Talk of the Toon

Talk of the Toon: In meeting a host of people from the industry over the years, it’s not unusual to hear someone say they wished they’d moved into their role earlier in their career. So, when Duncan Toon uttered those very words during a visit to Warwick School it didn’t come as a complete surprise.

What was surprising, however, is that Duncan, who was appointed Grounds Manager at Warwick Independent Schools Foundation in June of last year, had come from an excellent job at one of the country’s top football clubs – and he is yet to dip his toe into his 30s!

Talk of the Toon

As Deputy Head Groundsman at Birmingham City’s Training Ground, Duncan was dealing with highly skilled footballers, managers and coaches, and experiencing the buzz of Saturday afternoon home games or midweek matches under the lights at St Andrews. But it is the challenge of preparing eight hectares of natural turf and a brand new 3G rugby pitch for children of all ages which is now really getting his juices flowing.

The Foundation comprises King’s High School for girls aged 11-18 (incorporating Warwick Preparatory School for boys and girls aged 3-7 and girls aged 7-11) and Warwick School for boys aged 7-18. I met with Duncan at Warwick School, which is reputed to be the oldest boys’ public school in the world, having a history stretching, remarkably, back to 914. The focal point of the Warwick School’s sporting facilities is the truly magnificent sports pavilion, one that would do credit to many a County Cricket Ground.

The Halse Pavilion was revamped and modernised in 2013 and was opened by Lord Coe, just year after being Mr London Olympics.

“Working for top end football, at the elite end of sport, was rewarding but the focus was always football. The challenges and the rewards of moving to a multi-sport environment are massive,” said Duncan, as he showed me round his impressive place of work.

“Also, the investment levels schools now make in their maintenance facilities means there are fewer differences to football clubs than you might expect.”

In that regard, Duncan found himself to be very much the right man at the right time because his appointment coincided with a decision by the Foundation to invest significantly in its sports facilities. As a result, Duncan has benefited from being given the freedom to restructure and expand the team and to purchase a range of new machinery to enable the highest standards to be achieved.

Prior to Duncan’s arrival the small team was battling gamely, with minimal and aging machinery, to prepare pitches and keep the grounds under control. The schools were achieving huge successes in sport and winning national competitions, but the strain on resources was beginning to show and investment was needed to ensure pupils could continue to enjoy high quality sporting provision in the long term.

“When I first started, time frames for preparing pitches were tight, making us hugely vulnerable to weather disruption,” recalled Duncan.

Talk of the Toon

“I came for my interview during, last year’s heatwave and the grounds were burnt up and not in the best of shape. The team was doing a great job, but it was clear additional resources were going to be needed. If it had been a wetter summer, with the grass growing, it would have been a real challenge to keep on top of it.”

That heatwave did, however, prove to be the silver lining around the rainless clouds – it’s a stupid meteorologically- based metaphor, I know, but run with it – as it was the catalyst for the first of the School’s major investments at the start of Duncan’s time at the school.

“The first thing we did was put in a borehole – it basically sold itself. I got in a specialist to advise us and within two months it had been approved and then drilled and it has helped us enormously. We have a license for 20,000 litres a day and we are no longer running static sprinklers off taps. That was expensive, so in the long run our borehole will save us money as well as make our lives so much easier.”

With that solution in place, next in line was the machinery.

“The school had invested in a Toro Sidewinder which is great, but we still needed bigger machines and our tractors were very old. I sat down with the Deputy Head of Estates & Operations, Sam Hanson in early March 2019 and we prepared a presentation to ask the Governors for additional investment, which they agreed. It has allowed us to purchase a number of carefully-selected machines to ensure we are fully resourced going into the future,” revealed Duncan.

Among them is the Dennis PRO 34R which has been a huge benefit on both presentation and clean-ups.

“We use it to clean the pitch up after rugby matches and also after training sessions and the brush on the front is a big bonus as it enables you to really get into the sward.

“You’re achieving two key maintenance tasks with it – you are cleaning up all the debris and you are also getting that amazing finish.

I’m really impressed with it.

“They have been arriving over the last few months and everything should be here in time for the start of the next academic year in September.”

With the machines coming on stream, Duncan then had to ensure that there was a quality team to utilise them. His first recruit was Scott Danter, who came from West Warwickshire Sports Centre and started at the same time as Duncan.

“He’s a brilliant worker with a real work ethic and bought into everything we were doing here,” said Duncan, who seems to have a magic touch when it comes to building a strong team, with both existing staff and the new staff recruited over the last 12 months being fully committed to the new regime.

Duncan’s new Deputy, Matt Barnes, was the second appointment, bringing experience in the independent schools sector. He was enticed by the Foundation’s “Project One Campus” which will bring all its schools together in one location by building a new home for King’s High, currently located in the town centre, on the same site as Warwick School and Warwick Preparatory School. King’s High is moving across this summer, with the final elements of the project delivered in September 2020.

Talk of the Toon

Warwick School has historically been a noted rugby school, having produced many fine players in its time, but in reality offers outstanding opportunities in a range of other sports, as does King’s High. The site’s sporting provision allows for cricket, hockey, netball, athletics, rounders and more. It has meant a significant learning curve for Duncan, but he is making full use of the wonderful knowledge-sharing opportunities across the industry.

“I’ve been asking questions of everyone – left, right and centre – and having taken on staff with experience has been important too.”

Those whom Duncan has been grateful to learn from include Gary Barwell, of Edgbaston, current Groundsman of the Year, and Andy Richards, Head Groundsman of Shrewsbury School.

“Before getting the job and starting, I did a lot of reading up and Andy Lee, Head Groundsman at Birmingham Training Ground, helped me to get in touch with various people which was extremely helpful.”

Since taking over, Duncan has brought some of the approaches adopted for a regular match days at a top football club into life at the Foundation.

“Working at the training ground involved a busy schedule; there was a non-stop nature to the job and an awareness that you have to finish your job before someone else can start. That approach really helps a team to thrive and is one the revitalised team here has fully embraced.” he explained.

Ah, that team. It has doubled in size and is now six strong: it says much for the endeavours of the team before Duncan’s arrival that even now they have to work flat out to maintain a site measuring 11 hectares all in.

Having received everything he has asked for over the first year of his time in the job, Duncan has put himself under pressure to deliver on all fronts.

“A healthy sense of expectation is what we all need to give of our best. The whole team wants better, and we have been empowered to achieve it. We’ve got a fantastic team and some great machines. The only way I can see us going is up.”

The 3G rugby pitch, with its bright blue border, sits at the heart of the facility and Duncan has ensured that some of the new machines purchased were made to ensure that expensive  new pitch was cared for throughout its lifespan. “You must invest in machines to maintain the 3G because they aren’t maintenance free. A lot of hours go into keeping it up to a top standard.”

“With the industry growing so fast, I like to take advantage of the new technologies coming out. Our initial athletic and rugby markings are done by GPS, saving time and making  sure the markings are perfect.”

Listening to Duncan, he comes over as unflappable and organised and when he says that his ambition for where the school will be in five year is to have standards as high as is possible – “I really think we will be up there” – you can’t help but believe him.

The good news for Duncan is that when it comes to ambition – being on the desirable side of 30 – he will have plenty of time to fulfil them.

The Agronomic Elephant In The Room

The Agronomic Elephant In The Room: Dr Minshad Ansari, left, discusses the Leatherjacket and Chafer Grub problem with Scott MacCallum.

The agronomic elephant in the room over the last 15 years has been what on earth will we do when chemicals we’ve relied upon for decades to ensure our turf can fight back against attacks from pests and diseases are removed from the authorised lists.

The Agronomic Elephant In The Room

We have benefited from the great work being carried out in laboratories across the world to replace those active ingredients, which are no longer with us, with alternatives which have often been more effective and better than what they have replaced.

However, there is one area in which the loss of the recognised chemical has had a major impact on the quality of turf greenkeepers and groundsmen have been able to prepare.

Leatherjackets and Chafer Grubs are relishing the freedom that a chemical-free playground has given them and the damage they are inflicting on turf is enough to reduce the most stoic of turf managers to tears.

It has got so bad in recent times that an Emergency Summit was held by Dr Minshad Ansari, Founder and CEO of Biomena, to pool all necessary expertise and look at what could be done to counter the Leatherjack and Chafer Grubs infestations.

The Agronomic Elephant In The Room

“I’ve been in the industry for 10 years now and seen the widening problem of Leatherjackets and Chafer Grubs but even I was surprised when I saw the damage caused by Leatherjackets at a golf club in Kent. Five greens were completely destroyed as a result of the damage,” Dr Ansari, told Turf Matters.

“Whereas it was very easy to put the chemical pesticide into a tank and go off and spray the recognised active ingredients came off the lists in 2016 and there has been no alternative. The problem is going to accelerate if few don’t do anything,” he explained, of the imidacloprid and chlorpyrifos which have now been banned.

A short term sticking plaster solution has been found with Syngenta receiving emergency authorisation for Acelepryn reapproved for turf for the 2019 season. It has been permitted for use in situations where there is an acknowledged instance of economic damage, or risk of bird strike on airfields and where the product has been recommended by a BASIS qualified agronomist.

The approval will be in place until September 30 of this year.

The Emergency Summit has a host of influential speakers including Professor John Moverley, of the Amenity Forum; Dr Kate Entwistle, and Dr Colin Fleming, and covered topics including Major turf pests and disjeases; the rising threats of plant parasitic nematodes in turf; the biology of Chafers and Leatherjackets; the role of Biostimulants in turf management and root development. Dr Ansari is working closely with Swansea University on biological solutions using nematodes and ensuring that they are utilised to best effect to bring about the most effective outcomes.

“Nematodes do produce results but we have to learn how to use them properly otherwise people will be dissatisfied with the results. There is a way to apply them to get the best results. We are looking at the Leatherjacket and Chafer Grub lifecycle, at which stage they cause damage and at which stage are they most susceptible to nematodes. Learning about the pest is important in order to get the control we are looking for,” said Dr Asari.

The Agronomic Elephant In The Room

“The nematodes can do the job if they are applied in the proper manner – without a problem.”

If there was a key headline to have come out of the Emergency Summit it was that Integrated Pest Management was the solution going forward.

“Whether you have a chemical or biological product you have to use it in such a way that you can get the best control of the pest. There is no single solution,” explained Dr Ansari, who added that better results are achieved by using a wetting agent in conjunction with the use of the nematodes.

Should the status quo remain, more golf courses will be rendered unplayable, or less enjoyable to play, and the work being carried out to find means to resolve the problem is welcome and necessary.

A Great Place To Be

A Great Place To Be: Scott MacCallum catches up with Phil Helmn, the man with the most diverse job in turf management…

I often interview turf managers at multiple use venues and marvel at their ability to switch from preparing a high quality cricket pitch to mastering the intricacies of marking out a 400 metre athletic track. However, I have just spoken with a turf manager for whom no turf related scenario is out of bounds.

A Great Place To Be

Phil Helmn is General Manager Sports Turf Grounds and Gardens at the iconic and wonderful Goodwood Estate and in addition to managing the golf courses, the cricket pitches, and all the areas around the famous house, at the hotel he also has kennels under his remit, and has to ensure that the grass airfield is functioning well and entirely safe for aircraft to land.

Oh yes, and he must ensure that the grass in the Estate fields operates at maximum yield for the cattle and sheep to eat while at the same time ensuring that the surface is strong enough, and of a suitable mixture, to recover from hosting marquees and structures which form part of the many huge events held at Goodwood.

Unless anyone can tell me differently I can’t think of any turf manager dealing with such a diverse portfolio, even allowing for the fact that Phil’s extensive remit doesn’t stretch as far as that other iconic Goodwood feature – the racecourse.

“That might be true, but I can’t honestly say I’m winning at any of it,” laughed Phil, for whom the comfort zone was very much golf course management until his talents, ability to take on challenges and manage a large team was identified by the Goodwood Directors and his job grew.

“We are, however, all working hard to ensure we get the best results we can.” Phil arrived at Goodwood five years ago as Course Manager for the Parks and the Downs 18 hole courses.

“I was promoted two years later and now have a team of 30 full time and 15 seasonals in the summer to look after all aspects of our grounds and sports facilities. The whole site is 12,000 acres, much of it forestry, but that’s a heck of a lot and even with 45 staff in the summer it’s not really enough. We could really do with more.”

Phil is in charge of six departments in total – Simon Berry is Head Greenkeeper for the Parks Course; Rob Dyer for the Downs Course; Andy Boxall is the Head Groundsman for the Airfield and the Main Grounds; Richard Geffin is the Head Groundsman for the cricket; Adrian Gale is the Head Mechanic and Georgina Page is the Head Gardener. He himself reports to Adam Waterworth, Goodwood’s Sports Director. Ultimately they all report to the Duke of Richmond, whose vision was the current Goodwood Estate back in the early 1990s and whose ability to harness a high quality team made it all happen.

A Great Place To Be

Phil meets with each Departmental Head on a one to one basis every week and while keeping on top of things is manageable, balancing the ying and the yang of the job is a task.

“A golf green has to perform differently to a cricket wicket and they both have to perform differently to a grass runway. The lawns are all different too, and then there are the fields where there is a conflict between parking 10,000 cars for a Festival of Speed or a Revival, and having grazing sheep and cattle. I have to learn about the right grass for a dairy herd so that they produce more milk or that sheep can be sold to market earlier.”

As for that runway, “MJ Abbott were contracted to level it recently. It is predominately rye grass with elements of the new tetraploids to assist with wear and tear,” he revealed.

While the diversity of challenge is what keeps his juices flowing it was golf which was his calling card into Goodwood.

“I grew up with golf, my dad was the pro at Morecambe Golf Club and I went to Myerscough College to study turf management,” explained Phil, whose career took him to the States and Cyprus before working on a new project at Heythrop Park, in Chipping Norton. From there to Goodwood, initially to manage the two golf courses. Phil attributes much of his success at Heythrop to the quality of his greens.

This is where he worked initially with David Snowden of Agronomic Services Ltd. With this target in mind, when he arrived at Goodwood, he chose to call upon Agronomic Services Ltd once more and work again with David Snowden, whom he describes as an extended member of the team.

“He’s a very clever man, and while he doesn’t wear a Goodwood t-shirt we definitely see him as one of our team. Phil jokes, “perhaps we should get him a Goodwood t-shirt.”

“The mind set I had at Heythrop was that it was all about the greens. If you can get them right most greenkeepers will tell you that you are pretty much on a winner. So, with David’s expertise, we worked out the best programmes based on Ana-Lync and we really got them singing. It was satisfying to see that when I left, they were in lovely condition,” explained Phil.

A Great Place To Be

“Coming to Goodwood I had a great working relationship with David and knew that the products he used would definitely make a difference. Hey presto we’re five years in and we have achieved what we were looking for from our greens.”

“Heythrop was a complete new build 80-20 fen dress to a USGA spec. Here The Downs course is on pure sand on top of a chalk hill so it’s extremely challenging. The Parks course is a different beast, a standard 70-30 mix and much easier to manage. We describe it as a mellow pensioner whereas the Downs is a temperamental teenager.

With two courses which are almost polar opposites Agronomic Services Ltd had to find two different types of solutions for separate growing conditions and different soils on the two courses, which each raised their own unique challenges. David works very closely with Simon and Rob communicating on a regular basis and bringing his expertise, combined with the work and day to day knowledge of the Head Greenkeepers and their teams.

Producing the desired results certainly didn’t involve a one-size- fits-all approach. Regular course walks with David, followed by soil and water testing utilising Ana-Lync for reporting and analysis, and then the creation a bespoke roadmap (Turf Action Plan) for each course, individually. The constant and combined monitoring of the course by the Head Greenkeepers and the team and the technical support, all come together to create excellent results.

The Downs was tackled with a combination of RZA Ceramic Granules, Eon Bio and soil enhancers, which enabled ‘tied up’ elements to become unlocked and therefore available in the rootzone.

“The products are great. They do exactly what they say on the tin and with David’s skill in combining them, it means that we can fine tune to exactly what we need. They are definitely the Rolls Royce of products – not cheap but I made savings elsewhere within my budget so I knew that I could have the control we need using the Floratine foliar feeds, combined with Agronomics soil liquids.”

While the work with Agronomic Services allows them to control the controllables Phil knows there is much more he can’t do anything about. “I know sports turf people will be able to empathise with me. My moods swings are tied in to the weather. If it’s good grass growing weather I’m usually pretty chipper but if it’s too dry or too cold I’m in a much lower mood.

“But what I’ve noticed most here is that if I’m praying for rain because I want to put on some fertiliser on the golf course I also need it to be dry over on the runway or the fields because I want those areas to be dry to peak. There is no perfect weather now for me now there are so many different areas with different needs.”

A Great Place To Be

However, with a glass half full rather than the reverse approach, Phil is adjusting his thinking.

“I’ve learned that whatever the weather it doesn’t matter. If it’s wet it’s going to suit the golf and if it’s dry it’s ok because I can do some topdressing. The area we look after is so huge each area will need different things. No matter the weather it’s ideal for something! So, to be honest, it’s fine I just have to take it as it comes.”

With the great and the good, not to mention the “A” list stars converging on Goodwood on a regular basis, particularly for the Festival of Speed and the Revival events, Phil has to pinch himself that he is a key part in the success of it all.

“It’s probably the best place I’ve ever worked, and I have worked at some lovely places and I’ve had a blast in my career, but the culture here on the Estate is fantastic, the diversity of what we deal with is also fantastic. But it is the culture which has got me the most.

It is very nurturing full of excitement and enthusiasm – let’s work out how we can do it, rather than thinking we can’t.

“It’s all positive vibes and a ‘Let’s go get ’em” attitude and it suits my personality and character perfectly.”

That’s not to say that he revels in the excitement of mixing with Formula One drivers and Hollywood stars. He never switches off fully.

“The events are wonderful here but, of course, like any greenkeeper will tell you, you walk around with a notepad thinking this will need doing tomorrow and I just get the lads to do that. Maybe a marquee could be moved six inches because it’s nudging up against a hedge. It goes with the territory. Even when you are off duty you are thinking ‘That’s going to be a mess when they take that tent down’.”

Speaking with Phil you do get the feeling that no matter what he is left to clean up at Goodwood he will do so with a broad smile on his face.

How Turf Changed Tennis

How Turf Changed Tennis: The STRI’s Mark Ferguson explains how an improvement in the grass deployed on tennis courts changed the way in which the game was played, writes Scott MacCallum.

Remember back to the Wimbledons of the 70s and 80s. There was little British involvement beyond the second round; in the second week the courts looked like a yellow massive “T” surrounded by varying shades of green; and, for the men at least, a rally of over five shots was something of a novelty.

How Turf Changed Tennis

It was the days of Ilie Nastase, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Roscoe Tanner, and the man with the best name in the sport – Vitas Gerulaitis. It was all white balls and wooden racquets. It was also the days of the “You cannot be serious!” and “Chalk dust blew up!” moments, and the bad bounce.

To a significant degree it was the bad bounces which forced players to adopt a serve and volley approach, rather than remain at the back of the court trying to work openings but risk a low bounce ruining all the great lead up work. Racquet technology improved dramatically in the 80s and led to the grass court game becoming dominated by big servers. This meant that the game was dominated by short rallies and became predictable.

That was all to change in the 90s.

The STRI had always been involved with Wimbledon on an advisory basis, but it was in the early 90s that they became more heavily involved with the All England Club and The Championships.

As part of that a whole raft of research, surveys and botanical assessments of the courts were carried out – a programme which continues to this day.

“The most important trial was the ‘Grasses for Tennis’ trial which was set up in 1993,” explained Mark Ferguson, the STRI’s Research Manager.

“What quickly became apparent was that there were better grasses out there which could be used on the courts.

That wasn’t the fault of anyone as no research had been done prior to that and new breeding technology had only recently brought in new varieties.”

The new cultivars of perennial ryegrass provided a much better surface. More consistent than the old seed mixtures that had been based on golf course grasses such as bent and fescues, which quickly became invaded with annual meadow-grass.

“At the start of The Championships, the surface had a low bounce due to the cushioning effect of the poa, but as it wore down (to avoid using out twice?) whole plants kicked out, leaving bare patches which led to unusually high bounces. This encouraged players to keep rallies short.

How Turf Changed Tennis

With the arrival of the new rye grasses the game changed, the courts became much more consistent and players were confident enough to play from the back of courts which performed a bit more like hard courts, albeit the ball came through much more quickly.” explained Mark, who has been STRI’s Mr Wimbledon for 13 years.

“The work that has been done on grasses has played a big part in the way the game has been played.”

The current Wimbledon mixture is supplied by Limagrain and has been used for the last 10 years. It comes from three cultivars – Melbourne, Malibu and Venice.

“Breeding has hit a bit of a ceiling, improvements are now more marginal. Ryegrasses have become so good now that it is difficult to genetically engineer something which is better. There are some coming through and there are some excellent companies out there which have had great success in trials and they are tested at Wimbledon as part of the trial work.”

As part of Mark’s wider role, he is involved with the Lawn Tennis Association, ensuring that all the venues used by the LTA receive support and advice.

This is important as a few years ago the future of grass court tennis was in some doubt particularly with the US Open moving away from grass courts in 1975 and the Australian Open following in 1988.

“Funnily enough I’ve just finished writing an article called the ‘The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Grass Courts’.

When tennis became a sport everyone played on grass. Clay became an alternative in Europe and then in the 70s and 80s we got the hard courts as the game became much more fashionable. These courts were much more maintenance friendly, although I only recently learned that the US Open courts are resurfaced every year,” explained Mark, adding that the ITF now recognise 10 official surfaces but there are hundreds of variants within them.

Mark spends time visiting lawn tennis clubs up and down the country offering advice and support at places which don’t have large budgets – perhaps a one-man band looking after the courts. It is part of the LTA’s use of the revenue – £40 million a year is the latest quoted figure – which comes from The Championships.

“They can’t afford to do everything they would like, but they are doing their best to prepare a good surface and we can really help these people.

“There has to be a grass court legacy within the UK for Wimbledon to survive as a grass court tournament. There has to be a grass court season so that players can become accustomed to the grass each year and that Wimbledon doesn’t become a grass court tournament in isolation,” explained Mark.

Today’s Wimbledon is a massive sporting event – Mark believes that it is the biggest annual sporting event in the world – and Mark and his four strong team attend from the week in advance of The Championships each year.

How Turf Changed Tennis

They take daily measurements on each court, including practice courts and the qualifying courts at the Bank of England Sports Club, using the famous old Clegg impact hammer, to measure surface hardness. Soil moisture readings, ball bounce, chlorophyll index and live grass cover is also measured.

“To measure live grass cover we go to the same eight areas on each court, every day and take a count of live grass, that’s 800 spot identifications per court, per day.”

All measurements are processed and made available to Neil Stubley to direct specific management on Championships and practice courts. If, for example, a player questions the playing quality of a court, the measurements can prove that surface characteristics are consistent with other courts and other Championships.

“We have readings for every court going back to the 1990s so we can demonstrate objectively how a court is performing compared to previous years.”

Mark is a friendly, interesting and open interviewee, but there was one question which elicited a more cautious response than the others.

“Can we say now that the courts are measurably better than they were a number of years ago?” That was the question.

“I hate to use the phrase ‘better than ever’ as it is a real hostage to fortune and can become a stick to beat you with. We aim for surface characteristics to fall within certain parameters, but there are a number of factors that can influence how courts play, the weather is an obvious one, also hours of play, type of play etc”.

“Last year for example the two men’s semi-finals went to five hours 15 minutes (Djokavic-Nadal) and six hours 36 minutes (Anderson-Isner) and that put so much wear into Centre Court for the final two days. A year before there were much shorter semis and the wear would have been much less. However, Centre Court still played great for the final weekend.”

By the same token the Centre Court roof has not had a real impact on the day-to-day condition of the surface, but in another way, it does make a difference.

How Turf Changed Tennis

“The roof on Centre Court is at the north end so it doesn’t impact in terms of shade but what the roof does bring is continuous play when the rain comes. Live TV want play all the time so there is a temptation to overuse the court, and it needs to still be in good condition on day 13. Other courts are brought out of play as the fortnight progresses and there are fewer matches to play.”

With the No.1 Court roof coming into use at this year’s Championships the Centre Court workload can be managed a little more easily.

Mark is seen very much as part of the Wimbledon team, travelling down from his base in Bingley once a month throughout the year and more regularly as The Championships approach and he works very closely with Neil and his team.

Mark is immersed in tennis and doing what he can to ensure that the traditions and beauty of the grass court game are maintained, but he certainly doesn’t see it as a chore.

“For me it’s not just another job. It is an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be involved with Wimbledon. It’s an honour to be down there each year and to have an input in a positive way on what goes on.”

It’s fair to say that with Mark’s expertise and the talents of Neil Stubley and his team the future of Wimbledon is secure for the long, long term.

Memories Are Made Of This

Memories Are Made Of This: Scott MacCallum returns to a place where he has spent quite a bit of time and created many wonderful memories, as he talks with Angus McLeod at The Belfry.

There are some places with which you just have a connection. Somewhere which see memories reignited or future memories created.

Memories Are Made Of This

The Belfry is one such place for me. I visited for the first time in 1985 when my younger brother and I drove down from Scotland to watch the final two days of the Ryder Cup. It was the furthest I’d ever driven and remarkably at that time you could just pay at the gate for the Ryder Cup.

On the Sunday afternoon we shouted some words of encouragement to Sam Torrance as he played the 10th, three down to Andy North. We were the only ones lining that particular fairway and I reckon Sam heard. He did look over, somewhat disconsolately it must be said.

Anyhow we know what happened after that and we were positioned alongside the 18th fairway when Sam clinched the Cup for the first time in a huge number of years, raising his arms in that pillar box red sweater.

I suppose my brother and I could claim some credit for that pep talk and turning Sam’s fortunes around, but we have let Tony Jacklin take most of the plaudits for the win.

Since then I have won a Pro-Am over the Brabazon, winning a lovely print of the 10th hole; I won a raffle for a fourball which ended up costing a small fortune as we stayed for two nights and racked up quite a bill.

I also chatted with Ryder Cup Captain Bernard Gallacher while we stood alone on the 18th fairway, watching Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie narrowly lose their Saturday afternoon fourball to John Cook and Chip Beck during the ’93 Ryder Cup. It was a nice memory for me, not so much for Bernard.

It is a place with so many recollections for me, for sure.

So, it was great to visit once again and catch up with Director of Golf Courses and Estates, Angus McLeod. The chat was videoed and we had the privilege of sitting in the Ryder Cup room, overlooking the iconic golf course to conduct it.

Memories Are Made Of This

Angus has been at The Belfry for seven years and while he still pinches himself that he is in charge of such a world renowned venue, he is also extremely comfortable in his surroundings.

So much so that he and his team tackled a re-design of that very 10th hole, the one where Sam received those words of wisdom from two young Scottish lads.

It is probably the most famous short par-4 in world golf but Angus believed that, by undoing an amendment that had been made earlier and returning it to something more closely resembling its original guise, an improvement could be made.

“When you look at YouTube videos of the original 10th it had three bunkers on a plateau on the right side of the green. That changed with one massive bunker which went right up the bank. In all honesty it didn’t look very good and it was a nightmare to maintain. So, we took the bold step of taking it back to the three bunkers again. We wanted to reinvent it,” explained Angus.

The hole came to the golfing world’s attention when Seve famously drove the green – there is a plaque on the tee to commemorate the feat – and Angus didn’t want to stop big hitting visitors from attempting to emulate the late lamented Spaniard by reducing the size of the green.

“We wanted to encourage golfers to have a go, so we wanted to keep the width the same and put in the three bunkers towards the edge of the green,” explained Angus, of work which was done entirely in-house.

“Dave Thomas one of the original architects is sadly no longer with us, while the other, Peter Alliss, is now retired from course design otherwise we would have involved them,” said Angus, who met the world famous commentator at a recent awards’ ceremony in Portugal and had a long chat with him about The Belfry.

Memories Are Made Of This

“It is something we do following consultations with our bosses and we always have the architects’ original intent very much in mind. It was something we did for playability reasons and I’d like to think that we have helped the course.”

They have also worked on the 11th, adding in three new bunkers and realigning the green.

In truth, has been quite a bit of work done on the course since that Ryder Cup back in 1985. Then the notably holes were the 9th, 10th and 18th, each with water adding to the jeopardy. Those holes are still superb but they have been joined by many more outstanding holes.

“There is no weak hole on the course. My favourite is the par-5 3rd with the lake on the left hand side. The green used to be tucked up on the right and it was a fairly benign hole but now there is a real risk and reward and it makes us such a great matchplay venue.”

As a place which many people aspire to play and perhaps only have the opportunity to visit once the onus on the greenkeeping team to ensure championship conditions every day is very much at the forefront of minds.

Essential work still needs to be carried out to achieve standards but that explanation won’t wash if it is being carried out on a visitor or corporate guest’s one and only visit.

“It is very tough to achieve. I have a fantastic team and standards and expectations are high so we try to produce a golf course to tournament condition every day – not easy to do.”

So how is it done?

“We’re like Ninja greenkeepers,” laughed Angus, whose role is very much now strategic but who always makes sure he divots the tees each morning.

“It allows me to see the golf course but my friends say that I’m the most highly qualified divitor in the history of greenkeeping,” said Angus.

“We try to do everything sympathetically, whether it be renovation work or aerification because we know we are a 365 venue. We try never to close the courses. We are lucky that we have 60 greens on site which are all pure sand and are very free draining.

“The level of intense aerification has reduced over the years. We still punch holes but it is very much with a small tine and we roll straight away afterwards. Also we aren’t too wet – 600mil average – as most rain comes from the west and it usually dissipates by the time it gets to us.”

A man of Inverness, Angus moved south from his local club to Wales and Newport Golf Club before entering the world of Resort Golf when he took over at Belton Woods, in Lincolnshire.

“I set goals for myself over the years and that is something I do with the team here. There are so many parts of our industry that you can diversify – turf management, workshop, irrigation etc. You can find a niche and there is a defined career path.”

Memories Are Made Of This

“I tell the boys that there are opportunities out there for them but that they will have to get out of their comfort zones.

Angus is a prime example of somehow who practices what he preaches. He pushed himself to go to college when he felt he needed qualifications to make the next step on the ladder.

“I went to Pencoed College, in South Wales and did a two year management course. This was a mandatory requirement for this job. It was tough as I was still running a golf club and as you get older it’s tougher to retain information.

“I had a really good job at a really good club and could have retired there but I needed another challenge and it opened the door to moving into working at big resorts.” And it has paid off. A couple of days before our interview Angus and colleagues from The Belfry had been in St Andrews where they picked up the top award at what are the equivalent of the Oscars – the 59 Club.

“We were judged on all aspects of the Resort with 60% of the overall rankings down to the golf course and it’s marked on a mystery shopper basis. “We won a Golf Flag for the PGA National and the Brabazon courses for venues over £75 and then picked up the Ultimate Venue Award at the end of the night which was fantastic.”

It looks like The Belfry is continuing its reputation for creating wonderful memories!

Will It Be Sparks That Make The Clippings Fly?

Will It Be Sparks That Make The Clippings Fly?: James de Havilland gives his thoughts on the advance of the electric or hybrid mower revolution.

Although detractors continue to focus upon the perceived weakness of mowers employing electric, andvto a degree hybrid electric power, change is in the air. Battery technology has advanced, electric motors have become more efficient and control software is both more robust and ‘intelligent’ now than it was.

But is this enough for you to embrace electric or hybrid electric power?

Battery powered greens mowers may have been available before the 1990s launch of Jacobsen E-Walk 100 electric greens mower and the Ransomes E-Plex but it can be argued it was these mowers helped trigger wider interest among professional users. Then there was the 2005 launch of the John Deere 2500E E-Cut hybrid ride-on greens mower. This particular mower promoted a number of advantages to include the ability to deliver precise and repeatable speeds for the cutting units.

Further, the 2500E E-Cut was claimed to offer improved fuel economy when compared to its all-hydraulic 2500B Precision-Cut diesel hydraulic alternative. That said, for some it
was consistent quality of cut that helped the 2500E win over those who perhaps were wary of switching for proven hydraulics to electric motors to drive the cutting units. By 2010, Deere suggested its hybrid and all- hydraulic ride on models were selling in pretty even numbers in the UK.

Now fast forward to 2019. Full electric and hybrid mowers are no longer big news but, just as in the automotive world, there are those of us who would prefer to just stick with what we know, a petrol or diesel engine driving cylinders and wheels via a mechanical or hydraulic system.

But change is in the air. In the same way that the much talked about move away from proven diesel and petrol to hybrid and full electric cars is a pre- cursor to warming us up to accepting full electric power at some point. And guess what? The same could be true of mowers in the not too distant future too. Full electric and hybrid technology in the automotive sector is evolving fast. Mower manufactures can tap into this.

Why will be largely boiled down to effociency and reducing emissions. An electric motor only consumes power when needed and delivers high torque right from start up. The speed at which the motor spins can be finely tuned and controlled to match a given application, potentially boosting overall efficiency.

With a professional cylinder mower, the ability for the precise control of the cutting unit can be used to deliver a repeatably consistent clip rate. An electric or hybrid mower can be set-up so it will consistently deliver exactly the same performance across all fine turf and with different operators.

But what about whole life costs? In terms of ‘fuel’ use, a lithium battery powered greens mower can cover, for arguments sake, around 9 greens per charge. It could be more for a course with small greens and obviously less for large greens, but these mowers have far more stamina than some suggest. As to fuel cost per green, it remains in pence not pounds.

That is all well and good, but how long do the expensive lithium ion batteries favoured on full battery powered models last before they degrade? If your experience of this battery type is with the item used to power a mobile ‘phone, the chances are you will be rather wary. But these are the wrong items to consider. A better marker is the batteries employed in modern brushless power tools. Experience suggests the small batteries in these tools hold a decent charge over a number of charge cycles and with it a few years of hard use.

What does this have to do with a lithium ion battery powered mower? Nothing directly but it does suggest this battery type can deliver decent performance over an extended period. Compare this to a deep cycle lead acid battery, as used on the first electric mowers and in continued service with electric buggies and utility vehicles, and you expect a pretty steep level of degradation. Modern lithium ion batteries are not the same and have a considerably longer working life, intelligent battery chargers and power management software all having helped improve performance and longevity.

Although a number of electric powered mowers target the golf sector, Allett have been in the broader fine turf and sports sector for a long time too, the company’s original ELMOW electric ne-turf mower launched nearly a decade ago bene ting from advances made in lead-acid battery, motor and controller technology.

The considerably more advanced Allett C34 EVOLUTION cylinder mower now on offer is more advanced. Delivering a 34in cut, this fully electric mower can be fitted with up to four 4Ah lithium ion batteries that, it is claimed, can be charged from ‘ at to full’ in around an hour.

With the original ELMOW, a key aim was to develop a mower that matched
a high quality finish with near silent operation. An added plus was low Hand Arm Vibration. The C34 EVOLUTION builds upon this by adding ease of operation and set up to the mix.

It is also interesting to note how electric power could well lead to greater mower simplicity. The Cub- Cadet INFINICUT mowing system is designed to allow a range of different cassette systems to be slotted into the basic ‘power unit’, the electric drive motor simply clipping on and off the selected unit for speedy swaps.

It is a really interesting design.

A decade ago, the use of electric cylinder greens motors really started to gain ground. It is fair to say some of the first electric and hybrid mowers delivered all that they promised in some instances, but as user and maintenance experience has grown, electric drive is both more familiar and becoming the new normal. If you have yet to try an electric or hybrid mower, you could be missing out.

Coming To Terms With Artificial Pitches

Coming To Terms With Artificial Pitches: Eric O’Donnell, Managing Director of Sports Labs, adds insight into the recent highly publicised debate in Scotland regarding players’ reluctance to playing top league matches on artificial pitches.

PFA Scotland released a press statement regarding the state of pitches in the Scottish football Leagues with the headline statement requesting the ban of artificial turf pitches in the Scottish Premiership.

There were many other points raised such as a request for increased monitoring, testing and support to groundsmen, but these were naturally overlooked in the mainstream media coverage.

This demand had the foundations of a player petition, however there was no differentiation between players who train and play on artificial surfaces because their Club has one, or those training or playing on natural pitches. This demand needs to be tempered against the implications of such a measure and not a knee jerk reaction based on a player petition.

This petition was carried out by the PFA Scotland with their members, however, it is a much more complicated debate as to what is right for the development of the game in Scotland. They only called for the ban on artificial pitches in the Premiership when their members spread across four leagues.

There are many contributory factors to this discussion, such as player safety, participation numbers, player performance and the well highlighted financial impact of utilising artificial surfaces.

The headline-maker, it’s stating the obvious to say that any future ‘ban’ would have significant implications for the clubs involved in a number of ways – promotion and relegation, clubs’ long term planning and of course the day to day commercial consequences. All of these would require any proposed ban to be phased in over an agreed and likely lengthy period of time to allow the clubs affected to consider fully, then prepare for, the implications specific to their league status/circumstances at that time.

Currently, there are three artificial pitches in the Scottish Premiership, Hamilton, Kilmarnock and Livingston, however if we look at other leagues there is a much larger presence of artificial pitches with little negative publicity. So, we pose the question can we learn from the other leagues and the systems they have installed? Do they actually differ to ours, or are the players just more accepting of the artificial surface in these territories?

  • 69%Norway–11 of top 16 clubs in their premiership use artificial
  • 56% Sweden–9 of 16 clubs in their premiership use artificial
  • 42%Finland–5 of 12 clubs in their premiership use artificial
  • 25%Scotland–3 of 12 club sin their premiership use artificial
  • 14 clubs out of 42 (33%) in the four Scottish professional leagues.

To ban artificial pitches in the Premiership would, of course, have a direct impact on grass roots acceptance and will likely have negative impacts on player pools, wider club staffing and crucial internal club structures – perhaps the most concerning from a football development perspective being the youth set ups.

The PFA ultimately used a closed petition with their members but referred to some studies previously carried out such as a player survey in 2012 and the player perception APP carried out with Sports Labs and the Scottish FA. The player perception APP rated surfaces by the players, but also asked a series of questions to understand surface better to improve them.

Many findings came from the player perception APP data which was used by the PFA to shape their demands in the press release, but the mainstream media focused on the poor ratings on the Premiership artificial pitches. There was quite substantial data to suggest there was under performing natural pitches across all leagues, particularly with the two largest clubs in Scotland not making the top 10 of which an artificial pitch achieve. There were also clear findings that players preferred artificial pitches for some criteria and natural pitches for other performance rating criteria. The data can be interpreted many ways.

So, what exactly did the PFA Scotland press release say:

Following consultation via a research survey, the PitchRater App results from season 2017-18 and recent club visits, our members in the Premiership call for the following:

  • Regulation be introduced prohibiting clubs from having artificial surfaces while playing in the Premiership
  • Increased and random testing of all pitches be introduced, including grass pitches

  • Grass pitches must be kept to a high standard and there should be sharing of best practice between all club groundsmen at Premiership level
  • The SPFL should work with PFA Scotland to use the results from the PitchRater App to introduce its own marking system and to continue to improve pitches
  •  Players’ marks to be used by the Scottish FA for Club Licencing purposed rather than those of referees
  • Pitches falling below a certain standard will have an improvement and support plan put in place, which will be monitored

  • In conjunction with Hampden Sports Medicine Clinic, a centralised reporting system should be introduced, with mandatory participation by all 42 clubs reporting instances of injuries and where/how they occur
  •  This would create a database used for research and comparison into injuries to be used for the sharing of recovery rates and techniques
  • In addition to the above, proper research must be introduced immediately into the affect artificial surfaces have longer term on players, especially wear and tear on body/ joints.
  • Attendance from each club’s head groundsman at the annual Pitch Conference, run earlier this season, must be made mandatory.

If the request was upheld can the clubs maintain their balance sheets with external facility charges now on a head-on collision. Playing hours on artificial pitches are considerably more compared to natural. One of the benefits of having the artificial surface is the improvement in social interaction with the local community. Both Hamilton and Kilmarnock have commented on the positive impact of being able to train and play locally. Kilmarnock previously travelled to Glasgow to train.

There was reference to long term injuries, wear and tear but the reality of testing data collection would tip the scales in the opposite direction against natural. There are no safety standards on surface hardness, surface traction not to mention ball surface interaction for natural pitches. So, the question must be posed; how does one quantify the surface hardness and deemit safe and in playable conditions for natural or artificial. There is a distinct difference in natural turf quality during different times in the season.

For artificial turf there is tight FIFA tolerances set and they continually evolve through ongoing research. We can at least say all artificial surfaces in the Premiership in Scotland have a shock absorbing performance of 60- 70% softer than concrete, in line with FIFA Quality Pro tolerances. We can also say every surface has a rotational resistance performance 30 – 45 Nm in line with FIFA Quality Pro tolerances. Furthermore, there is surface deformation and ball surface interaction tests. Surely the motion should be to quantify what is a good natural pitch in modern times? Would that not help re-align pitch quality and safety?

Unlike any other league, Scotland implements random spot checks three times a season on artificial, so why are the players not accepting of artificial? We want to use the data and feedback to improve the products used. We have the opportunity to improve surfaces for all users if we can marry the player perception with quantifiable data.

There were many positive outcomes of the player perception APP such
as an interactive Scottish Artificial and Turfgrass Seminar with ground staff to support them, the presence of a leading UEFA turf consultant and the inauguration of an active groundsman’s forum.Using the player feedback, engaging with the groundsman and using quantifiable test protocols based on player feedback is a very good option. So, in summary, we revert back to considering all implications and having a balanced debate for the development of the game. Is banning artificial in the Premiership the right move or as we have suggested sure there not be a call for information and investigate other corrective action that can be taken to listen to players and imp rove artificial and, yes, natural as well.

Scott MacCallum Chats To Ben Hastie

Scott MacCallum Chats To Ben Hastie: Scott MacCallum caught up with Ben Hastie, the man with the toughest job in turf maintenance as he prepared for…

There is some debate about which sporting turf suffers the greatest damage when hosting the particular event for which it has been so lovingly prepared.

Rugby Union has a case to be made, with 16 men mountains pushing against each other in modern day scrums, exerting tonnes of pressure onto the turf. Motocross is another, while cross country running, with

a huge eld of competitors on a wet day, leaves quite an impression. But there is one sport, and one event in particular, which undoubtedly comes out on top in the damage to turf stakes.

The Cheltenham Festival is hands-down the winner, and Head Groundsman, Ben Hastie, is the man who has to watch turf, he has spent 12 months lovingly nurturing, being churned up on a scale which would have most turf professionals breaking out in a cold sweat and seeking out the nearest padded cell.

And no, I’m not talking about the turf which braces itself for the influx of thousands of beer-drinking punters to the Guinness Village. Although the shortest routes to the various bars do take quite a pounding.

Ben and his team ensure that the 28 races over the four days of the Festival take place on track which is as safe, and aesthetically pleasing, as is possible. With an average of 120 horses each day, every one equipped with four legs and four mighty hooves, on ground which can range from fast and rm to good soft and, soft and heavy, it’s certainly no easy task.

“I would say that horses, given the weight and speed that they are travelling, cause more damage to turf than in other sports,” said Ben, as we spoke a month, before the Festival.

“We can have the course looking absolutely perfect and just one horse running round can make it look like a churned eld. Last year we had ground which was soft, heavy in places and the hoof prints were going in literally a foot. It is hard work for the horses but hard work for us too to get the track back in shape for the next race,” said Ben, recalling the meeting which took place in the middle of the Beast from the East, about which more later.

So, how does the Cheltenham team ensure that the stage – watched by 70,000 visitors each day and many millions more on television screens across the world and often described as “The Greatest Show on Turf” – is at its best for each one of the races?

“Our racing season starts with a meeting in October but prior to that I’ve already identified an area of saved ground for every bit of the track which then doesn’t get run on until the Festival. It means the ground we use at the Festival in March hasn’t been run on for a whole year. If we experience poor conditions we also have the option of moving the rail to protect ground, something which we can do here because, like the likes of Aintree and Ascot, we are bigger than most courses and our track is wider,” said Ben.

“In terms of stability that is a massive help to us, while we make good use of germination sheets to attract a bit more light and heat to specific areas. We are also constantly seeding and over-seeding when conditions allow while we have a system which allows us to pre-germinate to get the seed to ‘chit’ a little bit earlier to get it advanced from where it would be normally. We nd that is a big help.”

The team is also road testing lighting rigs, specifically for the winners’ enclosure.

“The enclosure sits behind the stand and while that’s ok in the summer when the sun is high, during the Festival it doesn’t get sunlight and heat. After each race the rst four come into the winners’ enclosure with the rest going to the unsaddling enclosure, which has an astroturf surface so

we don’t need to worry about that. However, the winners’ enclosure is turf and with four horses for each of the 28 races having buckets of water thrown over them to cool down and walking around trampling the soaking wet turf we do struggle with it. So

we are testing the lighting rigs to see if this will help improve this area.

“We are constantly thinking about what we can do to help weak areas. We are a winter sport and the sun is just not high enough to make a difference when we need it. Fences never move and the take off and landing areas tend to get a lot of damage so trying to get these areas to come back when soil temperatures are very low is a bit of an issue. That’s the reason we have the saved ground,” he explained.

There are 16 racing days a year at Cheltenham but the racecourse is never quiet with something on most days, ranging from pony racing to music festivals – complete with campers – and charity runs.

As to the race days themselves they are full on with a race every half an hour, split across the two courses – the Old and the New – the New generally hosts the steeplechase races and the Old the hurdle races.

To cope, Ben’s regular team of 12 is in ated considerably for regular race meetings and even more so for the Festival.

“I have a team of 50 treaders, supplied by an outside contractor, which goes out with forks and treads in each hoof print, ipping it back and making it as level as possible. The team splits up around the course into groups of two or three and they each cover around 100 yards of track until they arrive at where the next team started.

“As soon as racing is nished for the day the team is straight out with soil

and seed and ll every single hoof print created that day. The job is usually nished in the morning because of lack of light. In some conditions you get hooves going in up to a foot, theseThe holes are lled with soil so the horses for the next races have a level playing eld. It’s so important for the safety to horse and rider.

“Sometimes we will use a ring roller and roll in front of the team pushing some of the divots back into place to give them a bit of a hand but generally it’s all done with their feet and a fork.”

For a regular meeting, Ben marshals a staff of between 90 and 100, while at the Festival this grows to around 130.

“During the Festival we bring in teams from other racecourses including Aintree, Nottingham, Warwick and Wincanton. It’s really good for the guys from the smaller courses as it allows them to see how a big event is run, but it is also great for me because I know that they know what they are doing because they do the job every single day. They are a massive help for me. We are a big area and I need eyes and ears everywhere,” said Ben, who added that three weeks after the Festival he and some of his team go and help out at Aintree for the Grand National.

So, in many ways, for the week of the Festival Ben is in a similar position to a Golf Course Manager during The Open Championship or at the Ryder Cup when there is an army of people to manage.

“I won’t be able to speak with every one of them every day but we have a briefing meeting at the beginning of the week and the treaders are split into teams of 10 with a team leader for each and I speak with them. “I have a really good Assistant

Head, Tim Fewster, and he works closely with all the teams. Even when the ground conditions are really good there is still plenty of work to be done looking after the fences and the like. During a race many things can happen, when I’m in other areas of the course so I rely of them to be able to resolve any issues which might come up.”

A Festival day for Ben begins at 5.30am when he meets Clerk of the Course, Simon Claisse, and between them they walk the course, checking for any going changes and discussing any other issues which may need resolving before racing begins.

“I’m then managing the guys and making sure jobs are being before I go to bed I’m thinking about what I need to do the next day. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to it,” said Ben, who started as a golf greenkeeper at Cherwell Edge Golf Club in Banbury before moving to Kirtklington Golf Club before a chance to take his love of horse racing into his professional life when a job came up at Cheltenham.

Racing is a close kit society and Ben is a regular at the Head Groundsman Seminars which bring them all together on a regular basis. “I get on really well with the other Head Groundsmen. We are having a seminar at Sandown next week and a day at Wimbledon where Neil (Stubley) will be looking after us.”

In many ways the difference between Head Groundsman at Flat and National Hunt courses are much greater than those of links Course Managers and parkland Course Managers in golf, and in more ways than the at guys can carry out their day to day work in shorts and the National Hunt guys in thermals.

“In summer we don’t irrigate at all while at courses are being irrigated constantly because they want to produce safe ground. We don’t have
any horses running in summer so we don’t need to worry about the going. We actually want to let the course crack in the summer so that it self aerates

and lets the roots go a bit deeper in search of water. It also means that we keep our water supply for when we need it from October onwards.”

There is another real plus as well for Ben and the team. “It also means that we can all get our holidays during the summer!” Speaking with Ben he doesn’t need

to mention, although he does, that he gets up every morning with a spring in his step, never failing to look forward to what work is going to bring him that day. He is genuinely someone for whom you feel believes he has one of the best jobs in the world.

“In terms of National Hunt we are the biggest course in the country, if not the world, and from that point of view there is no other job I’d rather have.

“During the Festival we’re in the papers all the time and we will have 70,000 people each day and many more on TV and I do think that I’ve had a large part to play in making it happen.

“When we get positive comments about the track, how it looks and how it rides, it makes me and the team hugely proud of what we have achieved.” And so they should as, after all, it is “The Greatest Show on Turf”.

Five Years On Yet Still, Turf Matters

Five Years On Yet Still, Turf Matters: This issue of Turf Matters marks our fifth full year in production and the time seems to have just flown by.

We first appeared in January 2014 with a major look at St George’s Park. I will forever be indebted to Alan Ferguson for opening his doors to a magazine which while perfectly formed in my mind hadn’t actually appeared in print.

Five Years On Yet Still, Turf Matters

Since then we have grown issue by issue and covered many of the top sporting events the preparation for two Ryder Cups – Gleneagles and Golf Club National – two World Cups, Wimbledon, Royal Ascot, Aintree, Six Nations Rugby, Test Cricket, World Athletic Championships and a host of others. We’ve profiled Hackney Marshes, Loughborough University, and carried out an in-depth examination of the issues surrounding rubber crumb.

While the magazine has developed, so has our accompanying website and the numbers of people visiting the site, or opening our ezines, have increased at an extremely gratifying rate. We’ve also added a number of comprehensive Turf Matters TV interviews within the last couple of years, as well as our fabled 20 Questions, which do draw out some fascinating confessions from the interviewee!

But back to the magazine. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has contributed over the last five years whether that be by submitting to an interview from yours truly, contributing articles yourself or believing in the title sufficiently to take out an advert with us. I know Sinead and Marie have worked very closely with a growing number of you and I hope that your involvement with Turf Matters has exceeded your expectations. If not we would be more than happy to sit down and have a chat about how forging closer relationships can be of mutual benefit.

Finally, I’d like to pay tribute to Tim Moat. He’s the man who makes Turf Matters look as good as it does. Tim and I have known each other for close to 25 years and his work designing the magazine has ensured that we stand out from the crowd.

We will continue to strive to make Turf Matters the best publication we possibly can, covering all the important turf related sporting events and delving into the work of the groundsmen who maintain our top schools and universities – the unsung heroes if you like.

Thanks for reading our magazine and don’t hesitate if you feel you’d like to offer a potential feature or some advice which would help us.

Greenkeepers’ Acclaim For Meeting Ryder Cup Challenge

Greenkeepers’ Acclaim For Meeting Ryder Cup Challenge: For years the greenkeepers have remained the ‘unsung heroes’ behind tournaments and big events. For sure this year’s Ryder Cup coverage was focused on the players and the matches, but there has been far wider acknowledgement of Le Golf National as perfect hosts, and unprecedented praise for the role of the greenkeeping team.

During his opening speech, European Captain, Thomas Bjorn, singled out Alejandro Reyes, Golf Course and Estates Manager at Le Golf National, with appreciation for his pivotal contribution in crafting the course setup. In the final euphoria, Ian Poulter took the time from his jubilant celebrations personally to meet, greet and embrace the greenkeeping team on the 18th green.

This time, the European Tour created its own promotional video of what goes on for course preparation behind the scenes. Other broadcasters and media took advantage of a peak into life in the greenkeeping sheds, to show video footage of turf management practices and personal experiences from the Turf Team Challenge website.

Greenkeepers’ Acclaim For Meeting Ryder Cup Challenge

Syngenta’s Daniel Lightfoot, using his Master Greenkeeper experience gained as Course Manager of Bearwood Lakes Golf Club, spent a full week with the LGN greenkeeping team in its preparations and over the full tournament.

“It has been a fantastic experience, to share such an incredible week with so many highly talented and fully committed greenkeepers,” he said. “And it has been very welcome that all the work has been so widely appreciated.”

Daniel believes volunteering at Le Golf National has been an extremely valuable experience for greenkeepers’ personal and career development.

“You get to learn new skills and techniques from the best in the business – both the resident teams on the course and from the other volunteer greenkeepers involved. But equally valuable is learning to work as a team and the great comradery and friendships that develop from meeting the challenges of preparing and delivering a great tournament venue.”

And it doesn’t get any bigger or better than Le Golf National. Alejandro Reyes himself has been a keen volunteer at events across the world, citing it brings a new perspective for greenkeepers, and can be an inspiration to introduce new things on their own courses.

“For sure, I love to do tournaments! Between the European Tour and the PGA Tour, I’ve lost count of the number of tournaments I’ve worked on. And every time you work on one you see something different,” said Alejandro.

“You get a picture of something and think ‘ah, that could work on my course’ or ‘we could do it better if we did it like this’.

“I am incredibly grateful for all the courses and superintendents who gave me the opportunity to see what they did through volunteering, so it’s a chance to give something back.”

Alejandro acknowledged it’s an investment in time for greenkeepers to be away from the course. “But the experience that they bring back is extremely valuable. Also it’s good for the team to welcome other people and to share experiences.”

Kerr Rowan, Course Manager at Sand Golf Club, near Jonkoping in Sweden, pointed out his key learn from working at Le Golf National has been to focus on attention to detail. “I think we run at a pretty high standard, then you come here and you think, ‘No we don’t!’. Out there it’s fantastic, so for me it’s about being a little bit more switched on.”

If there is one thing he’ll take back on the turf quality, it would be the incredible density of the turf surfaces across the Le Golf National course. “I’m just amazed by it. They’ve really tuned in their fertiliser strategy and it’s got me thinking a lot about fertiliser, brushing and density and watering and thinking, how can I be as good as here, or at least as good as I can be for the resources I have?”

Improving turf density, smoothness and consistency for players has been the key driver for using Primo Maxx II for Tournament preparation at Le Golf National. The team pointed ut that players would experience the same playing conditions and pace in the morning, as the last players out in the afternoon.

Lucas Pierre, Alejandro’s right-hand man and Head Greenkeeper for the Albatros Course, also reported the difference with the fairways this year using Primo Maxx II, compared to last year without.

“When you were cutting the fairway every day, you had to empty the box every five minutes; this year, it’s like the guys are saying ‘you never empty the boxes’ it’s perfect for us.

“You save on time; the quality of cut is better; turf looks better; you have better roll. We have more consistency. It really helps.”

For Lucas, the relationship he has developed with Syngenta has been very important. “For us, this could be one of the successes of the Tournament,” he said.

Managing such a big greenkeeping team – of some 180 volunteers and course greens staff – has been a challenge in itself. Stefan Carter, Senior Greenkeeper at Wentworth, highlighted the atmosphere had been fantastic.

“There’s been a lot of people, putting a lot of hours in. It’s a great bunch of guys and women from around the world. We all shared stories and shared experiences, which has really made it a happy place.”

He welcomed the chance to see the range of jobs involved and the opportunity to do a bit of everything.

“!t’s the way that they refine every detail and the finishing touches that sets it apart. To be part of the biggest golf event in the world has just been so fantastic,” reported Stefan.

“The networking here can change your career; it’s not just one week’s work, it’s a potentially life changing opportunity.”

For Swedish greenkeeper and mechanic, Johan Olsson, the mantra learned at his Le Golf National time has been to ‘check, check and check again’, just to make sure everything is set up precisely and will work perfectly and consistently out on the course.

“Then, when they’ve finished the morning session, it’s check it all again, ready for the evening. It’s just been the biggest thing you can experience, as a greenkeeper or mechanic.

“Watching 180 guys move out in the morning; it’s unbelievable, and something I can really recommend,” he added.

Wendy O’Brien, Golf Course Superintendent at Jurmala Golf Club in Latvia, highlighted just how much fun the whole greenkeeping team had, but also the opportunities for seminars and career development, along with the chance to glean the knowledge of others.

“For example, I have capillary concrete in my bunkers back home, so it’s been great to talk to others about their experiences and how they best manage them.”

She welcomed the professionalism of all the greenkeepers and organisational staff that had ctively encouraged and integrated women working on the team throughout the preparations. “We are all used to working as a minority group, but to be treated exactly the same and given the same responsibilities and jobs for our skills alone has been a great experience,” added Wendy.

Chloe Gallagher, of Sunningdale Golf Club, concurred. “Being part of a team with a dozen or more women has been really different and a great experience.

“It’s a fantastic industry for women and it’s given a showcase for what we can achieve. In the future the industry is going to be equal across the board, which I think is really good.”

South Africa’s Leopard Creek Country Club Golf Course Superintendent, Neville Wenhold, found the whole process of handling the pressure of a big tournament fascinating.

“Alejandro has made it a lot easier for us because he’s so professional at what he does. He makes it clear what expects from the team. He prefers for us to make sure that we are doing the right thing, rather than just pushing, pushing, pushing and making a mess along the line.

“He’s the key to everyone doing such a good job. The standard out here has been unbelievable. I’m taking a lot back home; new ways of doing things. It’s been really good learning from these guys.”

The BBC on-line commentary team summed-up the team’s performance perfectly at the end of the event:

“As the sun sets on Le Golf National, the Ryder Cup organisers are getting the presentation ready on the 18th green. The greenkeeper must be having kittens.…” “He deserves a pint or 10. What a course it has been this week. I’d say it’s the best course I’ve ever seen in a Ryder Cup. Let’s get it back again asap.”