered a range of topics from global change and how that was impacting cities – the temperature rise in northern hemisphere cities is four degrees against a global rise of one and a half degrees – to how biodiversity 10 years down the  line will be increasingly seen as the lifeline for the future of the planet.

Paris has a target to be the greenest city in the world by 2030 while London Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised to plant two million more trees in the city. New York has a policy of every missing tree having to be reported

One speaker was Douwe Snoek, a renowned Dutch landscape architect, who told the audience that we had been building our cities all wrong. Douwe will be featured in the next issue of our sister publication, Landscaping Matters, but in essence he said that too much influence had been given to the car and future cities should give limited access to the car.

The Future…

The Future…

Opening the Conference Yvette Hensall-Bell, President Global Professional for Husqvarna, revealed that more than one million species were at risk of extinction if the status quo was maintained and said that the company had set up a Biodiversity Advisory Board, pulling together some of the finest minds on the subject to work on finding solutions and lobbying Governments.

They also presented papers on how there will be a return to quietness, with the removal of the brute force of engines and all the toll that puts on the body.

Gent Simmons, Vice President Global Product Management & Development – Professional, spoke on the need for sustainability in all areas, even citing safety trousers which currently tangle in a chainsaw to bring it to a sharp stop, at the overall expense of the trousers. Building sensors into safety trousers would instantly bring the chainsaw to a halt and not damage the trousers.

“It is about encouraging customers to move from more of a business model approach to a more sustainable one and adding customer value is how this is achieved,” explained Gent, adding that no new project at Husqvarna progresses now, until it is proven to be fully sustainable.

“No project will be started without a plan to have fossil independence,” said Gent, who added that the philosophy at Husqvarna is to encouraged engineers not to make “new stuff” but to make “stuff better”.

Gent’s closing words were that his greatest wish was to return nature’s balance, something which we’d lost over recent years.

So what else?

Well, we’ve had robots for a number of years now which have become adept at cutting lawns or amenity areas before heading back to their base to recharge.

Well how about, in 10 years’ time, a team of robots which will carry out a range of different turf management practices – aeration, chemical application etc – silently in the middle of the night?

And these robots won’t need to be guided by satellite or guide wires, they will be using AI to work autonomously able to identify where they can and cannot go and, in a golf environment, know the difference between fairway, greens and bunkers.

The robots will arrive in a mini vehicle which will act as their recharging base while they are on site.

With the current recruitment crisis within the industry, it will allow human staff to get on with important jobs during their regular working hours.

For more remote working Husqvarna’s R&D has given thought and provided solutions to the challenge of powering chainsaws and the like for a full working day. Among those was a fully kitted out vehicle with recharging points and storage for all manner of spare batteries and equipment itself.

Much of the pathway to progress revolves around battery power, something which Husqvarna believes will be essential for hand tools for the foreseeable future, and which is make more possible by innovative ways of recharging and supplying sufficient batteries for an entire day’s work. It is worked that is being mirrored at many of the most innovative hand tool companies in the world including Stihl and Pellenc, both of whom are well advanced with their own battery power development work.

Interestingly, however, they believe that hydrogen is the ultimate fuel to provide fossil independence. The problem for the hand tool industry is that currently a hydrogen powered hand tool would need to be six times larger than they are at present.

That obvious limiter to progress does not stand in the way of JCB, whose range of vehicles are sizeable enough to cope with a hydrogen engine.

The Future…

The Future…

How do they know? Well they’ve built one and it is already powering prototype JCB’s at their testing quarry a few miles from their Headquarters.

In fact, a fully fledged hydrogen engine was not the first option considered when viable alternatives were being assessed by the JCB engineers. Further up that list were indeed, battery and hydrogen fuel cells, which initially ticked a lot of boxes and where thought be a quicker route to zero carbon fuel.

While extensive research determined that battery is still the optimum non-fossil option for smaller vehicles, including in that category, domestic cars, it is not practical for equipment with an operating weight of over six tonnes.

JCB’s chief innovation and growth officer, Tim Burnhope, one of the most decorated engineers in the country, explained that with domestic cars now averaging 8,000 miles a year, a drop from the pre Working from Home era of 12,000 miles, battery power remains more than a viable option.

“At JCB, we believe that it is important to use the right technology for the right application. For low power applications, close to built infrastructure, and potentially with additional demands on product such as noise, and where fume extraction is an issue, battery-electric technology is applicable,” said Tim

“These machines tend to be more compact, due to the nature of the work, and while are on-site all day, generally only work a couple of ‘power hours’ in a day. An example of this in the turf and landscaping industry would be electric ‘golf’ buggies, which have been commonplace for many years due to their low power application, low noise and proximity to charging infrastructure.”

For huge excavators, which in countries like India car run for 22 hours a day, lifting and emptying fully loaded buckets every 21 seconds, batteries wouldn’t cut the mustard.

The Future…

The Future…

“For larger machines and equipment, the job site tends to be more remote, building the infrastructure need (e.g. utilities, road, rail, and housing) for the first time. As such fuel needs to be mobile and fast to replenish to enable machines to operate whenever and wherever they are needed to. Hydrogen is a zero carbon fuel, which can be brought to machines and refuelled in a matter of minutes – making it an ideal future fuel for construction and agricultural machines.”

The example Tim gave was of a busy quarry with 100 excavators. The required recharging points would mean that power would require to be drawn from a considerable distance at a current installation cost of £1 million a mile. Of course, when the quarry was drained of resource the expensive recharging infrastructure would be redundant.

“Continuing down the battery power route would also mean that net zero by 2050 would not be achieved, as predictions suggest that it would stop at around 10%,” explained Tim.

The hydrogen fuel cells also had similar success-limiting deficiencies.

“We worked at developing a machine which would work for 16 hours a day, not even the 22 hours that is required in places like India. However, even that would require £400,000 worth of fuel cells – 4.3 times the cost of an existing excavator, and it would weigh 10,000 kilos.”

Machines must also have a resale value to make them viably options for customers and having been worked at such a rate they wouldn’t be an attractive proposition without a hugely expensive replacement battery pack.

“Hydrogen fuel cells were therefore too complicated, not robust and too expensive,” explained Tim.

And so it was that during a break in Covid lockdown in 2020 a team of JCB engineers  sat down with Lord Bamford, JCB’s Chairman

“It was July and Lord Bamford laid down his Chairman’s Challenge. He wanted us to produce a hydrogen engine by Christmas,” recalled Tim.

Now, rather than leave the meeting with spinning heads and a desire to find the nearest darkened room in which to lie down, the team of engineers got to work and met the Challenge. Not surprising when you appreciated the desire and ability of the JCB engineers to the push the envelope. The world’s fastest diesel vehicle, as driven by Andy Green, sits in the corner of the factory floor. It achieved a speed of 365 mph on in Utah, USA, in 2006,  if you are interested.

The engine they produced has the same dimensions as that used in fossil fuel-operated JCB machinery, so can be fitted into the same chassis while they have the same level of performance.

It is a huge breakthrough and JCB is now just the first of at least 130 hydrogen development programmes going on around the world at some of the biggest companies in a range of different usages so progress will undoubtedly intensive.

The one challenge which is still to be met satisfactorily is refueling.

An extensive nationwide set of hydrogen filling stations is a long way off so a solution for the early adopters of hydrogen powered machines had to be found.

JCB have come up with, and built, a mobile hydrogen filling vehicle which would travel around an area refilling hydrogen machines thus ensuring that down time for those valuable workhorses is minimised.

That may be a useful option for operators of a large fleet of machines or those who tap into a refilling service but the dream of freely available hydrogen filling stations is still a little time away.

So, that question of where will we be when Turf Matters celebrates its 20th birthday…

“The landscape in 10 years’ time will certainly be a growing mixture of both technologies; where the line is between the two will be highly dependent on application, location and cost,” predicted Tim.

Overall the glimpse into the future, as offered by both Husqvarna and JCB, is extremely interesting and shows that the landscape of our workplace, and life in general, will be markedly changed. Husqvarna’s work on battery development and holistic lifestyle changes and JCB’s progress on ensuring that large vehicles will emit steam rather than fumes should assist in achieving, or getting close to, nett zero

Many thanks to Husqvarna and JCB for inviting Turf Matters to two extremely interesting events

Potential unleashed

Potential unleashed: Millfield School has an enviable roll call of high achieving alumni. Scott MacCallum speaks with Craig Richardson, Head of Grounds and Gardens, to find out how they do it. 

Ask many people at which school they would have loved to have been a pupil and I’m pretty sure the name Hogwarts would feature strongly.

Not for me, though, the school I would have loved to attend is Millfield School, in Somerset.

Potential unleashed

Potential unleashed

I grew up learning about the great names who had been educated, and honed their sporting prowess, at Millfield School and I wanted to join them, not because I was particularly adept at any sport. Quite the reverse, I’m pretty inept at most sports. But I love sport and while I was never likely to achieve what the likes of Sir Gareth Edwards, Duncan Goodhew, Helen Glover, Adam Hastings, Tyrone Mings, Andrew Castle, Lando Norris, Chris Robshaw, Mako Vunipola and Huw Jones, to name just a handful, I would undoubtedly have become more proficient with some top quality coaching.

The site itself is phenomenal, and coupled with coaching of the highest quality, you can see exactly how the school has acquired its reputation.

No amount of talent or high level one-to-one coaching, however, can succeed without a quality surface on which to show off skills, and the man in charge of managing the sports surfaces, as well as maintaining the fantastic gardens around the school grounds, is Craig Richardson, Head of Grounds and Gardens.

“The brilliance of this school is that we pretty much cover every sport. It’s not just football and rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer, we’ve got grass tennis courts, we’ve got golf, we’ve got equestrian, the list goes on. Up until this year we had our own polo pitch and we still have an annual polo event. It’s a fantastic spectacle,” said Craig, in his calm north east accent.

With such a range of sports for which to provide surfaces, the entire site is 240 acres, Craig is fortunate to have a strong team of over 20 whose goal, set by Craig, is akin to those goals set for the elite sportsmen and women who are lucky enough to attend the school.

“We try to maintain our sports surfaces as close to professional surfaces as we can. There are going to be constraints because of time and also finance, but that is what we try to do.

“And we try to take it one stage further because, rather than just look for those standards for the first team pitches, we want to make all of our pitches to the same standard. So, whether it’s the under 15 Cs or the A team, I believe they should be playing on the same standard of surface.

“That is what we aspire to. Do, we get it right all the time? Probably not, but that’s our goal,” explained Craig.

The school, in the village of Street, was founded in 1935, a mere stripling alongside some of the country’s public schools but in those 88 years its sporting claims to fame has been unmatched. Where else, for example, could boast of having been represented at every Olympic Games since 1956.

Indeed, at the Rio Games in 2016, eight Millfieldians took part and won a total of four medals, in rowing, swimming and rugby sevens. Go back to the London Games in 2012 and Millfield was the most represented UK school.

There are 130 sports coaches on staff who oversee 24 diff erent sports including, in alphabetical order, athletics, badminton, basketball, chess, clay shooting, cricket, cross country, dance, equestrian, fencing, football, golf, hockey, karate, modern pentathlon, netball, rowing, rugby, skiing racing, squash, swimming tennis, trampolining and triathlon.

There is one word for that stable of sporting opportunity – WOW! Facilities include, a 50 metre swimming pool, the equestrian centre, sports halls, cricket nets, putting green, squash courts, water based hockey pitch, outdoor tennis courts, netball courts and a nine-hole golf course.

Definitely spoiled for choice! And it’s not just in sport which Millfield has produced the goods.

The world of entertainment can look to the school for producing some if its biggest stars – Lily Allen, Tony Blackburn, Sophie Dahl, and Rose Leslie, among a host of others, saw the firm foundations of their careers built at Millfield. The current Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, is a former pupil.

“There are so many talented people at the school and it is good to be in and around it,” said Craig, who recently watch the school’s long jump record being broken by one of the girls.

Despite having risen to the top echelons of grounds management Craig was actually a late starter. He spent the early part of his adult life in the casino business, where he worked around the world before a yearning for a career which would expose him to a little more sunlight.

“I was playing a lot of golf between contracts, and saw the opportunity to do something different with my life,” he recalled.

He approached a local college and they found him a work placement at Woodspring Golf Club, in Bristol, where he was lucky enough to fi nd Course Manager, Steve Chappell, there to mentor him. Steve went on to be Head Greenkeeper at Gleneagles for the Ryder Cup in 2014 and is now a Course Manager in Slovenia.

Potential unleashed

Potential unleashed

“He was great to work for and we had a young team which produced some very good surfaces.”

Having cut his teeth on golf he then moved to Ashton Gate, home of Bristol City Football Club, where he spent 15 years.

“I remember I started two days after 9/11 in 2001 working under Martin Plumley, who was Grounds Manager. When he moved on a year later I took on the Head Groundsman’s job. At that time we just had the stadium to look after, but I then took on the responsibility for the training pitches at Clifton College.

“We then build a training ground next door and helped level an area for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital School to enable them to create more sports fields before taking on a management contract from the school to look after the facilities.”

Towards the end of his time with Bristol City he had taken on the role of Head of Operations.

“It was amazing really. We were developing three stands at the ground and it was very exciting to be involved with the club. But then the job at Millfield came up. I had a great job at Bristol City and it took a lot to get me to move but with everything the school had to offer it was too great an opportunity to miss.”

As everyone knows, the trick is when starting a new job is to make a good impression early and Craig knew what he wanted to do. Using renovation techniques he’d learned at Bristol City from people including Premier Pitches he introduced new practices which had an immediate impact on the school’s playing surfaces.

“I was lucky that there was a good budget in place and we were able to buy a fraise mower, a disc seeder and a top dresser while we already had a fl eet of tractors and the manpower to carry out the work that I wanted to do. The pitches had never been fraise mown before, but it was something that I knew would bring about significant improvement.

“We also installed drainage and irrigation into a number of pitches and we now take the top off every pitch every year and top dress.

We’ve fraise mown the cricket square for the last three or four years and this year is probably the best we have had them.

“It has allowed us to do our renovations in-house and so we have been able to improve our surfaces and protect the investment that has gone into the pitches.

“Hopefully the school appreciates that and the children can appreciate what they have here when they go to other venues which perhaps don’t drain as well and perform a little bit differently.”

Standards across industry are rising all the time and expectation levels rise accordingly, but any pressure to clear the bar at a school which demands the highest standards is handled with a degree of sensible.

“I don’t think the pressure weighs on us. You can only do what you can do. We are limited with the soils that we have, the drainage that we have, the irrigation that we have and the finances that we have.

“We are not a premier league football club which can spend a lot of money on fertilisers and the latest technology etc, but seeing what can be achieved does give us something to shoot at – we should be trying to improve ourselves and improve the surfaces that we have to look after.”

It would take a very experienced eye to blind test successfully any Millfield pitch against the pitch of a professional team in a range of sports, so Craig and his talented team of groundsmen and gardeners are an extremely good fit for a school where striving for excellence is a non-negotiable.

For me I left the school still regretting that I hadn’t been fortunate enough to have attended but just wondering how many more pupils they would attract if they offered quidditch on the curriculum?

Look at me now!

Look at me now!: Scott MacCallum caught up with Jordan Fairweather and learned just how far greenkeeping has taken him.

Jordan Fairweather had been joined by his parents for a meeting with the school’s careers’ advisor. Always keen to keep busy, he had been splitting his time between two holiday jobs, one at his father’s car dealership and the other divotting fairways at Letham Grange Golf Club, near Arbroath.

Look at me now!

Look at me now!

When it came to the inevitable question of “What do you want to do?”, it was as much a surprise to his mum and dad as it was to the careers’ advisor when he replied, “I’d like to go to Elmwood College and give greenkeeping a go”.

It was perhaps the fact that his parents were so dumbstruck by the answer that it was neither of them who spoke next.

“’That’s an absolutely silly idea. It will never give you a career, never give you enough money and you’ll be spending the rest of your life cutting grass, You should go into the family business’,” was the response from the person whose sole role was advising young people on the path to career fulfilment.

That was back in the mid ‘90s and Jordan was recounting the story from Dubai, where he is in charge of operations at three prestigious golf clubs. He had just spent his weekend with his wife and two young children around the private pool in his housing complex. He has responsibility for around 115 staff and regularly meets with the clubs’ boards and stakeholders to discuss the current performance of the business along with further development opportunities.

Thinking back to that careers’ advisor, there is no feeling of having proved her wrong, just a degree of frustration that an excellent career option could so easily be ridiculed.

“I remember thinking I wonder what she would have said if I’d told her that I wanted to be a Formula One driver or a fighter pilot. She’d probably have said it was a good ambition to have. But what are the chances of making a life at that? Very slim!”

Being brought up on the east coast of Scotland – not far from Carnoustie – Jordan was very much in a golfing/ greenkeeping heartland, particularly with that other huge employer of greenkeepers, St Andrews Links, not too far away either. However, Jordan had a thirst for knowledge and to make the most of his career, and without a genuine affinity for links golf, he felt the urge to move away.

“I could see that I wasn’t going to learn any more where I was and so I took a long shot and gave up my full-time position and took a seasonal job at Loch Lomond Golf Club, working for Ken Siems and David Cole. I stayed there for seven and a half years.”

After just one year Ken, known for his ability to identify talent, was giving Jordan special projects to handle, including installing the SubAir system, one of the first at any UK golf club, irrigation-related projects and installing drainage pumps on what was and is regarded as a particularly wet site.

“What he saw in me? I’ve no idea. You’d have to ask him. Maybe it was a willingness to learn and try anything new. That was what I saw in Ken. He’d take a risk on anything.

The view was if you don’t try you are never going to improve. The funny thing is we still call each other now bouncing ideas of each other.

“Loch Lomond was certainly a stepping stone to learning and creativity, the management team were always trying to see how to take something to the next level.”

Certainly Loch Lomond was a great place to develop and Jordan was there when it was a regular host of the Barclay’s Scottish Open. He also grabbed the opportunity to study at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“The Scottish Opens were always such a highlight on your calendar, but what really came through to me, at a place like Loch Lomond, was that there was so much more to the industry and so much you can do within the industry whether than be in a specialised area like irrigation or in construction or grow-in.”

When Ken moved on to a build a golf course in Dubai he asked Jordan if he wanted to go with him.

Look at me now!

Look at me now!

“That was in 2008 and to say that I haven’t been home since, would be correct,” said Jordan, who clarified the statement by saying he’d probably been back to see his parents five or six times since, often coinciding with friends’ weddings or BTME at Harrogate.

Jordan was Construction Manager, working under Ken who was Project Manager, on the Golf City project in Dubai, which , ironically given its name, has now been replaced by a housing development. They were also responsible for grassing the racecourse which hosts the world’s richest race along with construction of the world-acclaimed Yas Links.

Dubai was not immune from the world recession in 2010 and construction work on such projects slowed, so Jordan made the decision which was to impact the rest of his life – he took on the task of completing construction and growing-in on a golf course in Bulgaria.

“The job had been advertised through St Andrews company, Braemar Golf, and I went to work there for a Bulgarian owner. It was then that I met my now wife. We were the first two employees of
the company and she was working on the marketing,” said Jordan, for whom the apartment they bought in Sofia, is still, and will always be, regarded as home – no matter where he and the family are living.

That Bulgarian project lasted two and a half years, after which he was off to Bahrain and the Royal Golf Club, where he not only managed the agronomy of the golf course, but also managed a landscaping company along with a golf cart sales and service division.

“The golf club was on an island and there were no local companies to supply fertilisers or flags and pins etc. The club was already the island’s biggest importer of seed and fertiliser and so a lot of the other managers at football pitches and racecourses used to ask us to bring supplies in for them.

“I stayed there for four years and by the time I left the landscaping company, which was run out of the golf maintenance department, was turning over $1 million, more than the F&B banqueting and Fitness departments.”

That was a great lesson for Jordan about the how various departments within a golf club can work towards the overall success of the club.

“Back in Scotland, each department tends to be run very separately – the greenkeeper is the greenkeeper, the steward is the steward and the F&B guy is the F&B guy. Very rarely is there any working together to achieve more for the club. Greenkeeping is usually the biggest cost centre for any golf club so the golf course manager or Superintendent should be in a position to manage more of the business and make the decisions. It was in Bahrain where I started to learn more about the business side of running, not just golf clubs, but businesses.”

Next stop was Malaysia.

“The Royal Golf Club was managed by Troon Golf and I’d been doing well and enjoying the job. Our daughter was born while we were there.

However, Troon asked if I wanted to go to Malaysia because they had a 72 hole Ernie Els design project.

They had already opened 18 holes and there was going to be another 18 holes on one side of a village, close to Singapore in Southern Malaysia, with another three loops of nine next door as well as a nine hole par-3. The first 18 holes was on the Island of Langkawi and required a flight every second Sunday.”

It was a Malaysian Government project aimed at growing tourism in the area and there were also a host to attractions being developed from water parks to Hard Rock Cafes and resort hotels.

“We were a 20-minute drive into Singapore and at weekends would go over as often as possible as Johor Bahru was not geared for ex-pat life.

“But that was probably the toughest role I’ve had, to be honest. There were lots of factors. We were an hour out of the main town in a small village, which presented logistical issues as the daily commute was 90 minutes each way.

There were also lots of different grass types and ages within the 45 holes and with the first being grassed three years earlier than the last, you can imagine trying to open 45 holes at the same time and achieve consistency. We also had 120 greenkeepers on the site and very few ex-pats with greenkeeping experience,” revealed Jordan.

“You’ve got a guy who’d just learned to write his name in English six months before and we were trying to train him to mix fertiliser and apply chemicals, the risks are high”

At the end of his two-year visa, Jordan decided that he didn’t want to apply for another, as that would have meant him working there for a further two years.

“Troon Golf said that they had a job that might suit me. It was in Prague, in the Czech Republic, which would be only an hour’s flight back to Bulgaria. It was to build a new course with architect Kyle Philips, who I’d already worked with back in Abu Dhabi.”

Look at me now!

Look at me now!

So that was the next project and Jordan fell into the routine of flying to work on Monday morning, returning home on Thursday night and spending the three days at home working on the admin side of the job. All very well until Covid – and Jordan was stranded for 12 weeks in Prague away from the family!

It did bring to the fore one of the issues which wasn’t so commonplace in the middle east.

“You would automatically think that coming back to Europe would be easier than in Dubai or Malaysia but it’s not because English isn’t the first or even second language.

“Go to the Czech Republic with a daughter who speaks English and Bulgarian, which school do you put them into, because they all speak Czech . In Dubai, there are so many international schools and English is the first language.”

The Prague course was another to be marked down as a huge success, winning Europe’s Best New Course and the Czech Republic’s Best Course for a few years’ running.

“When I fi nished there, Troon Golf called and ask me if I wanted to go back to Dubai. They had a potential job for me and I could take the wife and kids (number two having since joined the family).

“One of the benefits of working in the Middle East is that the company pays for your kids’ schooling at an international school,” he said.

“So that is where you find me today. I’ve got three golf courses, all different styles – Arabian Ranches,Dubai Hills and The Montgomerie.

We are also constructing another 18 holes on Dubai South, close to a new airport which is being built.”

Asked to describe his day-to-day life you get a genuine feel for how far Jordan has come from the schoolboy replacing divots at Letham Grange back in Angus.

“I’m not the guy who has to be here at five o’clock in the morning. That’s not my role because I’m dealing with stakeholders across different departments which include weekly financial forecast and business review meetings and project development across a wider portfolio than golf. So I take the kids to school at 7.30 and two days a week I’ll come to my office to work on admin solely from a business point of view. For the other three days I’ll head to one property and for the first 90 minutes the Superintendent and I will drive the golf course and we’ll discuss plans for the week, how the current programs are going and share ideas,” said Jordan, adding that the children also go to a Bulgarian school every Sunday in Dubai to keep up with their home curriculum.

“Then we organise to meet every manager from that club from F&B, Security, Golf Operations, Sales and Marketing and we sit down together for half an hour for a coffee. Basically, the accountability of running three golf clubs is split between two of us, myself and a director of golf. A combined 167,000 rounds of golf a year and a membership base of 1,334 including social members,” said Jordan, who added that The Montgomerie alone does 62,000 rounds a year and every one is driven in a golf cart, so there are 290+ carts total, maintenance of which is also carried out by his mechanics.

“At the moment I’ve got 42 people at The Montgomerie, 26 at Arabian Ranches and 36 at Dubai Hills in agronomy plus engineering but I’m currently spending more time with the developers than on agronomy.

The owners are the biggest developers in Dubai and actually built the current tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.”

With a wealth of experience at this fingertips, Jordan is in the position where he can predict how long it should take to get a golf course to the level it should be.

“I know, depending on the size of the property and the number of rounds that are being played how long it is going to take me to get the course to where an ownership or membership want it. It could be two years, it could be three. Once we have reached the level, in the past, that would be the time for me to get back into the construction side, but now I’m thinking of the family and unless a stand-out job comes along, I think we will be here for the foreseeable future.”

Having worked around the world, Jordan is well-placed to offer advice to anyone who harbours a desire to spread their wings.

Look at me now!

Look at me now!

“I know of people who have decided to venture out of the UK and they’ve gone to France, or they’ve gone to Germany or Belgium and they’ve said it was too hard and returned home within six months.

“It’s not like volunteering at a golf tournament where everything from visas, transport, SIM cards, food and accommodation is laid on for you.

“Take Malaysia as an example. I would leave my wife every day in a city with very few ex-pats and she’d be an hour away from me. She had to fi nd the local doctors, the local post offi ce, the local car registration centre and it’s all in the local language.

“It can be tough, especially if you have a two year-old,” he said, adding that his admiration for his better half knows no bounds.

Wherever he has been he has tried to learn some of the local language.

“I always try and greet people in their own language, even if it is just to say ‘Good morning. Nice to meet you. I’m Jordan’. I then go on to ask if we can continue in English. They appreciate that you have made the effort.”

It would be fair to say that Jordan has come a long way since that careers’ meeting back in the mid-90s. His mum and dad have forgiven him and are regular visitors to not only spend time with their grandchildren but also to enjoy the delights of Dubai.

It would also be very fair to describe his career as exciting, rewarding, demanding and fulfilling.

You would not describe it as “silly”.

You can follow Jordan on social media on Twitter @golfagronomy and on Instagram, golf _agronomy

Avoiding a sticky wicket

Avoiding a sticky wicket: Scott MacCallum speaks with Ian Smith, Sports Turf Consultant for St Alban’s School, about climate change, sustainability – and the days when meeting Elton John was a regular occurrence.

Think back to last summer and the scorching temperatures.

Avoiding a sticky wicket

Avoiding a sticky wicket

We hadn’t seen anything like it. For many of us we could get by with desk fans and cold showers but for those working outside, and I’m thinking about those in the sports and amenity turf industry, they not only had to cope with the blazing sun, they also had to keep their surfaces alive. Not easy with water restrictions in place.

One man in the middle of it all was Ian Smith, Sports Turf Consultant for St Alban’s School, who, at the time, was also planning the programme for the annual Dennis SISIS Seminar which had been postponed from the previous two years.

“I was going to go down the environmental route with the programme anyway, but then we had the drought last year which made it even more relevant,” explained Ian.

“I had seen (Met Office Meteorologist) Aidan McGivern’s presentation on the 2050 weather forecast and when I was able to get Aidan to appear at the seminar it tied everything in.”

What made Aidan’s presentation all the more impactful was that the “shock factor” of the 2050 forecast was 40-degree temperatures in the UK and what would be the consequences of such heat. Those temperatures were reached in southern England last year – 28 years ahead of Aidan’s schedule.

“That really brought it to a head,” admitted Ian.

That led him to look to shape the day’s programme, which he widened to water resourcing, water capture and recycling, as well as how we should build pitches in the future to retain moisture rather than drain it away and what diseases might become more prevalent in a hotter, drier climate.

The Seminar, which attracted well over 200 turf professionals from around the country, was a huge success but left delegates with a genuine sense of foreboding about what the future will have in store if nothing is done imminently to change from the current course.

But Ian works at a school which has already shown its desire to do the right things when it comes to a sustainable model.

Avoiding a sticky wicket

Avoiding a sticky wicket

“It is something that the school governors are embracing. When we first set up the new site here at the school in 2000 I wanted to install irrigation with recycled water, but at the time mains water wasn’t that expensive and it was felt that with the hassle of cleaning and filtering etc, mains water was the way to go. Obviously in the 20 years since, things have changed.”

Now the school has plans for maximising the water at its disposal including capturing and harvesting rainwater which is something all facilities are going to have to investigate given that the Environment Agency is going to be clamping down on extraction licences for bore holes in legislation which is earmarked for 2028.

“We are looking to capture water from the pavilion roof which should help to reduce what we are drawing off the mains. ln future we are looking at the water which currently disappears in to a soak away on our artificial pitch.

“If we can store that water and re-use it on the sports field or in the pavilion it would be a good way of maximising our water usage,” explained Ian, who added that in an ideal world they would tap into grey water from water treatment plants, but sadly the school is too far away from the nearest one.

Much of the school’s drive towards a more sustainable future is led by the pupils, who have their own Green Council.

“We have meat-free Mondays and they have ensured all our lightbulbs are eco-friendly. From our perspective all our hand tools are now battery powered and when
the bigger pieces of kit come up for renewal, we have been told to look at the battery option if we can.”

There are 23 hectares (73 acres) of pitches at Woollams to be maintained by Ian and Head Groundsman Steve Ascott, Mark, Jason, Riz and Richard. “We are in the same position as most in that
we struggle to find staff . Our last two members of staff employed have not been experienced groundsmen and are of a more mature age, one laid tarmac and the other was a firefighter who had retired at 60 but wanted to keep working. They have both been brilliant.”

It is not just the pupils of the school that use the pitches. The Old Albanians, the school’s old boys’ club, have 30 of the 73 acres some of which they sub-let to Saracens Rugby, with the professional club spending quite a bit of money ensuring their two pitches were well-watered during the drought.

Ian’s own path to a top grounds management job started in familiar fashion, and familiar surroundings – an unhappy school classroom. So many successful turf professionals struggle academically until a light goes on in their heads when they discover a subject which really makes them click.

“It was classic really. I was no good at school. Both my kids are dyslexic and I think I was too. But I was just told I was stupid as pupils were told bluntly then. I was the invisible kid in the classroom who spent his time looking out of the window, because I’d far rather have been outside,” he recalled.

Avoiding a sticky wicket

Avoiding a sticky wicket

“I’d have loved to have been a professional sportsman, but I never made the grade. However, Watford FC was my big passion and in the school holidays they used to take kids on to do jobs, like painting the crash barriers. Some of the jobs were just horrible but rather than get £2 a week doing a paper round, I was getting £25 a week.”

There is one particular job which remains stuck in Ian’s memory – and not for any good reasons!

“There was an old wooden stand, and this was just before the fi re which burned down the wooden stand at Bradford and people had been dropping rubbish through the gaps in the floorboards. The Fire Officer said that it was a real fi re risk and that we had to clear it out.

“So I spent six weeks, the whole of the school holidays, being lowered down between some floorboards that had been removed and picked up rubbish. The pile was taller than I was. I had to pick it up, put it in a bin and then pass it back up through the floorboards. I looked like a panda when I got out.”

He loved all the work maintaining the stadium, but particularly when he got out onto the pitch.

When he got to 16 and everyone else returned to school or went into sixth form he just turned up again at Vicarage Road.

“They asked why I wasn’t going back to school and I just said I didn’t fancy it. So they said that they might as well keep me on then. I signed a contract and that was that.”

Ian was at Vicarage Road for two and a half years before moving on to North London Polytechnic which was the Watford Training Ground where he worked for a further six years.

There can’t be many who get a reference from an England football manager, but Ian did – from Graham Taylor, while he was also on-hand to see that famous football club owner Elton John at first hand.

“Elton had a football pitch in his back garden which we used to look after. He was always around the club, popping into the tearoom. He liked it because we all treated him like a normal person and took the mickey. He loved that we treated him like one of the lads.”

Ian used to cycle the 18 miles each way from Luton to Watford to work and it was this journey which was to open the door to his links with St Alban’s School.

“I used to cycle past this beautiful little sports ground which belonged to St Alban’s School and I always looked at it with envy. Then I heard on the grapevine that the school wanted a bigger site – this one was just 16 acres – and being the cocky, confident person, I was I went to the school and said that I gathered that they wanted to build a new sports ground. I was the man to do it for them. I was 23 or 24 at the time.”

The bravado paid off as, armed with his Graham Taylor reference, the school bursar was impressed and said that there was a deputy groundsman job available and that the Head Groundsman, had two years until he retired.

“That would give me two years to prove that I could do what I said I could do.”

All went to plan up until the part about moving to the new site when three public inquiries stood in the way of a swift build. It wasn’t for a further nine years that it was finally finished.

“I was involved right from the start, working with the STRI and the Head of Sport to decide the requirements of the new facility and where everything should go,” said Ian.

He was also to sit in on all three inquiries alongside the school’s barrister so, if required, they could counter the arguments put forward by the local council.

Avoiding a sticky wicket

Avoiding a sticky wicket

“It was a fascinating few years,” he said with genuine understatement. Such heavy involvement did mean that when construction finally got underway, he was front and centre when it came to pitch construction so what he was left to maintain was exactly what he had specified.

Construction started in 2000 and finished in 2002.

“The pitches are still performing 21 years on. We did think that they would start to give us problems by now but we have installed secondary drainage and Sand master a couple of pitches each year. In many ways its strength is also its weakness because it drains so well all the time, drains are at four metre centres and we ameliorated lot of sand and then top dress every year. So we do get the situation we found last year with the drought. But you very rarely call a match off because it’s too dry.”

Ah yes, that drought. With Saracens using two of the pitches, the grounds team were using mobile sprinklers for two pitches on the old Albanian side and two on the school side, every school match was played on those two rather than the usual six they would have at their disposal.

“They had to amend match timings and they were played one after another starting at 9am and going on well into the afternoon.”

So, what happened to that original playing field which caught young Master Smith’s imagination and caused him to move away from his beloved Watford?

“That’s sad. I worked on it for 13 years before we moved to the new site and I put my heart and soul into it. It’s covered in houses now. The day the diggers came in, as a joke, I lay across the square with banners saying, ‘Save My Square’,” he laughed.

But for now, Ian is planning how to save his newer responsibility from the ravages of climate change and the rapidly increasing temperatures.

Feast of knowledge at Dennis & SISIS seminar

Feast of knowledge at Dennis & SISIS seminar: For more than 10 years Dennis  Sisis have held pre-season  indoor seminars so it was fantastic,  after an enforced absence since  2020, have it back in the calendar.

The “Cricket Pit­ Maintenance in a Changing Environment” Seminar at St Albans School Woohham Trust,  one of the regular hosts, offered the 200 delegates a feast of knowledge and a genuine sense of normality.

Feast of knowledge at Dennis & SISIS seminar

Feast of knowledge at Dennis & SISIS seminar

The programme was devised by the school’s Head of Grounds, Ian Smith and for the morning session at least, hit delegates like a sledge hammer.

The extremely polished Robert Ja‑ , of Howardson Group, was the Master of Ceremonies and he did an excellent job all day of keeping to time and pit­ ing in comments and questions to ensure a smooth running show.

A weather forecast for 2050 and information that abstraction licenses may be revoked or restricted in 2028 offered a glimpse into the future that turf managers would perhaps describe euphemistically as “challenging”.

The weather forecast came from Met Office meteorologist Aiden McGivern who delivered his paper via video. He admitted that the projections he had included were two years old but that already some of the extremes in temperature had been rea­ched.

He talked about regularly topping 40 degrees in the UK – a level that created a new British record last summer – but that it would become a common occurrence. Aiden also said that temperatures in India would hit the high 40 degrees, and that there would be bans on outdoor working whi­ch would impact farming and, of course, sports turf maintenance.

Aiden was followed by Andrew House, of the Environment Agency, who broke the news about the changes to extraction licenses whi­ch will be brought in in 2028. Anyone hoping that this might result in a more beneficial outcome for turf managers would undoubtedly be viewed as optimistic at best.

Ton Hanson, Managing Director of Environmental Solutions International, and George Warren, Anglian Water’s Integrated Water Management Lead, looked at what we might be facing over the next few years and what water might be available to the amenity sector, or not, as the case may be.

With the picture painted it was time for two well known faces to come up with solutions.

Alex Vickers, now a turf consultant but with 25 years of experience at TGMS and as Director of the MSc programme in Sports Surface Te­chnology at Cranfield University, and Dr Christian Spring, the STRI’s Group Principal Scientist, spoke on “Root Zones for a Changing Climate” and “Pests and Diseases of the Future” respectively.

Complete with red bucket and a sponge Alex was able to illustrate how water operated in rootzone while Christian identified whi­ch diseases and pests would thrive in hotter dryer summers and wetter winters.

The morning was a well balanced and thoughtful session and perhaps was a case of better off knowing what we are likely to be facing in the short, medium and long term, than innocently thinking that everything would remain mu­ the same and that the weather we have been experiencing lately is nothing more than a blip.

After lunch­ provided by the s­chool catering staff , the afternoon session ki‑ ed off with Dr Iain James, the ECB’s Head of Facilities Services. Iain spoke on “What Does Sustainability Mean for Grass Roots Clubs?” and covered everything from recycling old kit whi­ch carried old sponsors names to stripping parts from no-longer-used mowers.

There could be no better duo to deliver the final formal talk “Cricket Pit­ Preparations – difference between north and south” than Vic Demain, Head Groundsman at the Durham CCC, the most northerly Test ground in the world and Karl McDermott, who was Head Groundsman at Hampshire CCC, the most southerly Test Ground in England, and now Head Groundsman at Lords.

Vic and Karl know each­ other inside out and were able to josh and joke while offering the assembled gathering some insights into both their jobs. In Vic’s case the earlier and earlier start to the season is an added factor while Karl spoke of the complications created by the slope when watering the most famous ground in cricket.

The day ended with a Q&A Session with Vic and Karl, as always, sharing their knowledge on a wide range of subjects.

Sponsors for the day were Turf Matters; Stuart Canvas Group; DLF Seeds; RT Machinery; Boughton; SIS Grass; Grounds Training; Mansfield Sand; Origan Amenity Solutions; Turf Tank and White Horse Contractors.

Video game that mirrors real-life

Video game that mirrors real-life: We’re sure many Turf Managers relax by coming home from work, having dinner and then settling down in front of the computer to play games. No doubt there are some experts in Minecraft, or Grand Theft Auto but most will be no more than casual players.

However, a new game is guaranteed to uncover some of the top players in the country from the ranks our turf professionals.

Video game that mirrors real-life

Video game that mirrors real-life

Lawn Mower Simulator is a video game developed by a Liverpool-based company, Skyhook which allows you to delve into the serene British countryside on real world licenced mowers. These include manufacturers such as Toro, Sitga and Stag. LMS enables you to experience the day-to-day running of your lawn mowing business while exploring the charming scenery on display.

The idea came into the mind of Managing Director, David Harper, one afternoon as he observed landscapers at work in the park.

“It was that moment that led development on the project to commence in January 2020 and was released in August 2021 to Steam and Xbox Series S|X. Lawn Mowing Simulator is now available on Xbox One. We brought together our highly skilled team here at Skyhook with our publisher Curve Games to bring our vision to life,” explained David.

So now you can take your work home and keep your grass cutting skills as sharp as ever!

Conserving water for the future of turf sports

Conserving water for the future of turf sports: It’s official – fresh water supplies are dwindling, demand for water is steadily rising, and regulations on how much and for what purpose water can be used are becoming increasingly tightened. Finding ways to use water more efficiently is no longer an environmental nice to have; it’s a fact of life for most turf facilities today and imperative for our industry’s future.

As a turf manager you’ll always need water – it’s a fundamental building block of turf – but there are a number of steps you can take to influence how much water you need.

Conserving water for the future of turf sports

Conserving water for the future of turf sports

One of the biggest potential impacts on your water consumption can be made by redirecting water that already exists.

Plant selection can also play an important role in how much water is needed to keep your property at its visual best. Choose turf varieties such as fine fescues that require less water than others such as perennial ryegrass.

Even with these changes, irrigation is still essential and ongoing maintenance of your irrigation system is an effective way to reduce the amount of water wasted. Moisture sensors, weather monitors and other high-tech tools are also available to help you use your water conservatively.

Even after irrigation, there is still one more hurdle to getting water to your turf as efficiently as possible: your soil. How well your soil performs can have a tremendous impact on how much water you use.

Soil:water repellency interferes with how even the most well-placed water moves, leaving some areas a little too dry while making some a little too wet. This is certainly not a new phenomenon, but research indicates that it is much more common than previously thought.

Water repellency is one of the most pervasive water use issues, and it is also one of the easiest and most cost-effective to fix. Soil surfactants lower the surface tension of water and restore the wettability of effected soils, allowing water to move into and through the profile more efficiently. This reduces the amount of water lost to run-off and preferential flow

“Revolution is one of the very few products that makes a dramatic difference and actually changes the way turf is managed. It affects everything including the turf, the distribution of water, fertilisers, and other materials” – Sam Rhodes, Woodhall Spa GC.

Most courses have best management practices in place for their properties, but not all commit them to paper in a formal document. There are a number of resources available that provide guidance and templates for creating one, but should you bother? Absolutely.

Water conservation is a realistic goal, with both environmental and financial upsides.

Like it or not, the call for sustainability – and the challenges that presents – are going to be big issues for a long time. Doing what you can at your course does more than just protect a diminishing global resource – it protects your course, your job, and the future of the sports turf industry.