Maintain or replace?

Maintain or replace?: Bailoy Director, Adam Lovejoy, offers some helpful advice on whether you should invest in new or extend the live of your existing equipment.

Nobody wants to spend money unnecessarily, so it is important that any spending is on the correct product or service. But how do you know what that is, who do you ask and how do you know the information is correct?

Maintain or replace?

Maintain or replace?

If you have a little more understanding of how your system is put together, then it should be possible to narrow down your options.

Whether you have a clockwork controller or a computer-based controller, initially, the complete system would have been designed by an irrigation consultant, or an irrigation contractor. When that system was designed, it would have specified the following: A pump, pipe network, cable network, sprinklers, and a controller. Each one of these component parts would have been specified to work together for reliable operation of the system.

Over the years, these components will have required replacing, repairing, or upgrading. Sometimes the original product has been discontinued but there will often be a direct replacement. But why install a direct replacement when there is an improved component on the market?

Depending on the component in question, this is often where mistakes are made that can cause a chain reaction. Apart from must-do maintenance like pipe bursts or cable breaks, decisions on improving a system are often decided on visibility.

What do I mean by this? Things that can be more easily justified logically and seen by management, committees, or members.

The main contender is often sprinklers. With new technology giving improved coverage, better throw, and increased flow why would you not look at them – they can be seen around a green and often manufacturers will give you some free samples to try out.

Most new sprinklers have increased flow rates that can deliver more water in half the time. But that new sprinkler is fed by the existing pump and pipe network and you now require that network to deliver maybe double the previous flow. Maybe the pipes and pump can deliver that but what if they can’t?

So that’s it, you can’t benefit from new technology unless you replace the entire system? Not necessarily!

We see so many sites running computers that are over 10 years old with software even older. And with that old set up the database containing critical site information is also likely to be out of date. But as previously mentioned, they are not visual items, so to spend money on them is difficult to justify.

Ride-on mowers – what to look for

Ride-on mowers – what to look for: When it comes to purchasing a new ride-on mower, there are many manufacturers and models currently available. Whether you require 2wd or 4wd, petrol or diesel, ground-tip or high-tip, there are lots of options. But, what should you be looking at? Les Malin, Managing Director of Etesia UK answers some common questions.

WILL A RIDE-ON MOWER CUT AND COLLECT IN THE WET AND LEAVE A CUT COMPARABLE TO A PEDESTRIAN MACHINE?

The obvious answer is some will, while some will not, but the ones that can will be far quicker over a large area compared to a pedestrian mower. However, there is still a need for smaller pedestrian machines, due to access and transport etc. When it comes to cut and collect systems, Etesia is the innovator of every other machine you see on the market today.

Ride-on mowers - what to look for

Ride-on mowers – what to look for

The French based company created a patented system in the late 1980’s and quite simply, the system is unrivalled. Where models such as our Hydro 80 or Bahia ride-on mowers are useful, is small access points such as gates etc. The British climate is notoriously wet, and on most days when it hasn’t rained, the grass may still be damp, so it’s important to have a machine that is up to the job of cutting and collecting in the wet.

The Etesia Professional ride-on mower range have been designed and developed especially for these conditions. They will pick up wet grass clippings and even leaves in the autumn and have been designed to never clog and everything is fully automated.

CAN YOU EMPTY THE GRASS BOX EASILY WITHOUT LEAVING THE SEAT?

All Etesia ride-on mowers have the option of emptying the grass box directly from the driver’s seat, without ever having to leave the machine. In our larger Buffalo, H100 andH124 models, you can empty the grass box up to 1.24m above the ground which is very useful if you need to empty grass clippings into a skip or hi-tip vehicle for recycling.

Unlike competitor machines, they are designed to be able to tip the heaviest of loads without needing additional counterweights to aid stability. This reduces the overall weight of the machine. The most notable benefit is the fact that Etesia machines do not require any additional accessories to unblock them when emptying the machines.

Everything is automatic so no accessories or rattling of levers are required – you can simply cut, collect and empty the grass box all while sitting on the machine.

CAN I CUT AND COLLECT AND MULCH WITH THE SAME MACHINE?

Mulch cutting has become very popular over the years. Predominately, it’s used as a time-saving form of grass cutting as there is no need to collect clippings or debris and empty. There are also other benefits as mulching can often mean ‘greener’ grass, particularly in times of drought, as the nutrients are put back into the soil after a cut.

Most of the Etesia machines have the option of being able to cut and collect or mulch – it really depends on the users’ preference. Just remember the golden rule when mulch cutting and only cut a third of the grass height in a single cut.

WILL A RIDE-ON MOWER CUT HIGH GRASS?

We do sell a range of Attila brushcutters which have been specifically designed to cut rough grass or brambles and have been known for ‘whatever’ they can push over, they can cut’, however our ride-on mowers are an affordable solution for taming high grass paddocks and fields, meaning that one machine can be used for a multiple of different tasks.

WILL I BE ABLE TO FIT ATTACHMENTS TO A RIDE-ON MOWER OR WILL I NEED A TRACTOR?

That really depends on the type of attachments you would like to fit. However, Etesia also sell a range of attachments from scarifiers, snow plough, sand spreader, weeding brush and also a street sweeper which means that one ride-on mower really can be a 365-days-a-year workhorse.

WILL A RIDE-ON MOWER EFFECTIVELY COLLECT FALLEN LEAVES?

Autumn is a busy time in the garden and collecting and disposing of fallen leaves can be a big job. There is no faster or better way to collect those fallen leaves than with a Etesia ride-on mower.

Another benefit of using a ride-on mower is that the leaves will be shredded which means you will get more leaves in the grass box and composting will be accelerated.

ARE RIDE-ON MOWERS SAFE TO USE?

When choosing a ride-on mower, ensure it has added safety benefits for the user. You need to consider if you are working on slopes, then it will be worth looking at a model with a differential lock for extra stability on slopes or uneven ground. Etesia is the only manufacturer to offer 4wd and or differential lock across the whole range of ride-on’s with mid mount cutting decks.

Vibration is also a big consideration. Etesia machines are rigorously tested in our state-of-the-art factory in France to meet all EU regulations. We also publish all of these figures on our website.

It’s also worth noting that vibration isn’t just a health hazard for the user, but also an indicator of machine efficiency and design. Etesia avoids vibration by fitting correctly balanced components which also has the added benefit of lasting longer.

We still have users of our first generation H100 model that is over 30 years old!

WILL THE MANUFACTURER ARRANGE A FREE, NO OBLIGATION DEMONSTRATION ON OUR OWN SITE?

For the past 30 years, the Etesia slogan has always been ‘Seeing is believing’. For That reason, we also recommend a free, no obligation demonstration to put our machines to the test on your own site. This can be organised by contacting us directly or speaking to one of dealers local to you.

WILL I BE ABLE TO BUY SPARE PARTS EASILY?

Etesia UK holds vast stocks of spare parts for machines dating back to the 1980’s. Selling to the professional market means obtaining spare parts, which is very important to the end user. Consumables are normally off the shelf and we pick 98% of orders consistently. It is only usually obscure items that may catch us out.

Blades and belts are consumable items and will always need to be replaced from time-to-time. If your local dealer hasn’t got the spare part you require, we can usually get it direct from France in no time at all.

In addition to here in the UK, we also work with Kramp who stock many of the faster moving items and can supply dealers on their fantastic overnight service, which benefits from longer opening hours during harvest periods.

Rise of the SuperBents

Rise of the SuperBents: Germinal’s Paul Moreton explains that the latest generation of creeping bentgrasses are ideal for British greens thanks to their natural disease tolerance and ability to thrive in a range of climatic conditions.

The popularity of modern creeping bentgrasses – or ‘SuperBents’ as they are commonly referred to – is the result of an intensive breeding programme which led to the development of 007 DSB (named after the year it was released, 2007, not the fictional British Secret Service agent).

Rise of the SuperBents

Rise of the SuperBents

Bred using genetics from 24 parent plants collected from old putting greens located in cooler, northern locations in the US, 007 DSB is the cultivar of choice on a number of courses which have hosted major golf tournaments in climates where winter temperatures average well below 0oC.

007 DSB has proven to be the perfect fit in these cool conditions, not only thanks to its fineness of leaf, fast rolling speed, enhanced disease resistance and low input requirements, but also because of its significantly shorter growing-in period which enables greenkeepers to quickly and easily produce a tournament-ready putting surface.

In contrast to previous creeping bents which were developed primarily to withstand close mowing, the new generation of SuperBents has been bred to be tolerant of lower inputs of N and water: the ability of varieties such as 007 DSB and more recently Tour Pro (GDE) to thrive without excessive inputs makes them ideally suited for use on UK courses where their vigorous lateral growth and persistence to very close mowing enables greenkeepers to utilise them on greens to outcompete Poa annua without the need to drastically change any cultural practices.

In the last few years, numerous UK clubs have successfully over-seeded their greens with 007 DSB and in doing so have created more aesthetically pleasing greens which, crucially, are naturally more resistant to both Anthracnose and Microdochium patch: an ever-increasingly important factor given the loss of curative fungicides such as Iprodione.

For these clubs, regular ‘preventative overseeding’ using a SuperBent has enabled them to introduce young, healthy and vibrant new growth into the sward and to boost the natural ability of their greens to resist disease in a cost-effective and sustainable way.

At Germinal, we saw the potential of these leading cultivars from a very early stage and have been leading the push to use SuperBents in the UK. At first the market for creeping bents remained relatively subdued due to a natural tendency for greenkeepers to be wary of making any significant changes and because older varieties were input-hungry and couldn’t perform to the level attained by the new generation.

Despite this initial market hesitancy, we stood by our decision to bring the likes of 007 DSB and TourPro (GDE) to the UK based on the knowledge that, put simply, they both possess traits which can help greenkeepers to manage their greens more efficiently and effectively.

The dated stigmas and false clichés about creeping bentgrasses being difficult and expensive to manage are no longer representative of the new generation. Similarly, the misconception that greens maintenance regimes will need to a total re-vamp to accommodate SuperBents is simply untrue.

In fact, a recent survey has shown that many users have reduced their nitrogen input since switching to SuperBents, with no requirement for any additional dethatching or greens grooming required to maintain the SuperBent sward.

The positive feedback from these clubs will hopefully give other course managers in the UK the confidence to introduce a creeping bent cultivar to their over-seeding regime, and thereby enable them to embrace the natural disease resistance of this new generation of cultivars.

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home: Scott MacCallum chats with Karl Standley and Andy Gray about their respective roles and the forthcoming European Championship.

We can all remember our first day at work. Mine? The train was late, I missed my connection and I had to hitchhike from Dundee to Perth, thus clocking into my first day of honest endeavour two and a half hours late, not fit for even the most basic of induction.

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home

What a first impression! Imagine then, this fresh faced young lad cycling 15 miles, then hopping onto a train, all to get to his local club’s training ground to his first job in groundsmanship.

He’s teamed up with a senior team member, whose job is to guide him through his first day, and is handed the task, under supervision of course, of seeding four pitches and a goalkeeping area.

Up and down he goes, concentrating hard on producing the straightest lines he can muster. Heaving a great sign of relief, mission accomplished, he glanced back to see that the seeder hadn’t been turned on!

His mentor just said, “Do it again”, and a first lesson had been delivered.

But from such inauspicious beginnings great careers can be salvaged, and I’m not talking about mine.

Eighteen years on, that callow youth is preparing the most famous football pitch in the world for the country’s biggest football event since football came home in 1996 – the delayed Euro 2020s. Still a young man, Karl Standley, is Head Groundsman at Wembley Stadium, and that first job was at Southampton Football Club.

And mentor? The guy who let Karl carry on, knowing that the longer he went without realising the seeder was inactive, the better the lesson would be? Well, Andy Gray became Head of Grounds at the FA’s St George’s Park last September, and is now working hand in glove with Karl, and with the England team management, to ensure training conditions conducive to aiding England’s assault on the Championships.

The odds on Karl and Andy going on to hold two of the most prestigious jobs in world groundsmanship would have been so high, that if, during their break on that very first day, they’d popped down to the bookies and put tenner them both reaching where they are now, they could be retired rather than facing up to the most exciting few weeks of their careers.

Ah, the Euros. Well, this time last year Karl was working on a number of scenarios based on the impact of Covid 19, on the assumption that they would still be going ahead on the expected dates. It would be fair to suggest that what ultimately has happened with the impact of the pandemic would not have been covered by any FA scenario, or anyone else’s for that matter.

Andy, on the other hand, started last year planning maintenance programmes for Southampton before the FA came calling and he started work on September 1, last year.

“When we heard those words from Boris Johnson about the seriousness of the pandemic and the lockdown we put everything on hold, but as we all know Mother Nature doesn’t have an ‘Out of Office’ and the grass keeps growing,” recalled Karl.

“So, for us, it was a case of putting a protective bubble around the team and carrying on the good work. Our main focus was on making sure our team was safe, making sure they were healthy, making sure we were aware of any issues in their home life that we should be aware of and that they knew they had our support.”

Like everyone else at the time, Karl’s crystal ball was in need of a complete reboot and wasn’t providing any hints to help his path forward, but he and the team were able to do what they could to keep on top of things.

“Looking ahead to what the next few months were to hold was difficult as no-one knew whether the lockdown was going to be one month, two months or three. Everybody was wanting to know when football was going to come back. It was the one question they were asking.

“But, at the stadium, we just wanted to keep the pitch as healthy as possible so that we were ready for when football did come back.

That was our plan,” explained Karl.

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home

“Luckily our roles are primarily outdoors in the fresh air and we were able to put protocols in place for when we were in the building.

It was a difficult situation to manage but everyone bought into the mindset of keeping everyone safe. The key, as always, is good communication,” explained Karl, who worked two days a week from home during the lockdown, swapping with other members of the team, to ensure minimal numbers were working on site at any one time.

Much of their work was put on hold but as Karl readily admits, “It’s hard for grounds teams to stop and sit still”, and they were still constantly out on the pitch refining what they do.

“We were regularly raking and regularly verti-cutting, constantly on the pitch trying to thin the plant out, make it work and keep it healthy. It was a case of how quickly can we do four rakes of the playing surface and how quickly can we recover.

We ran a few scenarios during lockdown so we could collect data and analyse the results we were getting from the pitch so that we would be ready for when football came back and for the Euros too.”

While Karl was grappling with the consequences of Covid and lockdown at Wembley, Andy was dealing with similar issues at Southampton where he was Grounds Manager.

“When it all stopped nobody had a clue what was going on. I remember that Premier League football was suspended for two weeks and our next match on April 4th was called off and then it went further into April and then further after that. We eventually got going again mid to late June, but it was tricky for us to know what we could and should do in terms of pitches and training ground.

“If we’d known on March 23rd that we had until June 23rd we’d have ripped all the pitches up and renovated them there and then,” said Andy, speaking from his new place of work 135 miles north of Wembley.

When play did start and one season quickly merged into the next, it didn’t give much time for the regular close season renovation work and while Andy believes that pitches have suffered as a result, he can see a small upside to the situation.

“We are often told we are mad to be tearing up a perfectly good pitch, but what has happened this year shows the importance of the work we do between seasons. This season has proven why we do what we do.”

Andy took up post at St George’s Park on September 1, but there was no gentle introduction to his new job as, on that very same day, the England squad arrived to prepare for their autumn internationals.

“I actually started when arguably the pandemic was at its least severe bur come November, lockdown two, the tier system and then lockdown three in January, it’s been pretty tough. But I’ve always said there are plenty of people worse off then me. I’m very lucky to have what I’ve got and to be doing the job that I do,” said Andy, who is living in rented accommodation in Burton and travelling back to his family in Southampton when work allows.

Asked if the situation has been tricky for him Andy is quick to come up with another word entirely -“exciting”.

“It’s the FA, it’s England and it’s what I really wanted to do,” he said.

Andy will have around nine months to prepare St George’s Park for the Euros with the state-of-the-art facility acting as the nerve centre for Gareth Southgate’s campaign to win a second major title.

“It has been a learning curve since I joined. I’d been at Southampton for 22 years and of the 350 or so employees I was the third longest serving, so I’ve gone from everyone knowing that I was there to being the new person. I’ve never experienced that before,” he explained.

However, the pandemic has provided Andy with time which he has used wisely.

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home

“With nobody around for long periods of time it has allowed me to get to know the site and appreciate where things are, it’s just that there are people who I haven’t met yet in the flesh. We have video calls but it’s not the same.”

I asked if Andy had a pre-determined plan to work within at St George’s, if he had the opportunity to put his own stamp on things.

“On the whole I’ve got a free hand to do what I want to do. It was a strange situation in that there was nine months between my predecessor Scott (Brooks) leaving and me taking over. The team here ran things until I started. That, together with the pandemic, meant that there was no official handover.

“But I Iike to think that I got the job on the back of the work I’d done at Southampton, not just on the pitch, but staff-wise and business-wise too.

So that is what I’m looking to impose here. Why change what I was doing when it was successful in the first place?”

Back at Wembley and Karl is having to prepare for the Euros while taking on board all the re-scheduled matches from last year, the matches which offer all levels of player the unique honour of playing on the hallowed Wembley turf.

“We’ve got seven*matches at the Euro’s including both semi finals and the final. We’ve also got five training sessions and probably about seven or eight closing ceremony rehearsals, plus the ceremony itself. But we’ve just had a busy month with backlog from last season to catch up on.

“While just two weeks ago we had the Papa John’s Trophy, Portsmouth against Salford, and that had been held over from 2020, while we have the FA Vase and the FA Trophy as a double header on the same day. There is also the FA Cup semis and the final itself, and the Carabao Cup final.

But the famous pitch is prepared to the highest standard irrespective of whether it is Sutton United playing Harrogate Town or England playing Scotland in the final of the Euros.

“It is all done the same. When we are classed as a neutral venue we prepare the pitch so that it will play best and, for me, that’s a quick game of football. That’s what we like to see, that’s what brings the entertainment and that’s what the players are practising at their training venues. So, whether it is the FA Vase or the FA Cup final itself it is always the same.”

Ensuring the pitch is at its best is a team effort and Karl is blessed with an experienced group of lads, all of whom have an input into how the highest possible standards are met, with cultural methods to the forefront.

“On the back of a game we’ll tear the pitch to pieces and just get the grass plant working and keeping it as healthy as well. Cultural over chemical, that’s our philosophy,” explained Karl, who shares Andy’s view that the best pitch is a “short pitch and a wet pitch”.

“It also about data checking to ensure that the rotational resistance is there. We also look at textile strength. It is key to me when the first bit of sunshine touches the first blade of grass in March that we know we are charging that pitch up and that we have that textile strength.

Without the data it’s a guessing game. Everyone can have an opinion but I’m always looking at the key data to make sure we are ready.”

Back at St George’s and Andy is gearing up for a big month and having just had both the full and under 21 national teams on site is becoming more familiar with the England staff.

“When I arrived at the same time as the squad last September that first camp just flew by but this last week, having both squads here meant I got to know more people and recognising backroom staff on TV from their time here meant I really felt a part of it.

“So, for June we are treating St George’s Park as a club training ground for, hopefully, five or six weeks and within that we’ll have daily dialogue with either Gareth, or his assistant Steve Holland. The medical team play a huge part as well, while I’ll also be speaking with Karl as well because we will be wanting to produce the same conditions to train on as they will have to play on,” he explained.

“It is a real honour to be a part of it. Like anyone who follows football, as a kid I watched Italia ‘90, Euro ‘96, France ‘98 and there was a real buzz about the country. That was one of the things which attracted me to the role in the first place.

“Last week I was able to stand at the side of the pitch watching them train for 20 minutes and I really appreciated what a proper privilege it was.”

Andy visited Karl at Wembley not long after he started but the chat by Teams’ phone on a regular basis covering topics as wide ranging as football pitches; vintage football shirts; family and Panini stickers as both Karl and Andy were and still are avid collectors.

It isn’t surprising though given that shared history they have going right back to the Southampton training base in 2003, and that first meeting on a noisy SISIS Hydromain. Karl was an avid Saints fan and season ticket holder and was one of the ecstatic crowd when Matt Le Tissier scored the very last goal at the Dell, before the club moved to St Mary’s.

“We do go back a long way and have shared trips abroad and went to each other’s wedding. So, it is more than just work for us,” revealed Andy.

So what is it about Southampton which has produced, not just Karl and Andy, but also Dave Roberts, now Head of Grounds at Liverpool; Graeme Mills, current Southampton Head Groundsman; Ricky Rawlings and Dan Osbourne.

“For the first nine years of my career I worked under Dave Roberts and I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it forever, I could not have asked for a better mentor, tutor, teacher for those early years. That was where my start came from.

“Southampton isn’t just a great academy for players. It’s a great academy for ground staff as well.”

And while Karl wasn’t at Southampton for as long as Andy, he is also quick to credit Dave Roberts for the wonderful start he gave him to his career.

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home

“He was my first real manager and I really soaked it all in. Dave is calm, cool headed and believes in his team. He was always open with me and that mind set is one thing I’ve taken into my grounds team here at Wembley,” said Karl, of his former boss.

So, when that Euro 2020 trophy is held aloft by Harry Kane, or could it be Andy Robertson, at around 10pm on Sunday July 11, or 10.30, if Scotland have had to rely on penalties again, two men – and another sitting watching on TV in Liverpool – will be thinking back to that first meeting on the rusty old Hydromain on the Southampton training ground and appreciating, in Karl’s case, that it is not how you start it’s how you finish.

See Karl and Andy talk with Scott MacCallum on the Turf Matters YouTube channel

The countdown has started

The countdown has started: Turf Matters catches up with Alan MacDonnell, who in six years time will join the elite club of turf managers who have prepared a Ryder Cup course.

Adare Manor has been chosen to host the 2027 Ryder Cup with the County Limerick club being the second Irish golf club after The K Club, in County Kildare in 2006.

The countdown has started

The countdown has started

While it is over six year away there is one man who is sure to use every day of the time between now and the Opening Ceremony to ensure the course is fit to match the occasion.

For Course Superintendent Alan MacDonnell the Ryder Cup will the be the culmination of many years hard work and preparation.

Alan took some time out to chat with Turf Matters about what the Ryder Cup meant to him and his team and the work that has already gone on and what is still to be carried out.

Turf Matters will follow Alan’s progress between now and 2027 and report on the various milestones along the way.

Turf Matters: How did you get into greenkeeping and to your current role at Adare Manor?

Alan MacDonnell: My career was meant to be something totally different – I was destined to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a member of the An Garda Siochana (The Irish Police Force) but my interest in golf started at a very young age and I was one of the very few children in our school in Kilgarvan Co. Kerry who used to play golf.

I played and very much enjoyed golf at my local course Kenmare Golf Club and further afield in Ceann Sibeal Golf Links in Dingle with my father and my brother. In fact, my first ‘paying’ summer work was on the golf course in Kenmare.

A job I loved, and it became in some ways my second career as I later turned down the opportunity to join the An Garda Siochana to pursue a greenkeeping career.

I studied Golf Course Management at Harper Adams in the UK for three years and part of my studies was a placement at Adare Manor, that was 22 years ago. I came as an intern, learnt my trade and was fortunate enough to rise through the ranks here at Adare Manor.

TM: Can you give a little insight into the nature of the golf course – strengths, signature holes etc?

AM: The course was originally a Robert Trent Jones Snr course which opened in 1995 and was redesigned in 2016 by Tom Fazio.

Set on an 840 acre estate The Golf Course at Adare Manor is a par-72 measuring 7509 yards off the back tees. The desire is that we produce firm and fast surfaces and offer superior levels of presentation for our members and guests.

The design is very much a classical design with two loops of nine and the 1st tee, 9th green, 10th tee and 18th green all within a pitching wedge of each other.

Each nine hole loop features two par-5s and two par-3s.

The front nine is very much anchored by a 15 acre lake which also acts as our irrigation reservoir. Water is again in play on the back nine where the River Maigue comes in to play on four holes. 14 of the 18 greens have elevated putting surfaces with Bent Grass surrounds which in my opinion is one of the standout features of the course; subtle but elevated putting surfaces with devilish surrounds that run as fast as some of the greens is probably the course’s greatest defence.

The premium is on accuracy of the second or third shot to the greens. During the construction 500,000 m2 of material was moved around the site to help to transform the fairways from a relatively flat terrain to being somewhat undulating.

The whole site has been sand-capped which assists in helping us produce the firmness that we desire. The course is wall to wall maintained grass with the highest height of cut being 25mm.

My favourite hole is the 9th which is a 633 yard, par-5 with an elevated green and Bent Grass surround that is like no other on the course. With regards to our signature hole, the 18th receives a lot of plaudits, again a par-5 with a real risk and reward factor, and of course the Manor House offers a stunning back drop.

While the course in its original or in its present incarnation is still relatively new – you never get that sense at Adare Manor. The old world ‘feel’ which is created in some sense by the Manor House itself is further accentuated by the matureness of the trees on the golf course/estate and the hand cut stone boundary walls and bridges.

The countdown has started

The countdown has started

TM: What grasses do you have on the course?

AM: The fairways and roughs are Dwarf Perennial Ryegrass with Creeping Bent putting surfaces and surrounds. We have a little bit of Tall Fescues in the extreme out of play areas to offer as a colour contrast. In total we have over the years put in eight different varieties of Perennial Ryegrass, each chosen for its different characteristic, be that wear tolerance, shade tolerance, colour or fineness of leaf.

With regards to the Bent Grass we have Pure Distinction putting greens and Penn A4 surrounds.

TM: Very few Golf Course Superintendents have had the opportunity to prepare a course for a Ryder Cup. What were your initial feelings when you won the bid?

AM: I would be lying if I said myself and the team weren’t a little bit daunted by the challenge when it was first announced – excitement coupled with trepidation and the realisation that the biggest show in golf was coming to Adare Manor.

Once the excitement of the announcement abated, we began to focus on the programme of works and what we would need to do to truly successfully host such a prestigious event. There is not a day that goes by without a mention of the Ryder Cup from a member of the team. It is truly an honour to be here at Adare and to have such a huge sporting event in the calendar.

TM: Although the Ryder Cup is still a number of years away, how do you pace your course reconstruction work and generally working towards September 2027?

AM: We are, of course, fortunate that the course was reconstructed with the hosting of major golf events in mind and the Tom Fazio design team have vast experience in creating golf courses for such events.

So, the requirement or need for change is small. One of the key components of hosting the Ryder Cup is the size of the gallery and the requirement to move such large crowds around the course quickly, safely and at ease. With this in mind, particular emphasis is being placed on increasing our drainage on the ‘off golf’ areas, increasing our sand-cap on the entire site by 75mm over the next six years and widening some pinch points on the golf course.

Our normal agronomic practices will not change hugely – we are constantly monitoring the performance of the greens and surrounds, and we keep a close eye on our organic matter percentages, hydraulic conductivity etc to ensure we stay within specifications and we adjust our programmes accordingly.

TM: Have you been working closely with the European Tour in what needs to be done to make the course the perfect Ryder Cup/match play venue?

AM: We have a very good relationship with the European Tour and we have had extensive site walks with them. The Ryder Cup grows exceptionally at every staging of the event so the European Tour are assisting at every juncture.

TM: Have any previous Ryder Cup Course Managers/ Superintendents been in touch with you as yet with advice and will you be seeking them out closer to the time?

AM: Yes, indeed there have been many phone calls, text messages and emails from various Ryder Cup Golf Course Superintendents offering supporting words and wisdom. While I may not know some of them personally, it is a great honour to get such calls and messages from my peers. As the 2027 event draws nearer, I will indeed be leaning more and more on these peers for advice and input on the different scenarios that may face the team and I.

The countdown has started

The countdown has started

TM: Can you talk a little about the major projects which will be carried out on the course before 2027?

AM: A lot of the projects that we will be undertaking will be primarily to assist with people movement and allowing space for infrastructure to be erected, hospitality areas, grandstands and the like.

With regards to changes to the course these will be small, and this is testament to the work that was put in during the rebuild. There are no major changes planned for the course itself.

TM: To facilitate a major tournament, I expect you will build a larger team than usual. How do you manage such a large team and unique operation out on the course, is there anything you will do differently with the team before the Ryder Cup to prepare?

AM: Here at Adare Manor, we have a large, committed team, some of whom have been onsite for 25 years.

What our team brings to the course is dedication, desire and knowledge and with this we strive to give them ownership and responsibility. The Ryder Cup, like any major event, will require many volunteers and since the announcement there have been many messages from willing people looking to be involved and assist with the event, messages from Ireland, the UK, Europe and from the US.

A bit like the Ryder Cup itself we intend on putting a programme in place for our staff and volunteers that will reflect the quality of the course and the matches being played.

A charter for excellence

A charter for excellence: James Pope took on his dream job in the middle of a pandemic but, as he explained to Scott MacCallum, after a difficult start he now truly appreciates the wonders of Charterhouse School.

James Pope is looking out over the stunning, immaculately maintained, sports grounds of Charterhouse School and thinking back to 2020 and a year when he was pushed to his very limits.

A charter for excellence

A charter for excellence

He might smile at how he managed to move on from a workable doggie paddle to a more than serviceable butterfly in what was the essence of a sink or swim situation. To stretch the swimming analogy, he might now see it as a springboard to what he and his team is achieving going forward.

James applied for his dream job early last year. Interviews were held during early stages of Covid complete with the embarrassed, almost jokey, non-hand shaking protocols, but by the time he rolled into the spectacular grounds, for his first day in the job on May 26, we were in the depths of the first lockdown.

“The opportunity to take the job at Charterhouse was far too immense to turn down. The grounds are unbelievable, just like a film set, and there was a blueprint there which meant that it could be the best site you’ve ever walked on. It’s got that sort of capability,” said James, who had previously been Head of Grounds at St Paul’s School, in central London.

Perhaps one of the films he might have been thinking about was Mission Impossible because there is a fair chance that was the theme going around his head that first day.

“Maybe I naively took on the job thinking that it would all have blown over by July or August. We’d be out of the woods by September, and that everything would be fine by the new academic year. But it wasn’t to be, was it?”

James did have a full day’s handover with his predecessor, Lee Marshallsay (now at Eton), but had it been a month the chances are elements would still have not sunk in. However, Covid put pay to the opportunity of a longer handover process.

“I arrived at 7am and we had 11 hours together and Lee, who I knew from our time at Harrow together, said we should walk the site. Half an hour later we hadn’t completed the tour. All the time Lee was passing on so much information and knowledge then, at the end, he handed me a ring binder, so full it couldn’t be closed. But even then, that didn’t cover everything.”

Five weeks later having digested as much of the handover document as he could, he started.

Eleven months on, and looking back, James can’t help but wince, as, with lockdown, it meant he arrived with half of his team on furlough, including his Admin Assistant.

“I didn’t know any of the staff and I really didn’t know where anything was kept.” recalled James.

Fortunately his Deputy, Liam McKendry, had not been furloughed and, at the same time as getting to know each other, he was able to pass on what he knew.

“Liam was an absolute rock because he knew the site, although he hadn’t been here two years himself, and he knew the team and the types of situation we would be likely to expect. Without him in those first few weeks I’d have been lost as it’s a huge site full of complexities.

“However, Liam had only been on staff for a couple of years himself so there was quite a bit he didn’t’ know either. So, in many ways, we have been learning much of the site together,” said James.

“I spend the first three or four weeks trying not to be overawed, getting to know everyone and building up trust between myself and the team.”

A charter for excellence

A charter for excellence

Having arrived from St Paul’s, to a site that was five times bigger with a large forestry area to maintain, as well as a nine hole golf course and all the sports pitches it was a genuine task – made worse by the fact that James’ first few months coincided with a hot dry spell.

“It was verging on 30 degrees and our site is near enough 100% sand so it looked like a dust bowl for two months., There was nothing we could do unless it poured with rain, which wasn’t looking likely,” recalled James.

“I was concerned. I’d only just started and it’s a dust bowl. People were going to think that I couldn’t do the job. I really wanted to get stuck in, but what could I do. I’m giving myself a headache just thinking back,” said James, who added into the mix the fact that the Director of Sport was also newly appointed and, like James, learning a new job in the middle of a pandemic.

With the weather not doing him any favours and James genuinely concerned about having everything ready for September he got his first break.

“We took a bit of a gamble and started to do everything we needed to do, as if the weather was favourable, and hope that the weather would change for us. And lo and behold, it did! Someone was looking down on me. In August it rained.”

Since that early trauma, James has gone on to appreciate fully the wonderful environment in which he is now working.

“St Paul’s wasn’t a small school by any means but in terms of status and stature boarding schools like Charterhouse are the crown jewels. Ourselves, Harrow and Eton are all on the same page. Charterhouse is huge.”

It may have only been a year, but James has already seen at first hand what marks Charterhouse out as special.

“What really impresses me about Charterhouse is that when they do something they do it properly. It is not done with any element of compromise, no stone is left unturned. Every detail is covered and they want it to be the best it can be. They don’t want mediocrity and that spurs me on to produce the best as well.”

James is interesting on the subject of the day-to-day differences between his current job and his previous one.

“At St Paul’s where there is over 1,000 pupils but only 30 boarders, while there are 800 pupils at Charterhouse. At St Paul’s, from the moment you got there at 6.45am for a 7am start there were children already coming in and it was getting busy. Sport started at 9am and would go on to after 6, and there was sport being played six days a week.

“At Charterhouse there is breakfast, then classes before any sport and then it is only played on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

It doesn’t feel so busy, but it is much more geared up to producing quality surfaces because there is time available to work on them. The window of opportunity to get things done is much bigger. That said there are many more surfaces to produce.”

The school has a strong reputation for having sports surfaces which rival the very best.

“That goes back to when Dave Roberts was here, and look what he’s gone on to do (Head of Grounds at Liverpool FC). He made a huge mark here and guys on the team still talk about him now. A really nice bloke who brought that professional football and sport ethos into the school environment.”

While not treating his first year as a false start, priorities were certainly different than they would have been had Covid not struck, and James is certainly looking forward to tackling his new job under more conventional circumstances.

“I’d like to think in six months’ time we’ll be in a position to say this is the start. We’ll have come through a period of not knowing; of toing and froing, of preparing for sport, of not preparing for sport; should we spend money on that or not as we don’t know what is going to be happening.

“Going forward the Director of Sport will know how he wants to work and mould his department and that will have a direct impact upon us as a team.”

And from his own perspective James will be looking at what products work on the Charterhouse site.

“The great thing here is that the size of the site lends itself to trialling products which makes us far more competitive when it comes to negotiating prices. Because we have so many pitches we can dial down on what is going to work for us.

A charter for excellence

A charter for excellence

“We will be constantly trialling to see what works, and even if it does work, we will then ask if we still do better. We don’t want to be short changed. It also makes us popular with the trade as it shows that we are open minded.”

His current core group of companies are ICL; Turf Care, Limagrain and AGS while machinery wise Baroness cylinder mowers are used for the outfield cutting and Dennis as well.

“I used them at St Paul’s and I’m used to it, know that it doesn’t break and that it has good back-up.”

Another huge plus for James at Charterhouse is his 14-strong team plus himself. “I think the world of them all. If it wasn’t for them, in the middle of Covid I don’t know where I would have been. They have all worked here a long time and know what they are doing and at the beginning I told them that they don’t need me to tell them what to do but just to go out do their job and that I wouldn’t be chasing them around.

“I think it gave them a new lease of life from knowing that I trust them.” So, given the difficulties of the last year what are James’ ambitions for three years down the line?

“If the team are coming into work and seeing the difference and that we are better than we were when I turned up that would make me happy. It is as much their site as it is mine, I’m just the custodian, but I’d like them to be taking pride in what they have achieved.”

After coming through a period as challenging as 2020 and the first half of 2021, and that springboard boost, no-one would bet against it.

All you need to know about nematodes

All you need to know about nematodes: Spring is an important time of year for turf management. As the weather warms and preparations are made for the busy summer season, everything must be one to ensure that the turf is healthy – protecting the grass from soil-dwelling pests such as chafer grubs. Helpfully, nematodes can be used to control these unwelcome golf course visitors, which feed on the grass plants’ roots. 

Dr Colin Mumford, Technical Support Manager at Bayer Environmental Science, answers greenkeepers’ questions on how nematode-based products work.

All you need to know about nematodes

All you need to know about nematodes

DON’T NEMATODES KILL GRASS?

It depends. There are two types of nematodes – the ‘bad guys’ and the ‘good guys’. The ‘bad guys’ are plant parasitic nematodes that feed on plant tissue, stress the turf and often make it visually unappealing.

The ‘good guys’ are the entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN) and these don’t harm humans, plants or vertebrates. They are, however, able to target and control turf pests such as chafer grubs and leatherjackets. In this article, I’ll refer to EPN (the ‘good guys’) simply as ‘nematodes’.

HOW DO NEMATODES CONTROL TURF PESTS?

When you apply the nematodes to turf, they travel down to the roots, where the chafer grubs and leatherjackets reside. These pests become the nematodes’ hosts and, once they’ve found them, each nematode enters its host through its natural openings. Once inside, they regurgitate a type of bacteria that paralyses the host and, ultimately, leads to its death.

The nematodes then produce offspring that feed on the inside of that host. Once they’ve exhausted all of the resources available to them, they exit the body. These new nematodes will then go off to seek a host for themselves to complete their lifecycle.

DO ALL EPN NEMATODES WORK IN THE SAME WAY?

This is one of those ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers. ‘Yes’ once they are inside the host species, they all produce the bacteria, complete their lifecycle and control the pest. But ‘no’ in so far as different species use different strategies to target their host.

For example, Bayer’s Harmonix Tri-Nema product contains three different species. ‘The Hunter’ Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, is a ‘seek and destroy cruiser’ nematode that actively seeks out or hunts its prey before attaching itself to it. Meanwhile, Steinernema carpocapsae is known as ‘The Resident’ because it uses an ambushing strategy that sees it sitting and waiting for a host to come along before jumping onto it to complete its lifecycle. Furthermore, ‘The Explorer’, Steinernema feltiae, has an intermediate foraging strategy between the ‘ambusher’ and ‘cruiser’. It will actively seek out the host but, rather than attacking, it will wait for the host to come past and then it will ambush it.

Ideally, you want to use as many different species as possible so that you’re utilising those different modes of action and maximising the effectiveness of your nematode strategy to control chafer grubs.

HOW DO I STORE THEM?

Ideally, you should use the nematodes as soon as possible after receiving them. But if you can’t get to the golf course because the conditions aren’t right, then you’ll need to store them appropriately.

Don’t open the box in broad daylight/direct sunlight because this is extremely damaging to the nematodes and can kill them. What’s more, don’t expose the nematodes to extreme temperatures, so don’t freeze them or expose them to temperatures above 30°C.

The product will typically come in a cardboard box, but you will need to take the packets of nematodes out of that box and store them in the fridge at a temperature of 4-8°C. Otherwise, the cardboard box will act as insultation, meaning the product won’t be stored at the optimum temperature range.

You want to loosely distribute the packets in your fridge and don’t put them together in one big stack. This is because the weight of all the packs can cause crushing injuries on the nematodes in the bottom pack. Just loosely lay them out in your refrigerator and always use the nematodes before the end of the expiry date on the packet.

All you need to know about nematodes

All you need to know about nematodes

WHEN DO I APPLY THEM?

The timing of application should coincide with egg hatch, or soon after egg hatch. Chafer grubs are the larval stage of several adult beetle species, including Phyllopertha horticola. Therefore, you need to monitor the activity of the adult insects from mid-May until late June.

Leatherjackets are another grass root-loving pest that nematodes can target. These are the larvae of the cranefly, most commonly the European crane fly (Tipular paludosa) although the common cranefly (Tipular oleracea) can also be seen in turf.

Contrary to its name, it’s not the most common species but the difference between this and the European cranefly is that several generations can live throughout the year. So, if you spot a cranefly in springtime then it’s most likely the common cranefly.

You should apply nematodes three to four weeks after you observe a decline in the activity of the adult insects. That way, you know that the vast majority of eggs would have hatched by then. And any eggs that haven’t yet hatched will be attacked by future nematode generations.

DO I NEED TO PREPARE THE GROUND BEFORE APPLYING THEM?

Yes. If you’ve got high levels of thatch the nematodes can get held up in there. So, anything you can do to reduce this prior to applications is advisable.

Also, avoid using granular fertilisers for two weeks prior to, and post, the nematode application because granular fertilisers can do untold damage them.

Ideally, you want to aerate the surface of the turf before applying the product to improve surface infiltration rates and aid the efficiency of the nematodes getting into the soil or the rootzone. Irrigating the day before application should ensure that you have appropriate levels of water in your soil.

HOW DO I APPLY THEM?

Typically, you will be using a vehicle-mounted sprayer or a knapsack sprayer.

You may have to premix a solution if it’s a small capacity tank or a knapsack sprayer. But whichever system you use, try not to apply them using too great a pressure, keep the pressure below 5 bar. The more pressure you have the more force going through the nozzle which tends to produce a smaller droplet. The benefit of large droplets is that they bounce and roll off the turf canopy until they get to the rootzone itself and are able to transport the nematodes into the root system.

You’ll need to remove all filters from your sprayer because nematodes can get trapped. Also avoid using warm water as this could shock the nematodes.

The other point that’s really important to remember is that you don’t apply these nematodes prior to, or during, heavy rain.

In this type of weather, it’s possible for the nematodes to be flushed through the rootzone and down the drainage system.

Finally, avoid applying the nematodes in direct sunlight. The ideal timing is first thing in the morning when you’ve got low light levels.

For sustainability, meet the EPG

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

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

For sustainability, meet the EPG

For sustainability, meet the EPG

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

Figure 1

Figure 1

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

Harvesting water from buildings

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

    Figure 2

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

Harvesting water from whole sites

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

Figure 3

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

Flood risk Assessments/ mitigating effects of flooding

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

Figure 4a & 4b

Green/Blue roofs

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

Figure 5

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

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

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

Introducing a WOW factor

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

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

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how are we doing?

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

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

So, how are we doing?

So, how are we doing?

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

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

Volunteers at the helm

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

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

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

Getting the professional game back on

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

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

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

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

The unsung heroes of sport

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

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

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

Joining the sector

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

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

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

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