Full steam ahead

Full steam ahead: Iseki UK was launched in 2017 into a rocky economic environment but with exactly the right man steering the ship. Two years on David Withers has proven his worth as a “Captain” and the company, now based in Ipswich, is making steady progress. 

“We are up on last year which is pretty good,” said David, in answer to the most obvious of opening questions – “How are you doing?”

Full steam ahead

“We are going to sell more this year and make less money and the reason for that has been the collapse in the value of the pound.

That’s even more of a problem for a company which brings in all of its goods from Germany and France – 80% Germany and 20% France,” revealed David, who returned to the UK following his time in the States as President and CEO of Jacobsen.

“The economy is not in great shape and causing a lot of uncertainty but the biggest single impact for us is that exchange rate.”

To highlight the point he added that the pound had devalued by 13% in the previous two months and that Iseki had recently been forced to increase its own prices by 3% to 5%.

“We are going to see inflationary pressures coming in and I don’t think that the economy is going to be strong enough for wages to keep up with inflation.”

Like so many other companies Iseki were prepared for the original Brexit timetable of March 31 and had brought in sufficient parts stock to ensure no issues over that period.

“Then it didn’t happen so, having had a good quarter one, when we were doing a lot to prepare, there was a hangover in quarter two and from April things never really got going.

Now we have prepared again and we are once more full of inventory,” said David, speaking a few weeks before the more recent October 31 Brexit date.

The company has secured additional warehouse space, through a relationship with one of the transport companies on the Ipswich Europark with which they share a postcode to cope over the period.

Any issue of delays at ports is not of huge concern to David, given the nature of the Iseki business.

“If our deliveries take an extra week to get through, it will be irritating but it’s not life-threatening,” was his pragmatic view.

As to the wider issue of ensuring the Iseki brand is available the length and breadth of the country the company is making real progress in bolstering its dealer network.

“What has really worked for us is that we have clarified in our minds what our distribution strategy should be. We find that for many of our dealers we are either the simplest and easiest product a dealer sells – because they also deal with combine harvesters or 500 horsepower tractors and forestry harvesters – and we are the lowest value product they sell.

“Conversely, for other dealers, we are at the upper end of their portfolio. They might be selling products like Mountfield, Honda and Stiga, but don’t have a diesel product other than ours. In these cases we are the most complicated product they sell.”

Many dealers, often classic garden dealers, have been asked if they would like to have a diesel offering in their portfolio.

“We are up to about 16 new dealers but we still have some gaps and we have space for another 30 or so.”

Having spent most of his more recent life at the top end of business life – prior to his time at Jacobsen he was Managing Director of Ransomes Jacobsen, based just down the road from his new home on that Ipswich Europark – he is enjoying building a new business from the beginning.

“I enjoy the closeness with the market, the customers and our staff whereas before there were layers between me and the other people.

That’s fun. But there are plusses and minuses. I find booking my own travel intensely irritating, as I’d never had to do that before,” he said with a smile.

Another area of potential expansion for the company may come on the back of that new dealer network.

“I look forward to the business growing and having more resource and ability to do things. For example one of the things you might see us doing over the next 12 months is bolt on additional products to our range.

“We have had a lot of people asking us if we could distribute for them. I didn’t want to do that to begin with as It was important to get Iseki moving, but now that we have all the infrastructure in place and our polices and procedures are in order we will look at it.

“It would be products of similar standard and reliability and that which are complementary to our own products.”

All forward thinking moves and proving once again that, when the seas become rough and the waves are high, having a capable Captain is so important.

Getting turf through winter

Getting turf through winter: Geoff Fenn, of Advanced Grass Solutions, helps you navigate the trials and tribulations of the winter months.

Autumn and winter are tough for turf. Low light, cold temperatures, poor weather and regular play mean plants can become stressed, weakened and susceptible to disease. What can we do as Turf Managers to maintain quality through a long winter?

Getting turf through winter

With the reduction in availability (and lower curative abilities) of amenity fungicides, putting together an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan can help reduce disease outbreaks on your site.

Firstly, do not underestimate the importance of correct nutrition. Understand the growth requirements of your surface and make sure nitrogen inputs will produce the exact level of growth you require. In winter sports with high wear you need a higher level of growth for recovery from divots and scars – monitor your growth rate by measuring clipping yield and change inputs to match the growth your site requires. Do not overfeed, do not underfeed – easier said than done but it’s crucial to get the plant in a healthy state with good carbohydrate reserves going into cold weather.

Pay close attention to the source of nitrogen you use – colder weather requires nitrogen with an ammoniacal or nitrate source as these are instantly available. Urea/methylene urea requires some warmth for bacteria to convert it into a plant-available form.

Everything nutritionally should be balanced – beware of the consequences of over-applying anything – excess nutrition can cause plant stresses that reduce health and bring on disease. Soil health can also be adversely affected by too much iron, sulphur and many other compounds used to the detriment of beneficial soil biology. Try to use products that declare exactly what’s in them so you know what effects these can have both short and long-term.

Try to set aside small trial areas to test if products and practices are genuinely having a beneficial effect on your site. Don’t believe all the hype or claims of products until you have seen good research or proved to yourself they have a benefit to you.

There are times when disease pressure simply overwhelms all the good factors we encourage in our turf and outbreaks happen anyway, but by getting as many things as ‘correct’ as we can, disease can be limited to a level that you may find ‘acceptable’.

What are some of the factors we can use/influence to reduce disease?

• Thatch Control – Reduce the home of pathi
• Nutrition – Get the balance right
• Airflow – Increase airflow around each plant
• Shade – Reduce shade and increase light
• pH – slightly acidic soil and leaf surface will reduce disease
• Dew/Moisture – reduce leaf wetness to prevent infection
• Drainage – keep surfaces firm and dry
• Grass Species – the right species for the right site
• Soil biological management – control thatch and diseases and improve health
• Fungicides – understand active ingredients and when they work best.

Each individual control method may not add up to a significant difference in disease levels but getting many of the pieces in the puzzle lined up correctly, we can reduce fungicide use and reduce disease activity.

Disease spores can live in thatch layers and when conditions are suitable, they will spread and attack the plant. Reduce thatch to minimal levels and you reduce the amount of disease spores. Try to encourage a healthy, balanced microbial population in your soil by adding high quality carbon-rich organic fertilisers and reducing chemical inputs to as low as possible.

This will then ensure natural thatch breakdown by soil microbes is maximised, leading to less invasive thatch removal practices to achieve the desired results.

Encouraging beneficial biology helps create a ‘suppressive soil’ that reduces pathogen populations leading to lessaggressive disease outbreaks. Biology alone cannot stop disease, but it can massively help reduce its impact. An unhealthy anaerobic soil with black layer

SHADE & AIRFLOW

Trees, buildings or spectator stands surrounding your turf cast shade and limit the energy a plant can produce for itself. Plants convert light energy into ‘plant-available’ energy such as sugars and carbohydrates. By cutting off sunlight you are cutting off the potential energy available for each plant and weakening it.

Think of grass plant leaves like mini solar panels – without sufficient sunlight they cannot produce enough energy to keep a healthy plant alive.

Removal of trees you will often also allow better airflow around the plant. This can be just enough to keep the leaf a little bit drier which can reduce disease. Leaf moisture is a key element for Microdochium development.

Apps such as Sun Seeker show the path of the sun and just how little sunlight turf often receives.

The public perception is planting trees is a great idea and removing trees is some form of ‘environmental vandalism’. The truth is sportsturf and trees really are not happy bedfellows. Grass is naturally adapted to open spaces with plenty of light, not shady areas under trees.

There are so many ways of managing turf and no one single correct method. Manage all the elements as best you can on your site is all you can do. You may still get stress and disease – but it will be much less than it could have been.

Can Europe be pesticide-free by 2050?

Can Europe be pesticide-free by 2050?: With the ecological consequences of food production and agricultural practices coming under increased scrutiny, and being reassessed and remodelled, a leading biopesticide technology developer believes Europe can be free of its reliance upon toxic pesticides by 2050. 

Emerging advances in biopesticides and biostimulants – eco-friendly, nature-based alternatives to the harsh, chemical pesticides we have used for many decades to control pests & diseases and increase yield – are transforming the industry. And they are ushering in a new era of cleaner agronomy that could see Europe being pesticide free in the next 30 years, envisions Dr Minshad Ansari Founder and CEO of Bionema Ltd, UK. Bionema Ltd, a Wales-based BioTech firm, develops natural products to protect crops from pests and diseases and reduce the use of synthetic pesticides.

Can Europe be pesticide-free by 2050?

Minshad chaired the Biopesticides Summit, which was held in July 2019, in Swansea. The Summit gathered hundreds of policy-makers and experts from industry and academia, to discuss the most pressing issues and threats facing crop production today and, crucially, the need to bring more sustainable alternatives to marketplace swiftly.

“We are living in very crucial times for food production and land management. Safe, responsible and sustainable food production is a cornerstone of the continued survival of life, and some of the most exciting solutions to the biggest problems facing food production are to be found within nature,” said Minshad.

“These biopesticides are, in many cases, already being developed or used successfully, and others are well within our grasp. In fact, I believe Europe can be free of its reliance upon toxic pesticides by 2050.

“We are at a point in time where the public is more aware of, or more vocal about their expectations, when it comes to the impact the practices of industry upon our environment. And public scrutiny is a very powerful driver of the practices of the biopesticide industry.

“It is very clear that we have reached a watershed moment. There is a growing acceptance among food producers that practices need to be modernised. There is a groundswell of public awareness that we cannot continue to lean upon traditional, damaging pesticides, some of which we have been using for many decades, to support production,” he said.

“The long-term negative effects of using chemical pesticides on the fertility of our land, and the threat this brings to our survival, is well documented. Also, health experts and scientists have been flagging up links between pesticide use and a host of diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, brain, prostate and kidney cancers, for many years.”

The World Health Organisation reports that pesticides are responsible for up to five million cases of poisoning each year, of which 20,000 are lethal. And, it says, pesticides affect children and infants disproportionately.

Can Europe be pesticide-free by 2050?

“The evidence to support wholesale change is there, credible science is there, the will is there, and, to some extent, the funding is increasingly there to ensure efficacious new products to fill the gap in the market created by the removal of pesticides. The remaining hurdles are largely around the slow pace of regulation and licencing these products for the marketplace,” he added.

Some of Europe’s largest growers are already reaping the benefits of using non-toxic alternatives to chemical pesticides. In Spain’s notorious ‘Sea of Plastic’, the 30,000 hectare corner of Almeria which produces most of the fruits and vegetables that are consumed throughout Europe, sachets of miniscule mites are used, which are draped from pepper, tomato and courgette plants, and attack the parasites that threaten these crops. In fact, the use of insecticides in Almeria has, according to local authorities, dropped by 40 percent since 2007.

Dr Ansari says: “The biopesticide movement has experienced a very interesting development arc over the past few decades. Our use of insecticides surged in the 1960s, at a time when, at least in the Western World, there was a public awakening to the fact that our chemical-laden environment was perhaps hostile to health and life.

“However, global population pressures have driven producers to increase their output and to find ever more efficient ways of meeting demand. Insecticides have done much to help meet those needs. But, they have done so at great cost to human health, to the environment and to the long-term viability of our soil. Growers are also having to meet the man-made challenge of crop resistance to those chemicals we have been using so liberally for years.”

Firms like Bionema, Ecolibrium Biologicals, Maxstim, Aphea.Bio and many others, often working in collaboration with researchers at key universities, represent a growing number of experts who are spearheading change.

“There is still work to be done to educate farmers, many of whom are in a holding pattern of disinfecting their land with fungicides, and using other chemical agents, simply because this is what they have always done, and because these chemicals are being recommended and sold to them by companies they have dealt with over many years and which they trust.

“However, the biopesticide market is expected to grow from $3 billion dollars in 2016 to almost $10 billion dollars by 2025. Around 30% of plant protection tools now available are biological, and more than 50% of new regulatory applications are biological products.

“But the regulatory barriers are complex, and they are consistent challenges. They require the efficacy of a biopesticide to be quantified and proved, they require the biopesticide to pose minimal or zero risk, toxicological and eco-toxicological evaluations, and other stringent tests. These tests have been put in place for chemical pesticides, but they are perhaps not appropriate for biopesticides. Meeting the current requirements can be prohibitively expensive for biopesticide developers, many of which are SMEs.”

New man at the helm

New man at the helm: The new Chair of the IOG is a man who is a believer in evolution not revolution and, such has been the strides taken by the Institute on the recent past, you can be sure that there wouldn’t be a need for any U turns or radical changes in approach under his stewardship. 

David Carpenter has been a member of the IOG Board for nine years and played a key part in the move of Saltex from Windsor Racecourse north to the NEC in Birmingham and he has seen levels of professionalism across the board increase during his time involved.

New man at the helm

“I certainly don’t think that I need to take anything by the scruff of the neck. I have every confidence in the rest of the Board and the Executive team and we have been working together as a group extremely well,” explained David, who can call on his vast and relevant experience from working for the Sports Council and the Lottery Fund.

“I’m not suddenly going to change direction unless there is good reason to do so.” That is not to say that David, who took over the reins from David Teasdale, is going to be passive. He is a deep thinker on the subject of groundsmanship and the issues that are inherent in an industry which rarely gets the credit it deserves.

“I am concerned about the lack of new people coming into the industry, both as volunteers and professionals and I’d certainly like to see more young people entering the profession.

I’d also like to see more women in grounds management and I’d like to see more black and ethnic minorities represented in our profession.

“Such is the lack of level of entry, we can’t afford to not have half the population as potential ground staff,” he said.

He is not overly concerned with the elite side of the industry in terms of surface quality, after all we have many of the finest grounds managers in the world. But at the community end of the industry which impacts most on the greatest number of people there are real issues that must be addressed.

GanTIP has already conclusively identified that natural pitches are not in good condition at community level but already Jason and his team have tackled and improved nearly
4,000 community football pitches. They are doing a great job.

“I do see a scenario where community facilities could actually get worse before they get better. Local authorities are not recruiting and we have to find other routes into the profession. A lot of the volunteers we do have are older people and they are not going to be around forever and we need new younger people to work alongside and eventually take over,”

“We also know that with a little more investment there is an opportunity to make significant improvement.”

On education and professional development David has some interesting views.

“It strikes me that grounds management is where sports coaching was 20 years ago. Then there was no structured pathway for coaching and coaching appointments were very random, particularly outside of perhaps football and cricket.

“The status of the coach was really quite low. As a result of a more structured approach and clear pathways that status is much higher and coaches now receive much more respect. I think that is possible for grounds management if we are able improve the pathway quite significantly.”

One of the ways in which this could be achieved is an education process for operations managers, such as Contract Managers, Bursars and Arena Managers, who are ultimately responsible for grounds management.

“I think this process will take much longer than my time as Chair but it is a very important aspect and one which requires significant input. It is ridiculous that so many sports rely on good surfaces yet groundsmen and women don’t have the same parallel standing as those carrying out other functions within the organisation.”

He does have another interesting idea, which he stresses is his own and not IOG policy.

“I’d like to see education for the volunteer side of the industry available on a free of charge basis. Obviously that would require sponsorship support and we would have to go to the respective sports councils or sport governing bodies to agree volunteer programmes but I do think it is something worth exploring.”

David is also well aware of the change to the role of many groundsmen and women at that elite end.

“Groudscare managers now have to be so flexible. Not only have they to prepare surfaces which are scrutinised on TV and often criticised by players, past and present – when often it is as a result of bad play not bad surfaces – and then have to move seamlessly into preparing a stadium for an arena concert.

“They are working incredibly long hours, late into the night, and sometimes overnight to ensure that concerns booked by the commercial department are a success. I don’t think there is enough recognition for how much effort goes into it all.”

David was appointed to the Board as an independent member nine years ago after he had carried out some consultancy work for the IOG’s Chief Executive Geoff Webb in 2005.

“I also did a study in 2007 in which I called groundsmanship the hidden profession. I was basically saying that there was great work being done and some really good people involved but that they didn’t really have any profile at all.

“In 2010 Geoff asked me to join the Board and I have been really pleased that I accepted his offer because it has been quite an eventful time over the last eight or nine years and the organisation has made really good progress.”

Much of that progress can be seen with the success of the move of Saltex to the NEC in Birmingham, a move that David was involved heavily.

“We agonised about it for quite a long time to be frank but we knew that Windsor was staring to fail and that the status quo was not going to work. We had to shake it up and do something, and we’ve had a successful four years so far.

“The key is for us to keep the Show fresh and innovative, introduce new things and new thinking and we will try to keep it going for strength to strength. Fortunately, we have some good thinkers around the table and people who feed in good ideas and Geoff himself is very good on that front.”

David was elected Chair at the IOG’s AGM in September and firmly believes that progress will be made.

“I feel that I am taking over at quite a good time with regard to where we’ve managed to get to but we must lift the bar higher. We must push forward. For example, we have just appointed an agency to work with us with the aim of lifting the profile of the industry. Their work will not be launched until next spring but we are working very hard behind the scenes with the agency and I see this as the next stage of our challenge.”

Life is full of challenges but if you have a carpenter at the heart of things you can be sure of stability and a well-constructed future.

Machinery at the touch of a button

Machinery at the touch of a button: We live in an age where we can carry out any amount of business from a laptop, tablet, even a phone. Where once we had to engage the services of an advisor or expert we can now do what we need do from the comfort of our own sofa, or from the layby of a busy road. 

Our fine industry has long been regarded as traditional – loving the personal touch of a sales rep we’ve know for years and the strangely comforting pleasure derived from kicking a tyre or two – but it is not adverse to dabbling with the modern age.

Machinery at the touch of a button

Thanks to a new company we too have the option to purchase high quality used machinery by the touch of a button.

Grass Plant has been set up by Martin Guy, a sports and amenity turf industry entrepreneur of over 30 years standing, to enable machinery dealers to offer their used machinery to end users and potential customers in a similar manner to that of Auto Trader, in the domestic vehicle market.

“Grass Plant has come about following my work with another of my companies – Martin Guy Developments. I’ve operated and owned golf courses for many years so contracting has been a big part of the business,” said Martin.

“With contracting comes a lot of equipment and at any one time we can be holding in in excess of £1.5 million worth of machinery because of the nature of work that we do.”

Having such a stock of machinery means that Martin spends a lot of time with machinery sales people and he began to realise that as an end user, and someone who buys and sells himself he saw the benefits of an on-line trading platform for used machinery.

“Grass Plant was formed as a company four years ago with this concept in mind but the website to enable it to work didn’t come to fruition until the start of this year. I wanted to make sure that the website was completely correct and fit for purpose but now it is set, it is evolving and moving and people are beginning to subscribe to it.”

The business model does work on a subscription basis. If a dealer has a number of machines to sell he will be given a flat rate for them to be advertised on the site and the dealer can put whatever they like onto the site and remove or refresh at will.

“The end user then can see what is available and have a choice of what machine they are looking for. There might be a three old version of the machine with a lot of hours on the clock they want of a five year old version with fewer, so the potential customer can see what is their best fit,” explained Martin, adding that 99% of his current clients are main machinery dealers.

“They are selling new and buying it back and need an outlet for what comes back in. It’s not uncommon for a mainline dealer to be sitting on £1 million worth of used stock.”

With the current uncertainty in the economy well maintained used machinery is particularly attractive while the concept of machinery packages being leased to clubs ensures that there is a ready supply of machines, well maintained, after three or five years which the dealer then has to move on.

Martin, through Martin Guy Developments, currently maintains six golf courses, 23 football pitches and five cricket grounds so the company is also a first hand end user of an array of machinery.

“As Grass Plant develops we are going to start reviewing equipment as well. We will be giving full warts and all trials so potential purchasers can see what us, an a contractor, feels about the machine,” revealed Martin.

With everything now in place and the website tried and tested, Saltex will be the opportunity for Grass Plant to raise general awareness within the industry.

“Our on-line digital figures are going up and up, doubling and trebling month on month and our social media profile is growing to. Saltex will be important to us, as will BTME while January, February and March are the key months for machinery purchase.”

Our industry may well be traditional but thanks to Grass Plant it does not stop us from enjoying the benefits of the 21st century!

Thunderbirds are go!

Thunderbirds are go!: Ask Darren Baldwin about some of the technical innovation contained within the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and his answer brings a smile to the face of many of a certain age.

“It’s very much Thunderbirds stuff, if I’m honest,” explained the man who has seen it all during his 23 years as Head of Playing Surfaces and Estates at the club.

Thunderbirds are go!

Those of us who can remember the booming countdown voice of the Thunderbirds narrator not to mention the wobbly puppetry, will immediately know where he is coming from. Floors sliding open to release International Rescue vehicles from the Tracy Island headquarters, each piloted by a member of the Tracy family.

I’m not sure if Darren sees himself as any one member of the cast, but given what he has to deal with in terms of the above and below the pitch technology, he could quite easily stand in for Brains, but minus the big glasses!

To replace the Tarkett PlayMaster surface, which Spurs play their matches on, with the artificial Turf Nation pitch for the NFL matches, which will be regular features at the 62,062 capacity stadium, the natural pitch is split into sections, slides out and parked in what is otherwise a car park under the stadium, where the LED grow lights, fans and irrigation ensures it thrives in its unfamiliar temporary environment.

The NFL pitch is therefore revealed to create a perfect theatre for a sport which is becoming increasingly popular on this side of the pond.

The NFL pitch is six feet lower than its natural turf brother, meaning those in the first few rows of the stadium can see the play over the plethora of six foot five tight ends and line backers, coaches, physios etc who spend so much of their time on the touchline.

Thunderbirds are go!

That is just an example of what goes on at what must be currently the most talked about stadium in the world of sport, never mind the UK.

Talking to Darren, as we stood level with the halfway line, mid-way up one of the fabulous and imposing stands, you can feel the pride and sense of achievement which he, along with everyone involved in Spurs, feels.

The initial vision for a replacement for the old White Hart Lane, with its capacity of 36,284, came with the arrival of the new Chairman, Daniel Levy, way back in 2001.

“He had a vision that we needed to improve facilities, both for the fans and the players, so he looked at everything from the stadium to the training ground. We also needed to increase capacity to be in the 60,000 plus bracket alongside other top European clubs,” recalled Darren.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been here that long so I have also lived that dream from day one, following it through to where we are today.”

It’s fair to say that any vision, no matter how “Blue Sky” would not have come close to living up to reality of what the stadium eventually became.

“It started out as a 60,000 seater bowl and progressed with options and revised visions before it became a multitude of different challenges to overcome. The word that was never to be used in any environment whether that be in the Board Room or on the construction site was ‘No’. What was always said was ‘How can we make it happen?’.”

With Darren’s focus on the playing surfaces, that positive approach was never tested more than the day when a Concert Consultant explained that to put on a full scale concert he would need the venue for 10 days, meaning that Darren’s pitch would have to be parked up under the stadium for all that time. At that time even the best case scenario was that a pitch could only survive under those circumstances for a maximum of three days.

Thunderbirds are go!

“After picking me up off the floor we went back to work to find a way of parking the pitch for 10 days and now, having done extensive testing, and thanks to our friends at SGL lighting, we can park the pitch in the Pitch Pocket for 14 to 15 days,” explained Darren, who worked closely with Julian Franklin, Head of Horticulture and Controlled Environments, at Rothamsted Research, on maintaining turf in the dark.

As a man who grew up looking after turf, being heavily involved in the concrete and steel of a major stadium meant that Darren was well out of his comfort zone.

“To be honest, I’d be in some of the meetings looking at plans and talking to senior engineers and all I’d want to know is what button to push to make it work. It was mind blowing science.

But it has given me a great insight into what goes on in an engineer’s world, as well as the groundsman’s world. It was also important that they knew and understood what we wanted from a turf maintenance perspective and how we wanted things to work.”

The air systems, vacuum systems, undersoil heating were all areas in which Darren could make sure what he and his team would be working with over the next few seasons was the best it could be and that any potential issues were ironed out before they had a chance to become a problem.

“What we have with the natural pitch is a series of trays containing 500mm of pitch build suspended three feet off the ground. We did a lot of vibration testing because what we couldn’t have was a situation where we had seven or eight players jump at a corner, all land at the same time and have the pitch vibrate. We’d be known as the Wobbly Pitch!”

The work done with SGL has been equally state-of-the-art and seen grow lighting taken to a new level at the stadium.

“A lot of design went into the wheeled rigs and, based on the experiences we had with lighting rigs we worked on the things which we felt could be improved. For example, lugging cables back and forward and having cables lying or suspended above the grass. Our system now has about five metres of cable which connects to the main power supply on the perimeter wall and that’s it. No part of the six trusses we have touch the grass – they span the width of the playing surface and operate on tracks to move up and down the pitch. We wanted the option to raise them so we could work underneath the lights while we also wanted the ability to irrigate from above them.

“In the past we’d have occasions when the lights were operating, and the irrigation has come on. Sodium bulbs don’t like the eight bar pressure of a sprinkler hitting them and they tend to shatter. So now we have an irrigation system built into the top of the trusses,” said Darren, of the trusses which are stored under the pitch when not in use.

Truly Thunderbirds indeed! Darren also ensured that the stadium had sufficient space for the machinery and equipment required to maintain the pitch.

Thunderbirds are go!

“With the new stadium we had one chance to be the kid in the sweet shop and get what we wanted and although there wasn’t a bottomless pit of money, by any stretch, we did look at what we wanted and have the machinery to carry out the job. We’ve got a mix between electric and petrol mowers – ATT on electric and Dennis Premiers for the petrol. We use the electric ones most of the week and the petrol for the last cut before a game to get the defining pattern, with that little more weight, for the finish.

“We also have storage space for the SGL lights, the fans and the mists, which we needed last summer when when it was 42 degrees pitch side. It was absolutely scorching and rye grass doesn’t like it that hot.”

The desire, and “can do” attitude at Spurs, does come with a downside, however, and that came in delays and a mind-boggling final bill for the stadium – it is probably currently the most expensive stadium in the world – a reported figure in excess of an eyewatering £1 billion is not denied.

“It took three and a half years to build and we ended up eight months late on our target date. That was frustrating for everyone, none more so than those of us at the sharp end. But it was important that we got it right.”

During that period the team played their home games at Wembley, so the team didn’t have the rush or routine of match day preparation.

“I worked at Wembley on match days for the first year and also sent two guys to Wembley full time to work with the maintenance team there. It was a bit different for Karl (Stanley) and his team as they were having to deal with us as well as the international teams.”

The big day came on April 3rd with the first match – against Crystal Palace.

“I’ve been asked many times about my emotions on that first match day, and indeed, the whole project and I say ‘Give me an emotion – I’ve had it’. Excitement, nervousness, stress, worry, lack of sleep. I’ve had them all.”

On that first matchday, with the opening ceremony and the fireworks, it was a fabulous launch to the new Spurs era but Darren remembers one particular element of the day.

“We had a hail storm an hour before kick-off and the whole pitch was white – on April 3rd! I told the guys that we were going to need blowers and snow brushes, but we didn’t know where they were stored,” smiled Darren, as he recalled the bizarre situation.

As we stood in the most modernistic stadium in the world it was a good time to find out what brought Darren, a two-time Groundsman of the Year, to the industry in the first place.

Thunderbirds are go!

“I started out as a three year-old on my dad’s lap ‘steering’ a Land Rover and trailing three sets of gang mowers at Buckhurst Hill Football Club in the mid 70s. About 10 years’ later, like most groundsmen at some stage or another, my dad got the hump when the team started training in the goal area. He threw down the keys and walked off. I picked them up and, at the age of 13, carried on looking after the pitch from then on.

“In October 1988 Steve Braddock gave me the chance to do three weeks’ work experience at Arsenal and he then took me on full time in 1990. I owe everything to Steve and I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He gave me six great years before I got the phone call and asked if I’d be interested in coming here – one of the less publicised transfers between the two north London clubs!”

Without wishing to make him sound like a reality show contestant, it has been a “journey” for Darren and one which he has embraced since he arrived in 1996.

“Back then the club had just opened the training ground at Chigwell and it was regarded as a state-of-the-art training ground although there was no lights or running water in the grounds maintenance facility. Now we have our fantastic new training ground at Enfield with aspirations to expand it to take on Tottenham Hotspur Women, who have turned full time professional this season.

“What really scares me, given how far we have come in 23 years, is what the industry will look like in 23 years from now.”

Who knows what life will be like for ground staff, or anyone else for that matter, in 2042. Safe to say Thunderbirds will remain a fond memory for a diminishing few.

Watch Scott’s interview with Darren on the Turf Matters YouTube channel

A Heart To Hart With David

A Heart To Hart With David: Turf Matters spoke exclusively with David Hart, Managing Director of Kubota UK and covered everything from demo lorries, structural changes, Brexit and calamatics…

When David Hart took over as Managing Director of Kubota UK just over a year ago there were two things at the top of his “To Do” list. One he wanted to get his feet under his new desk and two he wanted to make sure he got to know his new charge inside out.

A Heart To Hart With David

“I probably looked under every stone I possibly could, and spoke with everyone, so that I could get to know all aspects of the business,” said David who had previously enjoyed a stellar 28 year career at John Deere.

“It’s been a good year. It’s a cliché but a change is as good as a rest and while it is an industry which I know well there are elements of the Kubota business which have been new to me,” said David, referring to the engine and construction side of the Kubota business.

It was just in the summer of last year that David took up his new role but already he has a new job title to add to that of Managing Director – the impressive sounding Vice President for Business Transformation for Europe.

“It’s not a promotion. It’s an addition,” he explained.

“It’s on top of what I was already doing. Until a couple of years ago each country operated in a different manner.

Here in the UK we did certain things in a certain way; Germany did the same; France the same; Poland the same and so on. My new role is to bring some common structures in and processes to those different sales and marketing units.”

Having carried out structural changes in his pre-Kubota days it is a role ideally suited to him, as is steering his new staff through the changes which are inherent in a business which has grown from a staff of 88 ten years ago, based out of the headquarters at Thame in Oxfordshire. to over 140 now.

Asked about any significant changes which he has implemented since he joined David points to something which, in addition to its primary aim, has eased congestion on the UK’s motorway network as well as reducing the company’s carbon footprint.

“We’ve changed how we managed our demo operation. We used to have three articulated lorries which the demonstrators drove to their destinations. I thought we could used our time better and have those guys focusing on the demonstration rather than driving the trucks. So the trucks have gone giving us a £600,000 saving.

That’s among a few things which I have streamlined since I got here.”

Another area where David has aided the environment is in a significant reduction in his own airmiles.

“The nice thing for me is that I do less travelling because for 28 years I spent 26 weeks on the year travelling and taking around 52 flights a year,” explained David, who has only been to Kubota’s worldwide headquarters in Osaka, Japan, once since he took up his new role.

“We’ve had two of our senior management over to visit us and we showed them how we operated the business here in the UK but I think the nice thing is if our Japanese bosses are comfortable with what is going on they leave you to it.”

Looking forward David is concerned with how Brexit is going to impact upon the various areas in the Kubota business portfolio.

“My biggest concern is that, with or without a deal, it isn’t going to be good. We have already seen the construction market go soft because there has been no houses built in the last three months. Groundcare has also gone soft but that is partly because last year’s dry summer meant that dealers were left with a lot of stock.

“I’d say that one of the biggestconcerns is that we are no clearer today about what will happen than we were two and a half years ago. Let’s hope that the pessimists are wrong and the optimists are right and it’s just a blimp or turns out to be something like the Millennium Bug,” said David, in a pragmatic rather than negative tone.

Another area which has been impacted by Brexit uncertainty is recruitment.

“People keeping their powder dry at the moment. If they get the offer of a lifetime they might jump ship but otherwise they are going to stay were they are until they know what the future holds. We have got seven or eight vacancies at the moment and some of them we’ve had for more than a year.”

From the customer’s perspective they can look forward to a bolstering of some of the groundcare product with some additional lines in the near future.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a bit more product offering. Not of a big scale but complementary to what we already do. We have a few irons in the fire.”

Kubota have dipped their toe in the automomous mowing, with a product range currently available in France and on its way to these shores while calamatics is another area that will be becoming more prevalent in the next few years.

“Remote diagnostics mean that we are able to connect to customers equipment and make repairs or updates from a central point which means we will be able to react to customers’ needs much more quickly become even more efficient as a company.”

David has got much further down that original “To Do” list than even he had hoped and it augers well for not just the next 12 months but many more after that.

Local Heroes For An Event That Produced A Local Hero…

Local Heroes For An Event That Produced A Local Hero…: Scott MacCallum catches up with Royal Portrush Course Manager, Graeme Beatt, following the magnificent return of the Open Championship to the island of Ireland.

Graeme Beatt arrived home from work and poured himself a gin and tonic before settling into a chair to reflect on the events of the previous, days, weeks and months. It’s not often that you have been charged with preparing a golf course for the biggest event on the planet, and, in the case of Royal Portrush Golf Club, it was the first time in 68 years that an Open Championship had come to call.

Local Heroes For An Event That Produced A Local Hero…

Graeme smiled as he thought about the great work of his own greenkeeping team, always going that little bit beyond; how the volunteers, who had given up their time, unpaid, to contribute towards a stupendous Open venue; and how the entire club, town and island of Ireland had embraced the occasion.

The fact that the event had produced a local hero winner – if not exactly the one who had been expected to lift the Claret Jug – made the whole occasion so much more of a fairy tale.

Like most well written stories, however, the week and the lead up, had produced so many twists and turns that by the time that drink was poured Graeme was worn out.

“I had been invited to a drinks’ reception with the winner by the Championship Committee but after the trophy presentation on the 18th green I’d gone back to thank our own staff and the volunteers. I then went to lock up the sheds, got into my pick-up and drove back through the course. It was a struggle as it was still full of spectators.

“When I got to the gate I spotte my wife, Katriona, and our kids, Charlotte and Emily, walking home in the pouring rain so I picked them up. By then the plan of returning for a formal reception wasn’t too appealing so I poured a drink before we went to friends for a little while and then bed.”

Local Heroes For An Event That Produced A Local Hero…

Who could blame him? The hours he and his team were clocking up by Championship week, never mind the months leading up to it, would have had anyone tasked with implementing the Working Hours Directive applying for overtime just to log all the infractions.

“I was arriving at the course at 3.30am for a 4am start and we weren’t getting back home until half ten or a quarter to eleven at night. It was an amazing experience but at the same time we were absolutely shattered,” revealed Graeme.

All the work paid off. The course looked incredible and played superbly with weather conditions testing the players in a manner that is always hoped. The fact that Shane Lowry is a links specialist play, and, if not one of Ireland’s Major winner club members before he arrived, was regarded as a top class player. The course did identify a true champion and a true local hero.

To the question “On a scale of one to ten how happy were you with the course on the Monday of the Championship?” Graeme pondered for a moment and then said: “I’d say eight and a half.”

Top Course Managers are never satisfied, hence the missing point and a half, but Graeme had a vision of how he had wanted his Open course.

“I had a picture in my head of how I wanted the course to look, and that was to be a little bit browned off. We would have needed a few weeks of dry weather to be able to do that. The course was stunning but quite green and that wasn’t down to fertiliser, it was purely the rainfall and the warm weather. Everything greened up and stayed like that for the entire Championship.

“I was pleased with the condition of the course. I was pleased with the turf. Pleased with everything had come up and how the course played. It was just the colour really. As the Championship went on it just continued to rain and we had to do more and more to get green speed, which was the opposite if what we thought we would be doing,” said Graeme, who had to deal with 35 mil of rain in an hour just the Wednesday before Championship week. That is excessive even by Portrush standards.

“It absolutely bucketed down and we were shovelling bunker sand back and pumping water out of bunkers at eight o’clock at night. We’d been working on the bunkers for weeks taking sand out of them and reshaping them. We’d got them just right so it was really frustrating. It’s unusual to have washouts in bunkers here, but hey…”

Graeme was working closely with Alistair Beggs, Richard Windows and Adam Newton throughout the Championship, as part of the testing programme which aids course consistency.

Local Heroes For An Event That Produced A Local Hero…

“I was out with Alistair every morning while the other guys, helped by two R&A Scholars, were doing the testing. They would radio green speeds to us after a single cut and we’d decide between ourselves and Grant Moir (the R&A’s Director of Rules) if we should do another cut. It worked really well as it gave us an idea of how much extra speed you’d get from another cut, how much the green speed would drop off in the evening and how much they would drop off again by the following morning.

“The weather being the way it was meant that we were doing quite a bit of cutting – the greens were being triple cut,” revealed Graeme, keeping his staff of 60 – 54 greenkeepers  plus six part-timers who filled divots – busy for the entire week.

The aforementioned bunkers also required more than their fair share of TLC.

“The bunkers were highlighted in the years leading up to the Open as a potential issue. Our bunker sand is our own and it tends to become a bit soft when dry. Even though we were getting rain we were out in the evenings to water them down with hoses just to ensure that they were firm enough and that the ball wouldn’t plug.

“The other thing was the shape of our bunkers. The fairways are designed so that the ball rolls into the bunkers and we didn’t want the ball to roll into the sand and not stop short, so we were fly mowing every day – some of them were being done morning and night. Bit of a difference to the normal once a week!”

Graeme has been Course Manager at the club since 2014, taking over from the retiring Joe Findlay, having been Course Manager at County Sligo prior to that but he is actually from Fife. He was originally from Scotscraig, near St Andrews, and attended the rival school to your Editor, albeit Graeme was quite a number of years later!

He worked at Scotscraig Golf Club before going to the still under construction Kingsbarns. He then spent time at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, in Australia before returning to Kingbarns in 2005 before moving to Ireland the following year.

Local Heroes For An Event That Produced A Local Hero…

“I was a member at Scotscraig, which was an Open qualifier, and I had to take a young Justin Rose around the course when he was attempting to qualify in 1995. I had lunch with him and his family and I did think about saying to him here but felt that he would have so many people saying ‘Remember me?’ to him, that I decided not to in the end.”

While the Open hadn’t been confirmed during the interview process Graeme met with R&A officials as part of his selection, so was aware that the return of the Open was imminent and has been grateful to have had five years to get to grips with the course itself and the enormity of what an Open Championship brings.

The build up to this year’s Championship was more intense than any recent Open, partly due to that great gap between Northern Irish Opens and partly due to the wonderful “Dream Team” of Irish golfers produced over the last few years.

Three time Major winner, Padraig Harrington; Darren Clarke, 2011 Open Champion and Royal Portrush member (Darren struck the first shot of the Championship); Graeme McDowall, 2010 US Open Champion and another homer towner, whose brother is on the Royal Portrush greenkeeping staff, and four time Major winner and pre-Championship favourite, Rory McIlroy, who had broken the Royal Portrush course record as a 17-year-old.

So much expectation was riding on Rory’s slim shoulders that the pressure when he stood on the 1st tee was immense so perhaps it wasn’t too unexpected that his tee shot wasn’t his best. That coupled with the course’s ability to maximise any error, resulted in an opening quadruple bogey eight. That, added to a double bogey at the 16th and a triple bogey at the last, holed his chances below the waterline, and while he heroically shot a second round 65, a 14 shot improvement on his first, he missed the final two rounds by a solitary shot.

Was Graeme aware of what was happening to Rory on the first day?

Aware! He was very nearly part of the action.

“When Rory hit his first tee shot out of bounds it actually went over our heads. I’d nipped down to see him tee off and I was standing left of the fairway with my wife and kids.

Local Heroes For An Event That Produced A Local Hero…

We heard the thud of the ball as it hit the spectator and then his second tee shot landed right beside where we were. We watched him play his fourth into the rough beside the green and just groaned. You could see Rory’s nerves and if he’d played his first round the way he played his second he’d have been a factor.”

As for the other huge fans’ favourite, Tiger Woods? He too missed the cut, much to the dismay of the giant galleries.

The disappointment of losing the two biggest names, turned to elation on the Saturday, however, when Shane Lowry produced a spectacular third round 63 to give himself a handsome lead going into Sunday.

“Shane played north of Ireland golf for years and knows the course like the back of his hand. He can play in any conditions and is a links golfer with all the shots,” said Graeme.

With no-one able to mount a serious challenge on the final day Shane enjoyed a triumphant march around the links, cheered to the rafters from all corners, before holing out for a six shot victory.

One of Graeme’s most memorable moments was standing with the presentation party on the 18th green, but watching his team form a guard of honour for Shane as he marched out to collect the Claret Jug.

“I was so proud of our staff. They had done such an amazing job and pulled it out of the bag. A lot of them were local guys who had played and worked here all their lives and it was just great for everyone.”

While he was at home enjoying that celebratory gin and tonic, the team was at nearby Rathmore Golf Club, Graeme McDowall’s home club, where there was a full blown party underway and an opportunity for the everyone to let their hair down.

For Graeme, though, his work was done and he could think back with satisfaction about what had been achieved and how, after a wait of 62 years, Royal Portrush was very much back on the map and, more importantly, the Open rota.

Tackling Summer Turf Stress

Tackling Summer Turf Stress: Last summer saw the highest level of drought stress the UK has seen for years, and many courses are still feeling the effects of this damage in 2019.

Heat and drought stress can often be hard to manage but by looking at above and below ground factors it is possible to mitigate the effects and maintain playability. Dr Colin Mumford, left, Technical Support Manager at Bayer, explains the management practices that can be implemented to protect courses this summer.

Tackling Summer Turf Stress

Above Ground – Heat Stress

Above ground, heat stress is a big issue during the summer months. Heat can cause scorch, wilt and eventually die back of the grass plant which can severely interfere with ball roll and the aesthetic appearance of the course.

“There are a number of management practices that can help to reduce the effects of heat stress,” explained Colin.

“In the US and other hot countries, they use a technique called syringing. This involves spraying a fine jet of water droplets into the air above the green.

“These fine droplets land on the turf and evaporate almost instantly. This rapid evaporation cools the canopy of the grass plant, removing a lot of heat.

“If this is done properly you can do a whole green in 30 to 45 seconds and it will be dry before the next group of golfers arrive,” said Colin.

“There is an argument that this will need to be used more in the UK as we seem to be getting hotter summers. But it’s a very labour-intensive process and just doing it once isn’t enough,” he warned.

“Greens need to be syringed at least seven times a day to keep the canopy temperature down. Most golf courses that do this have one or two people who carry out this process throughout the whole day.”

Colin adds that raising the height of cut as much as possible can help to take the stress off grass plants.

“By raising the cutting height, the plant will be able to tolerate stresses because the added growth will make it more resilient. However, by raising the cut height, ball speed on putting greens will be reduced,” he says.

“Therefore, if you decide to go down this route you may want to roll the greens afterwards to counteract the effects of the extra height.”

Colin explained that there are products that can be applied to help alleviate the effects of heat stress.

“UVA and UVB rays from the sun radiate heat on the grass plant causing heat stress. Bayer’s Stressgard formulated range can provide a protective barrier against this.

“Stressgard contains a pigment that coats the surface of the leaf, and significantly reduces the amount of UVA and UVB reaching the grass plant.

“It will also reduce Photosynthetically Active Radiation but allows sufficient PAR through for the plant to photosynthesise effectively,” said Colin.

Eoghan Buckley, Course Superintendent at Birr Golf Club, County Offaly, had problems with summer turf stress last year and used preventative applications of a Stressgard formulated fungicide, as part of his management programme, to prevent disease taking hold of his greens.

“At the end of June our greens endured a prolonged period of heat and drought stress. After taking advice from Greg Collins at Bayer and Aine Daly from Cropcare, I decided to apply a preventative fungicide to help with recovery and minimise any further stress on the plants.

“The results were positive, with the turf looking much healthier. Having witnessed these impressive results, I have integrated this into my turf management programme this year.

“So far, this year hasn’t been as hot as 2018, so my greens are looking in good condition. However, from what I learnt last year, taking a preventative approach to both turf stress and disease control can be vital,” says Eoghan.

Below Ground – Drought Stress

“Below ground it is all about water management. To make informed decisions it’s important to know what you are working with and understanding evapotranspiration is the best way to achieve this.

“ET is the combined effect of water loss through transpiration from the plant, and evaporation from the soil. It is calculated from weather data, and some weather data providers, such as Bayer’s TurfXpert app, provide a calculation of ET.

“Measurements with moisture metres around your course, to assess localised areas of your turf, are also important. When these are combined with ET data, you can calculate how much supplemental irrigation is required,” added Colin.

While there are lots of schools of thought around irrigation techniques, Colin recommends deficit irrigation as the best solution.

“It works by replacing between 60% to 80% of water loss, which means the soil is able to take in additional water during a rainfall event and none of it is lost through drainage,” he explained.

“This way you can make the most of rainwater and save costs on irrigation.”

He warns drainage is not only costly in terms of water loss but also because of nutrient loss.

“If drainage occurs it can leech away nitrogen and other inputs, potentially causing environmental damage and cost to the greenkeeper.”

To combat this, Colin recommends carrying out an audit of irrigation systems to ensure they are running efficiently and used wisely.

“Irrigation is a beneficial tool but if it’s overused, problems with thatch build up and annual meadow grass can occur. This is why getting management techniques and calculations right is vital,” he said.

Below Ground – Pests

Another below ground factor is the damage caused by chafer grubs and leather jackets.

“These pests can have a huge impact on the health of grass plants at this time of year,” said Colin.

“Chafer grubs and leather jackets damage the roots of grass plants meaning the grass plant can’t take up water and nutrition, leading to drought stress effects.

“There may be plenty of water and nutrition present in the soil, but because the roots are damaged, they can’t take it up. The grass plants will then show signs of drought stress, scorching and ultimately will die back.

“In this case, the only short-term answer is irrigation. However, in the long term you can tackle the pest with cultural, biological and chemical controls to prevent damage from happening.

“Introducing new grass species that have rhizomes, fescues for example, into these areas can help with this.

“The rhizomes act as a tube of stored energy below ground which helps the grass plant to cope with a degree of attack from pests.

“Aeration can also be used to create channels for the roots to grow though, allowing them to descend quickly and easily to scavenge more water and nutrients,” adds Colin.

“As greenkeepers you strive to maintain the health and playability of your course. So, doing everything that you can both culturally and chemically is paramount, especially during the hot summer months,” concluded Colin.

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.