Grounds management is vital if we are to get back to play

Grounds management is vital if we are to get back to play: 2020 will undoubtedly go down in history as the season of no sport. With tournaments cancelled, a nationwide ban on sport, and lockdown meaning everyone has ‘stayed at home’, the turf industry and those within it have been seriously impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

As of this month, Project Restart is beginning to unlock sport at a professional level, and with calls for sport to return as soon as it’s safe to do so, Covid-19 has reminded us how intrinsic these games – and the pitches they’re played on – are to our nation and communities.

Grounds management is vital if we are to get back to play

Grounds management is vital if we are to get back to play

Despite the important role sport plays at all levels, we are facing a crisis at its very foundation. GMA’s new report and research, Back to Play, has shown that a lack of investment and appreciation for local grass pitches, and those that maintain them, could significantly limit play once sport resumes.

Saving the grassroots game

Many of our favourite sports are heavily dependent on our natural turf pitches, and those that maintain them. But there is potential for a steady decline in both the quality and the number of pitches available. As local authority budgets are tightened and resources are stripped back or limited, we’ll undoubtedly see this accelerated by the pandemic.

In England today, we have around 56,891 rugby union and league, football, and cricket pitches – one pitch for every 984 people. Many of these pitches have been overplayed due to rising demand, resulting in a steady deterioration of existing grounds.

Demand will also likely increase, as access to sports will be crucial to our recovery. We’ve been unable to play, which will have impacted on our physical and mental wellbeing. Our grounds staff will therefore have to manage even more demand, while continuing to create a safe playing environment.

If this trend continues, the number of rugby, cricket and football matches played will be reduced over the next decade. Our report has suggested a fifth of people who play rugby and football will be unable to play every week, and more than half of people who play cricket will see matches reduced, without urgent action.

The ‘new normal’

The Government has announced a return to professional sports (without the fans), and much has been mentioned about the players and staff, whose safety is paramount. However, what isn’t discussed is the restrictions, and the direct impact they will have on the groundstaff teams. Teams will be expected to maintain pre-pandemic standards, with less resources, less budget and with safety protocols restricting what can and cannot be done.

All these aspects will change the nature of working practices. Grounds staff have proven themselves to be an essential service for our sports, seamlessly producing playing surfaces as teams returned to training.

Commercially-driven clubs, who will be desperate to recoup lost revenue as a result of the pandemic, must support the grounds teams in the coming weeks, months, and years.

It’s likely that grounds staff will be asked to produce ‘fit for play’ surfaces with quick turnaround, in a concentrated period – not to mention winter sports playing through summer and summer sports extending into winter months.

We’ve witnessed flooded February, a pandemic, and the driest May on record, so further unexpected weather may well exaserbate the challenges that lie ahead.

For many clubs at all levels, surviving will be challenging. Clubs need support, and while sports bodies have been quick to establish funding, they themselves have been impacted by the pandemic. Sport is part of the fabric of our society, yet our grassroots infrastructure has suffered from decades of under-investment and a lack of focus. While we await the return of recreational sport, when the green light is given, volunteers will be vital in producing playable pitches.

Making more sport possible

With proper investment in our sector, we know the decline can be averted, and sport can continue.

While there are pitch improvement programmes, including the successful ‘Grounds & Natural Turf Investment Programme’ (GaNTIP), more must be done.

If we improved existing grass pitches, almost 1.4 million more children could play rugby or football every week and 489,859 more could play cricket every season. By investing more in grass pitches, those that maintain them, and influencing a new generation of skilled grounds staff, we can reverse this trend, improve our grass pitches, and enable sport to continue.

Getting involved

With our Back to Play campaign, we’re calling for people to join the sector, both as volunteers and professionals, and more resources to improve access to community-level sport.

Our sector is facing a recruitment crisis, and with only 19% of children currently considering a job in grounds management, we must work together as an industry to address this. We know people in our industry love what they do. Over 90% of those working in the sector are satisfied or very satisfied with their job, highlighting high levels of job satisfaction.

We’ve also seen hundreds of thousands of people volunteering to help out in their community, be that through signing up to support the NHS, or helping out an elderly neighbour. It’s vital that this spirit continues once sport resumes.

Matches and training cannot take place without a suitable playing surface. Clubs need great pitches, and they need grounds staff and volunteers to make that possible.

It’s imperative that more sportloving young people enter the profession, creating a new generation of passionate and dedicated grounds managers, and that more volunteers look to support local pitches, even just for a couple of hours a month.

As turf professionals, it’s our job to inspire this younger generation, as well as potential volunteers of all ages, to join us, and work with the wider sporting industry to highlight the important role that grounds staff play. Sport is a cornerstone in our communities, our identities and our lives and we must ensure sport is possible for everyone, wherever and whoever they are.

Under the cloud of COVID-19

Under the cloud of COVID-19: The last three months have been traumatic and many of us will have lost relatives, loved ones, friends and colleagues to the awful Covid 19. We are far from out of the woods, and may even have to endure a second wave, but there does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

What has been super to see during it all has been the manner in which our industry sector has adapted. Over the last six weeks Turf Matters has conducted a series of Zoom interviews with people across all facets on the industry and what has come across has been the professionalism and desire to ensure the best outcomes for staff and whatever their day job entails.

Under the cloud of COVID-19

Under the cloud of COVID-19

To document this, and not just leave those Zoom interviews for those with access to our digital platforms, we’ve decided to take some edited highlights for the magazine.

James Pope, Grounds Manager, St Paul’s School, London (Just appointed Grounds Manager Charterhouse School)

Central London, where we are based, is the epicentre of the virus. It is surreal.

As we speak, we should be right in the middle of the cricket term. We’d 1,400 boys here in full flow. It’s a busy site. 45 acres of sports turf, but the boys aren’t here, the teachers aren’t here. The school is on a skeleton staff.

It has given us the chance to get on with our work without time frames and limits, which is nice. But for what purpose, or what end goal?

We have a staff of seven for the grounds and gardens and we are continuing to carry out essential work with three on one day and four the next and alternating. Obviously, we are not sure when the boys are due back or what sport they are going to be playing when they do get back.

It is difficult for us as our winter sports pitches overlap our summer pitches. We can’t start preparing for football and keep cricket operational.

So, we are a little in limbo. We are just keeping up the essential maintenance, cutting, and using a lot of Primo Maxx just to slow the growth down.

We have put ourselves forward to do a lot of the clear-up work after the completion of a big building project at the school.

Lawn reinstatement and everything associated with it, plus a new artificial pathway outside one of the pavilions, will save the school some costs and keep us busy.

Everyone is on a rota. If anyone was to contract Covid the chances are that we’d all get it as we work in close proximity – tea breaks are shared and there is added pressure to make sure we are sanitising everything and not working too closely together.

It is a different scenario for us and really management of turf has to be put on the back burner in favour of people’s health and well-being. Staff welfare is number one priority.

If schools do come back before the end of the academic year, I can’t see us competing with other schools visiting schools in the local area. I think that view is echoed by senior management here.

The risk is not worth taking.

Graeme Beatt, Course Manager, Royal Portrush GC

On our side of things we are managing OK. There are seven of us at the moment, plus a part-timer. Members and visitors are completely gone for this year.

We were fully booked or the year and the members were looking forward to the season too. It is only golf and there are a lot more serious things going on at the moment, but the golf course and a game of golf is something people look forward to all week and that has been taken away.

We are managing to keep the course tidy and have replaced a lot of pedestrian mowing with ride-ons and replaced lightweight fairway mowers.

Previously it was five people out mowing one course. That’s a one man job now with a larger, heavier machine.

We have lost a little bit of quality, but we will get that back before the golfers return. At this time of year we’d be doing a lot of overseeding and top dressing but that eats up staff – five or six people – so all that has just gone by the wayside. It will be the autumn before we can do any work like that.

We did get most of our winter projects completed and it is just a case of keeping things ticking over.

We were quite quick to put policies in place with lunch breaks, lots of hand sanitiser; wiping down equipment before they used it; wiping down lunch room after every use etc. Because we have quite a big team we split them up so we had five different lunch rooms, so we could manage better. We had the old greenkeeping sheds for half the staff and the new sheds for the other half.

It was actually a relief when some of the staff went off on furlough. Some had health issues, so it worked well for them. I chatted with staff and some asked if they could go off and the ones who are here volunteered to be here because they didn’t have family members with any issues. The more people you have the more vulnerable everyone is. Now there is just a few of us, we can social distance more easily.

We are not taking lunch of tea breaks, just having shorter days. Everyone meets in the sheds in the morning and are issued with jobs and everyone is keeping the same equipment.

Each member of staff will have two or three different jobs on two or three machines and no-one else would be on those machines. Feels strange, but we are managing.

We were talking to other clubs about government guidelines, while our General Manager has been very good at keeping us updated.

We wracked our brains to work out how best we could do it and we were on it from the start.

Helen Griffiths, CEO, Fields in Trust

We are based in London so we see first-hand the exceptional times and importance of open spaces and park and the valuable nature of it.

Also, perhaps a little bit of trepidation about number of people using them when perhaps they shouldn’t be. We do have split feelings.

It has reinforced just how valuable parks and greens spaces are the health and well-being of communities. They are so important to the health of the nation. We are not all experiencing this crisis in exactly the same way, so if you are living in a very dense urban area and don’t have any private outdoor space, then the parks and greens spaces are even more crucial than for those of us who are fortunate enough to have some green space of our own that we can use without the restrictions. Without question, parks and green spaces are hugely valuable to all of us. We are all realising just how important they are and how much of the current commentary is around parks and green spaces and ensuring that people still have access to them.

In the main, local authorities have done a really good job in ensuring that these valuable community assets do stay open. Not everyone is observing social distancing when they are using the spaces. They are spending more time in them than they should, but it is an incredibly difficult balance to strike.

We are currently completing a survey to understand park usage – are people using parks more as a result of the pandemic, perhaps unable to go anywhere else, whereas previously they might have gone swimming or used gyms? For others used to using a park multiple times a day, perhaps people with small children, we are seeing a decline. We are trying to establish what the trends are.

It might be a positive message out of a very difficult situation. We must recalibrate what our expectations are for parks and green spaces when thinking about budgets being directed to health and social services.

We have got to see parks and green spaces as part of the overall health service and unless we give them that sort of priority, we are going to continue to be very challenged. As a non-statutory service, we are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to a share of the very competitive funding.

What we have got to recognise is that we have been making the argument not to limit parks and green spaces to be part of the parks and green spaces department, but we need to see them as absolutely pivotal to a whole range of other, really significant, public service agendas. Parks and green spaces can play a really valuable role in offsetting some of that drawn further upstream.

Lee Marshallsay, Grounds Manager, Charterhouse School (Just appointed Grounds Manager Eton School)

The school is closed to pupils on site, but still very much open for on-line teaching to our pupils across the world.

It would be easy just do nothing, but we are working with a living plant which does need work and if we don’t do something it is going to possibly be more costly and take more manpower to get it back to how it should be.

We’ve got a reduced team of people in each day, staggering start and finish times. We plan what we are going to do on our 250 acre site – various outfields, football pitches, and so on, as well as a golf course. We have taken the normal plans and just reduced what we are doing on a day-to-day basis. We are still cutting greens every day, but when it comes to outfields, it is once a week, perhaps twice, depending on growth.

We have gardens as well and what we are trying to do is pick areas to work on, where teams can work in a safe environment. Just trying to do the minimal maintenance that can keep us going and get us through and so that we can get back to where we need to be. For example, we have raised our height of cut from where we usually are.

We had a couple of football pitch renovations to finish off, which we have done.

I’m very lucky here as the team have a sense of pride and whatever job they are doing they want to carry it out was well as possible. Even if we are only cutting once a week, they want to make sure that it is striped up.

We are not preparing cricket wickets for boys and girls to be playing every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday for example. Preparing a golf course, but no-one coming out to play. We are not changing tee and pin positions, we are just cutting greens, tees as they are and fairways – rough isn’t being cut every week, it’s been cut every two or three. We are preparing a course, but no-one is going to turn up and that’s tough to get your head around.

You are taking your time a little bit more because you are not having to rush around to get things done.

Safety of staff has always been paramount at all times, but Covid-19 is an extra bit to think about. We’ve put in place limited staff each day.

All staff have to wear disposable gloves; all equipment is wiped down with Dettol each day and after each use; we’ve got hand gel all around; reduced the number of people in the tea room at any one time and there are other areas they can use. Most people, if they are on a machine, will be on that machine for the whole day therefore movement is limited.

So, we’ve put everything in place that we can to create a safe environment. To make sure our staff are safe, but if they do have any concerns we hopefully have already addressed them but if we haven’t, we need to act on those concerns as well.

Very little has come back from the team. They believe that they are safe and I don’t think there is anything more we can do as a school. A lot of the rest is common sense, social distancing two metres apart and that is what we are doing. I’ve told the team that if they feel people are getting too close, just ask them to take a step back.

We are all going to reflect on how we worked before and how we work going forward. I think hand gel will stay, whether disposable gloves will stay I’m not sure. Keeping people on certain machines. I just think the whole world is going to be a little bit different and who knows what the new normal is going to be like?

Chris Clarke, Chairman of Rigby Taylor

We’ve adapted to the current environment, and we will adapt again as it relaxes, no doubt. It is difficult and trading is difficult. That’s the case for everyone in the industry, both on the supply side and for our customers, so we have adapted by putting in safety procedures – distancing for example. We’ve furloughed staff to reduce our resources to match the demand. We are still taking what I consider to be a reasonable number of orders, which is good.

It is about doing the right thing. We are protecting our employees, we are protecting the community at large and we are meeting the needs of our customers as well.

The furloughing scheme has certainly helped us along. It’s not the full answer by any manner of means, but it is a really big help and allows us to flex and do what it is meant to do and that is preserve employment for the future.

We will be here in the future, without a doubt.

Many of our customers are key workers. We are still fully operational in our factories, so from our customer point of view it is business as usual, the delivery system works fairly well, carriers are still active. Some things we can’t get but anything that is made in our factories is very much available.

We’d all like to be back to normal and relaxation might be just around the corner in a couple of weeks.

Maybe golf will come back on soon, but distancing is still going to be key to that to avoid a second spike.

Business is not going to just spring back to normal. It is going to be a long road out. Probably looking to nine to 12 months before we are away from this, if indeed it ever does return to normal.

We have a senior management team which looks at things on an on-going fashion. We are looking at controls we can put in place for better protection, expanding our We are preparing a course, but no-one is going to turn up and that’s tough to get your head around operations while keeping the safety as a paramount goal. We work at that all the time. Video conferencing has become a big part and we probably meet more now than we did before, ironically, because it is so easy to do.

We can be quite nimble, which is key in this environment.

With budgets inevitably reduced it will impact on everybody’s profitability, stability and sustainability going forward.

Some businesses and customers businesses may not make it. We’ve got to be real about that. It is going to be a fact of life. It is going to be difficult from a trading point of view going forward.

David Withers, Managing Director of Iseki UK

None of us have ever lived through anything like this, so it is new for all of us.

March 23 was a turning point. The first eight to 10 weeks of the year were slow but vaguely normal, but when lockdown came into play it was like flicking a switch and the market, fundamentally, just stopped for a while.

It has been difficult, it has been challenging, but it has been an opportunity for us to try new things.

There are some paddocks near where we live and we’ve being doing virtual demos, which a member of my household films on an iPhone.

We edit them and put them online and we are getting thousands of views and we’ve even had half a dozen people buy machines off the back of it. We are obeying all the rules, keeping the workforce safe, encouraging our dealers to keep their workforces safe, but at the same time trying to keep some sort of contact with people and try something new.

Those big traditional companies with huge balance sheets can afford to live through a long period of disruption and losses. The smaller companies are potentially more nimble, but less strong on the balance sheet, trading for less period of time with reserves built up over many years.

There are plusses and minuses to both, but take as an example the demos we’ve done. You’d never have been able to do that at one of the big companies, because legal would have to be involved, HR would have to be involved and the results would not be professional or good enough for them. But for us, as small company, we can adapt quickly. We decide if it’s good enough. If it is, that’s fine, we go with it.

We have an experienced management team with a breadth of knowledge as well as a depth. With the bigger companies you often have a lot of depth, but not much breadth. You have people who know a lot about a little, but what we have, our guys are very experienced and have been in the industry for a long time who all know about the product, the business, distribution, sales, marketing. While I have furloughed people off, the people who are still here have got that breadth to keep things going. We are all just mucking in. I was actually picking parts earlier in the week.

The government’s messaging is mixed. You hear “Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save lives” about 150 times an hour, but periodically you also hear them say if you can’t work from home, you can go to work. There were certain prescribed industries told to close – retail, pubs, clubs, restaurants but actually dealerships were told to shut showrooms, but allowed to keep workshops open because people need machinery fixed.

We support some of the big infrastructure companies who cut the trees and shrubs, which keep the power lines clear. Food and dairy production buy our tractors, so surely we want these guys to keep going. We were not one of those who were told to close so we did find ourselves in those first three weeks thinking we need to do as little as we can, stay home etc, and over these last few weeks we felt that if people did need parts from us, we should be able to provide them.

Personally, I think we will be under some degree of restrictions right the way through this year. That has been our take on life. Once we got our heads round the idea that it wasn’t going to be a three-week thing and then everyone back to normal, the V shape that they talked about then, you have to say this is the ‘new normal’. How can we serve our customers and give them the support and service they require in this new normal?

I’ve written our new guidelines as to how we do demonstrations and deliveries going forward. There is a way of delivering and demoing machinery which hits all the protocols but allows the machines to be delivered and installed.

Our Japanese owners are really good. Their main priority is safety of employees. They actually sent us a lot of PPE – gloves, masks etc – from Japan without being asked. We are working with them on the financial implications as we are definitely selling a lot less than we planned, and so have a lot more inventory that we planned. They’re working with us on how we manage that.

I think this will be a sea change for the industry. It will be years before the industry gets back to the levels of activity that they were prior to this. People have learned that they can get by with less, whether that be less staff, less machines, less whatever. You always find at these times what is nice to have and what is absolutely essential.

The same happened during last recession. People learned they could run machines for longer and manage with fewer of them.

Les Malin, Managing Director of Etesia UK and President Elect of the AEA

With the reduction in staff at the moment I’m finding that I’m doing 90% of everyone else’s job! It could be parts, it could be forklifting, it could be invoicing. You need to be a Jack of all trades.

Having European owners of the business, as well as colleagues down in the south with Pellenc, we encountered some of the issues fairly early on as France was struck by the virus earlier than here in the UK.

They are still in a lockdown situation in France, regardless of what you hear with a reduced working relationship.

The majority of the Etesia and the Pellenc staff are still furloughed – or the French equivalent of furlough – which is even more strict than ours. When working from home they have set times when you can and can’t do anything.

For example, you can work on a Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, but not allowed to do anything for the rest of the week. So, it is challenging when you are trying to work with people.

I had to look at which staff can come in and which staff were needed to service the dealers and where there were dealers to be serviced. In the first two or three weeks there were very few people open or expecting us to be open.

I was sitting in the office with no calls coming in from one day to the next. In fact, the majority of calls I had early on was from end users struggling to find dealerships open because when people rang the numbers and they were open, the telephone message was telling them that they were closed.

I’ve had four containers arrive from France in the last four weeks and everything has gone out the door which I was very pleased about because, I must admit, when the lockdown started I really expected a lot of orders from local authorities to be cancelled.

Usually if an order is not with them by March, with April budget-setting you often see a cancellation. And not a single order has been cancelled.

Grass cutting is not seen as the most important thing to do and workers who normally cut the grass have been taken away to do other jobs. In a lot of cases, the grass not considered a priority, but as the weeks have gone it has had to be tackled again and they have had to adapt to how they need to do it. So that’s been good news for us.

From the Etesia point of view, I think everything will have to change in the way we operate, both from the manufacturing side in France and the way we operate in the UK. I don’t believe things will go back to how we saw as normal for at least this year and even into next year. And I don’t see it happening as we did things in the past.

From a manufacturing perspective we’ve run the “just in time” manufacturing process, but we’ve found issues where everything comes to a complete stop if we can’t get components from a supplier. A lot of suppliers, who we rely on, are not in business at the moment, or have shut the doors completely.

We may have to look for new suppliers. So, I can see the supply chain becoming a lot slower for the next six, nine months, perhaps even a year.

On the AEA, I’m probably the first President-Elect to come into the role with so many uncertainties. The year ahead of us has Covid-19 around everyone’s neck, but we also have Brexit looming in just a few months’ time – so we have a double whammy. It is going to be a very interesting 12 months of presidency!

Brexit dominated our lives for a few years, but it seemed to have been put on the back burner – but our government certainly hasn’t put it on the back burner. They are still saying that we will leave at the end of the year, but negotiations can’t be done as they were in the past. There is no face-to-face negotiation and, we all know as salesmen, face-toface is the best way to do it. I don’t see how that is going to come off.

We offer our members an awful lot in terms of useful information regarding the current situation and what we think is the way forward. The technical people and the economics people back at the AEA are constantly reviewing the information that the government are putting out, both here and in Europe, collating it the best way they can to give the membership a one-stop shop to get all the information they need.

If you tried on your own, you would get bogged down working out what you should and shouldn’t do. The great thing with our teams at the AEA is that they collate the information which needs to be applied to our industry. That saves a hell of a lot of work for individuals and points them in a right direction for the future.

That is more important now that it has ever been in the past.

Gary Barwell, Head Groundsman at Edgbaston

Last year was an amazing summer for English cricket. England won the World Cup and we had an Ashes Tour.

Then we had a very wet winter and we were all worried, then we started hearing the news about coronavirus and it wasn’t good. Then it got worse.

A lot of people up and down the land are making decisions that are a lot more complex than mine, but we are trying to do our bit in really trying circumstances.

It is a special team here at Edgbaston. There are nine of us on the ground staff and Warwickshire have been absolutely outstanding in keeping us informed every step of the way.

We took the decision that the ground was going to be shut down, which meant my team of nine basically went down to a team of two, including me. It was the best solution for the club and for the safety of the staff. Since then we have just cracked on, like a lot of grounds up and down the country. We’ve all been doing our bit.

I was on my own here for five weeks, which was very different and took me back a long time, to when I used to work at a club cricket ground in Leicestershire, at Hinckley. In a strange way, you know, you fall back in love with what you do. It was a strange distraction in a very serious situation for the country.

Then after about five weeks it became evident that it was quite hard work on my own, so I mentioned to the club that I’d quite like my deputy back. That was about two or three weeks ago. We then got the news that the bowlers were coming come back into training. I didn’t think I’d ever really hear myself saying it, but that was great news as it meant a little bit of normality. It’s a very different work environment.

My deputy and I are never together, we chat from a distance and the measures we can take here are in place so it’s a different world and different time.

Starting cricket again divides opinion across the country and that’s for other people to discuss. I think the biggest problem is gauging when the time is right when many people are still dying.

The ECB have been very good at taking their time and looking at the schedules. It was originally to be 1 June, but then they realised that wasn’t realistic and it got pushed back another month. They weren’t bombarding you with silly data, they were just explaining what they hoped to do.

I do hope we see some cricket. I don’t know what that will look like, but it would be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel With no players around, it’s probably the best the square has ever looked.

This morning we’ve groomed out and verticut. I’ve cut the square and my deputy has cut the outfield.

If you’d asked me what Zoom was before I’d have said that it was a lollipop, but it’s very easy.

Once a week have a drop in. Half an hour on a Wednesday the team has a chat. We go around the windows and we all just say what have been up to. We’re all people in the same boat and we’ve constantly stayed in touch. Mental health awareness is a big issue at the moment and actually, what it’s all about is having a chat, talking rubbish and putting the world to rights.

Geoff Webb, CEO, GMA

On the day the GMA announced it was moving Saltex to March 3 and 4, 2021, Turf Matters was joined by Geoff Webb, CEO of GMA to discuss the move.

Turf Matters: We’d all hoped that at the beginning of November, things will be better and the NEC would no longer be used as a Nightingale hospital – but the GMA couldn’t really take the risk, so now you’ve given everybody a little bit of certainty by moving to the new dates at the beginning of March next year.

Is that fair assessment?

A very accurate assessment. If we go back in time, to the end of February, we weren’t even contemplating a move from November, or anything to do with having to move SALTEX.

We were actually enjoying the bounce of 2019.

It was our most successful sign up since we moved to the NEC. So, what has transpired in the last two months has just turned the entire industry on its head.

Like everybody else, we were waiting and hoping for some positive news from the prime minister a few weeks ago.

But for large scale events like Saltex there wasn’t any movement and no real clarity about when the lockdown would relax. There was literally nothing there that we felt was positive enough to be able to continue.

We took some soundings just to really get a flavour for what the mood was. Even in the past few weeks the mood has shifted significantly and we just felt that it was really the safest move to make in terms of making sure that everybody feels safe and confident that they can go out and thoroughly enjoy a trade show.

People need to feel that they are getting value whether they are visitor or the exhibitor market, so we took the decision to move to the spring dates.

We went to the NEC and negotiated what we hope is a good deal for everybody.

The Board and I haven’t sat in the room together since the February board meeting. We’re about to have our next board meeting tomorrow which will be by Zoom.

Everything’s being done remotely. In terms of making that decision, we just wanted to act responsibly and with clarity. Everybody can see what’s happening. At the moment there is a Nightingale hospital in the NEC which is part of the national network, and we will obviously support that network to keep people safe but I think really it was becoming the common sense option.

It will stretch us financially, because we are literally moving our cash flow by four full months. It probably wasn’t the accountant’s preferred decision, but we feel it’s a responsible decision for the industry.

We did look at the November date line for coming back into line in 2021, but we ruled that out for really obvious reason that it would be irresponsible for us to ask the market to put their hands into the pockets twice in one calendar year.

We just didn’t feel that was right, so that’s why we’ve secured 2022 dates as well.

We see the spring dateline as working well as you get the transition across for winter and summer sports. It doesn’t come without risk, but we feel that this is a responsible course of action to take and we hope both visitors and exhibitors will see the merits.

We’ve been calling every exhibitor on our list during the course of today and the reaction has been positive.

With other shows in the early part of the year in the UK and in the States, part of the reason we moved to the March date was that, in effect, we’ve moved as far away from that calendar date line as we think is possible and feasible to still run a successful domestic show in the UK.

One of the options we did have was earlier in February, but we ruled that out because we felt it was too close to the other shows.

If there are companies for whom the new dates don’t work, we will work closely with them to come up with some sort of arrangement. We have a list of FAQs and if companies do feel that it may be a struggle, I’d ask them to talk to us. We will look at each company on a case by case basis. I can only say that that we’ve been on calls all day today and overwhelmingly the response of being positive.

Beyond 2021, the honest answer is that we will review, and talk to the marketplace before making an informed decision based on how March goes. We felt that it’s the right thing to do to give the clarity needed as I said earlier we didn’t feel it right to get two bites of the cherry in one year given the impact on the entire industry and the sector so, about 2022, we know the dates – beyond that it’s probably another negotiation with the NEC and we’ll see where we get to at that point.

James Buckholt, BMSProducts, Managing Director, May

The Contactless Ball Extractor is an ingenious device with helps resolve one of golf’s Covid-19 problems – what to do with the one thing every golfer touches during the course of a round – the flagstick. Its inventor is James Buckholt.

It’s a device which slides over the top of the flagstick to allow the golf ball to be extracted from the hole without touching the flag. You lift the device up using your putter head, the ball drops out of the cup onto the green and the player can pick it up safely well away from the hole.

The inspiration came not only from Covid-19, but also from the recent rule changes which allows the flagstick to remain in the hole while players putt out. Since the change there’s been several other companies that have created devices for lifting the flag steps with your hand so he can retrieve the golf ball around waist height not having to bend down and pick it up from inside the golf hole.

We hadn’t done anything ourselves up until that point but we were contacted by a couple of local golf courses who know what we do in so far as product design and production, who asked if we could come up with something that was similar, but allowed the member to retrieve the golf ball without touching anything.

We are fortunate that we do cover R&D and engineering in-house, so taking an idea from paper through to finished product is something that we’re quite proud of. We don’t rely on any other third party, but a small team of around 25, including a selection of engineers. So the two or three of us that were floating around during the start of the Corona lockdown got down to work.

We did some drawings and some CAD modelling which were turned into machinable parts on our lathe milling machine. We built a prototype and took it to our friends at Woburn Golf Club. The first versions didn’t work as well as hoped so we went back to the drawing board, literally that same day.

Then the following day there was another version. Within the space of two or three days, we’d gone from concept to finished product.

We’re proud of the fact that we brought a lot of the manufacturing back in house for British manufacturing companies – we haven’t got to rely on some far eastern production facility.

We’ve been in touch with the R&A and there have been discussions around the implementation of temporary provisions for rule changes and things that allow people to make local rules based on similar devices.

We’ve tried to create something that can comply with the rules as near as possible. It includes elements like the ball drop distance being over three inches from surface, so it falls into the hole correctly, and also the distance of three inches above the surface this complies with that. It’s also just below 90 millimetres in diameter, so it still complies with the diameter of the flagstick rules, and it’s made from a material that does not absorb the full impact and doesn’t provide cushioning. We’ve gone through all the little details like that, to try and comply as best as possible.

We’ve received a lot of positive comments and people saying that it looks like a great gadget and an ideal way to get the game going again.

We’ve had to bring in additional staff that may have been furloughed and we’ve even been splitting the shift and doing 12 to 14 hour days, just simply to keep up with demand. I’m looking at secondary machinery and equipment – we’ve got raw material suppliers on board that are fairly local so to try and combine all of the logistics of production from raw material through to getting into our house building, which has equally been challenging.

We shared thoughts on WhatsApp on what we should call it and Contactless Ball Extractor came out top of the list but if anybody wants to think of a better name for it I’m always ready to listen – Editor’s suggestion “The Buckholt”

Reece Watson, Founder and Chief Technical Officer of RAW Stadia

It’s very hard to plan for a pandemic in a financial crisis, but starting the new business and everything that goes with it has been an emotional rollercoaster anyway.

So this is just part of another bit of that emotional rollercoaster.

It’s been an enjoyable first year and we’ve been able to focus on the successes that we’ve had and I’ve learnt a lot.

I’ve pushed myself. We’ve got a great team and we are doing some great things so I’m very proud of where we are at the minute, pandemic or not. It is what it is, but we would just like to carry on.

The established model has been that pitches would be tested four times a year, or a maximum of once a month, whereas we’re focusing on a model of providing the equipment and the training to test, so the staff can do it themselves. We have the software platform which backs up all data and we can also carry out remote consultancy.

We see data as being a crucial part and we show customers how to monitor that data correctly and use it in the right way.

RAW has a strong continental European flavour. I like to network and share ideas and that’s exactly what we are talking about. We don’t want to be a kind of company that sends an Englishman into these other countries that doesn’t know their situation, doesn’t know that climate so that’s why we offer more of a process where we provide the training so they can do then do it themselves – and gain knowledge themselves.

We give that helping hand and have people who can talk their own languages so we can communicate better.

What we’re not trying to do is replace the touchy-feely element of groundsmanship, but teach people what they’re seeing, what they’re feeling and what it actually means.

In the long run you still need the elements of feeling – you always will – but often the collecting the data is not carried out in the right way.

We’re trying to make the data actionable because often when people are taking data they brush it aside because they don’t really understand it and they can’t really use it in the right way so that’s what we’re really focussed upon to make it actionable. To make it actionable you need it to be visual and equal to easily understand it.

If you’re presenting to management and present them with a 10-page report with loads of Excel numbers they won’t look at it. It’s not because they’re not interested, it’s just they don’t love whatwe do, They need to understand it in a couple of minutes to make a decision on it and move on to the next thing. That’s what we focus on – trying to bring that data to life.

I think you’ve seen a real movement in the last 10 years, probably maybe 15, with the introduction of hybrid pitches, artificial lighting, all the technologies going into products and see production now and, you know, I think clubs invest a lot of money.

What we’re trying to say is make informed decisions. If you’re buying new machinery, have you really thought about what that machinery does?

Is that the best type of machinery? Have you got data to prove to the management that you need that investment for that machinery?

Management have other things that they need to spend on, so we need to prove why we need that investment. I think aesthetically a lot of clubs are very close to perfection, especially in the Premier League and leagues around Europe.

That’s because we’ve focused on the stadium lights and the pitch construction using technology. But my feeling is that groundsmen still don’t really know how to produce pitches for the players.

We now know that the surface affects the players, but the performance staff don’t really take in the data. They don’t have much knowledge on the surface, so we really need to bring them together and show the effects on the player and what you need to improve it.

Clubs are much more likely to agree to investment if a surface can been demonstrated to cut a player injury percentage down by 3% or 10%, for example. It can then be seen as having a beneficial impact on the whole budget.

Don’t forget your lines

Don’t forget your lines: Why GPS line marking technology is saving time and is more efficient.

Football is now scheduled to re-start but pitches throughout the country will have received only the necessary maintenance to ensure the turf surface is regularly cut and kept in as healthy condition as possible under the circumstances..

Don’t forget your lines

Don’t forget your lines

However, one regular inseason practice that has not been required over this period is the marking out of pitches.

In such a situation, many of the lines will have been lost and require initial remarking. This practice when undertaken in the traditional way requires at least two grounds staff stringing out and laying down the initial markings.

Help however is available through the use of GPS line marking technology with the introduction of the TinyLineMarker Pro, Rigby Taylor’s most technologically advanced line marking robot.

It gives sports clubs and stadia grounds managers major time savings are achieved with just one operator who undertake the initial markings of a pitch just as quickly as remarkings. Lightweight and easy to transport, the TLM is particularly beneficial for clubs with a high number of sports pitches, including training grounds and academies, also contractors marking local authority playing fields and schools that have multiple sports played on their surfaces throughout the year.

Don’t forget your lines

Don’t forget your lines

Once the pitch markings have been placed on the tablets map and stored, they are saved for future use and always ready for remarking; even if the lines disappear from the grass if a pitch has not been used for any length of time. All the lines on the pitch are marked, including for football, all perimeter lines, penalty boxes, the ‘D’, centre circle, corner angles and even the penalty spot…. all with a click on the tablet.

Even pitches with fixed posts and sockets can be marked.

TLM can mark almost any sports surface including football (all pitch sizes), rugby (both codes), multi- lane running tracks, lacrosse, tennis and American football. All templates are downloaded and stored on the supplied tablet.

Any dimension or regulation changes by international/national/ regional sporting can be updated as required In addition, custom shaped logos and even car parks templates are available. Most recently, templates for the NHS tributes were recently released and used to great visual affect throughout the country. An additional template is now available that features a programme for social distancing.

Don’t forget your lines

Don’t forget your lines

The TLM is 100% autonomous and uses the latest GPS Technology ensure the consistent accuracy of the lines. The TLM when arriving on site can start marking new pitches right away, both standard and customised and, when partnered with Rigby Taylor’s awarding winning Impact ready to use paint, will produces the brightest, whitest lines.

The robot needs no extra equipment and the included control tablet connects, through satellite directly to the machine,allowing grounds managers to position, edit and paint pitches instantly from the tablet.

The robot weighs just 35 kg and can be transported by one person.

Manual and automatic driving mode gives the user full control when using the robot.

The impact paint used for the line markings is supplied in 10 litre drums and a flow tube is simply plugged in and marking can begin.

Time to do things differently?

Time to do things differently?: With the world’s oldest golf courses being almost exclusively links courses it is no coincidence that very sandy materials have traditionally been used for the construction and refurbishment of coastal and inland golf courses across the world. 

Sand provides a firm, level and well drained playing surface. Because it is inert it does not hold onto nutrients or water and this allows greenkeepers to manufacture the environment required through the addition of artificial fertiliser and the introduction of water through irrigation.

Time to do things differently?

Time to do things differently?

Notwithstanding the unprecedented, and unexpected, positive impact of the current pandemic on the global environment, our climate continues to change. For some time, scientists and consultants working in the industry have been looking at how golf course construction and refurbishment could be done differently in the future, using materials that are better suited to work with the vagaries of the climate, have a less detrimental impact on our environment, and reduce annual costs.

The use of soil and soil-based products to construct, refurbish and maintain tees, bunkers and green surrounds is proving increasingly popular with greenkeepers and golf course consultants who have been encouraged by STRI research, feedback from scientists, and industry case studies and testimonials.

A good soil is a mixture of mineral particles – sand, silt and clay – water, nutrients – predominantly nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium – organic matter, air and living organisms. ‘Virgin’ or ‘as dug’ natural topsoil as a construction material for shaping course features, tees, bunkers etc. is neither sustainable nor reliable.

Not only are the world’s soil resources being depleted at an alarming rate but virgin soil is also a ‘take it or leave it’ material that may lack the right balance of the constituents listed above, affecting its performance.

British Sugar Topsoil products are sustainable, being derived from the prime arable soils that adhere to the sugar beet brought in to British Sugar factories. The soil is washed from the beet and collected in settlement ponds before being conditioned and blended.

To comply with the British Standard for Topsoil BS3882:2015, each batch is sampled and sent to a UKAS and MCERTS accredited laboratory for a range of tests.

Topsoil products have also undergone comprehensive replicated trials at the STRI.

Good grass establishment and growth, particularly in periods of drought, and the recovery of the sward following periods of heavy rain, make soil-based materials for course construction and refurbishment a very attractive proposition.

The clay component in soil holds on to nutrients (N, P, K, Mg) and the microbes present in the organic matter make for a healthy soil, resulting in good grass establishment and growth and minimising the requirement for additional and expensive inorganic fertiliser. Soil also has a considerably slower percolation rate than sand and this increased waterholding capacity means that areas are less reliant on irrigation. And in terms of course design, soil’s plasticity allows the creation of more interesting and challenging contours and features.

With all that said, maintenance remains key to the successful use of soil products and, where used, the ground must still be aerated on a regular basis to prevent compaction and puddling.

Perhaps, in this period of unexpected lockdown, there is time to look at doing things differently, working with the natural world’s own resources in a sustainable, cost-efficient and environmentally beneficial way.

At Bury St Edmunds Golf Club Consultant Peter Jones, of Peter Jones Associates, selected British Sugar Topsoil’s Landscape20 topsoil for the re-shaping and re-contouring of the entire green complex. 120 tonnes were spread at a depth of 15-20cm over the course’s natural sandy loam soil, which had been de-compacted and levelled using a purpose-built rake.

Finally, a dwarf perennial rye grass turf was laid over the Landscape20. Throughout the entire operation the putting surface of each green was left intact.

Peter chose Landscape20 because of the success he had had with it on similar projects: “The properties of Landscape20 allow you to create the shapes needed around bunkers and greens, and the naturally occurring nutrients within it result in great turf growth.”

At Peterborough Milton Golf Course, 13 bunkers were re-shaped and five tees levelled with 174 tonnes of British Sugar TOPSOIL’s Sports&Turf topdressing prior to re-turfing. “Sports&Turf is by far the best product I have used in my years as a greenkeeper and I am delighted with how easy it is to use. The drainage and percolation rate it gives is second to none,” said Manager Steve Smail.

Dealing with global extremes

Dealing with global extremes: STRI’s head of sports surface technology, Dr Stephen Baker, considers the problems of turf management in some of the more extreme climates that he has visited in his 38-year career.

Working conditions

Grass selection and maintenance is very dependent on climate, and in many parts of the world there is not the relatively benign climate for turf grass growth that we experience in the United Kingdom.

Whilst there can be significant issues with snow and frost in the winter, average monthly temperatures in the UK typically range from around 0°C to 20°C and this is a relatively comfortable range for grass growth for most of the year.

Dealing with global extremes

Dealing with global extremes

Contrast this with some of the sixty countries that I have worked in. Parts of Russia or Scandinavia where the average minimum January temperature of -15°C to -20°C (and lows of -40°C) and average maximum monthly temperatures of 38°C to 43°C in India, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, with peak temperatures sometimes exceeding 50°C, made for some interesting working conditions.

Similarly, in the UK we have a relatively reliable rainfall and without the very high intensities experienced in some tropical areas.

Annual average rainfall in the UK typically ranges from around 700-1250mm per year for the more heavily populated parts of the country where most sports facilities are found.

In contrast annual rainfall can be as low as 100mm in Saudi Arabia. At the other extreme, average monthly totals can reach over 300mm in Manaus in the Amazon Basin in Brazil or in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and massive 840mm in Mumbai, India. It should be noted that these are just average values and at times the temperature range and rainfall differences can be much greater. It is inevitable that extreme variations in temperature and rainfall will increase the challenge of producing high quality sports surfaces.

Low temperatures

The map, above, shows the range of climates around the world from the perspective of turf management.

Each of the climate areas has a major influence on selection of the appropriate grass species in relation to the ideal temperature range. However, there is also a wide range of other issues such as drought and salinity tolerance, the sports to be played and the potential standard of maintenance, including irrigation demand.

Fortunately, a very wide range of grass species are available, and they can be split into two very different groups depending on their basic biology: the cool-season grasses and warm-season species. Cool-season grasses would include species such as smooth-stalked meadow-grass (Poa pratensis) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), which are used on areas of more intensively used turf such as football or rugby pitches, and finer fescue (Festuca spp.) or bent species (Agrostis spp.) that may be suitable on areas such as golf courses.

For areas of extremely low temperatures it is inevitable that appropriate cool-season grasses will be used, but there are several aspects of management that may need to be considered:

• Minimum temperatures that are likely to be encountered
• The length of the growing season, in particular how much of the playing season coincides with periods of minimum growth
• Duration of snow cover and the need for snow removal. Snow cover is indeed often used as an insulating blanket to protect the turf during the coldest months of the year, but there can be significant challenges in clearing the snow and making the surface ready for the start of the new playing season
• The potential risks for disease, especially under snow cover or during periods of limited growth
• The opportunities for pitch renovation. In the more extreme climates for example of North America, Scandinavia and Russia the main playing season will coincide with spring, summer and early autumn when growing conditions are generally better. However, this may limit the amount of time available for renovation, as for example end-ofseason work would coincide with lower temperatures thus preventing effective grass establishment

As well as selection of suitable grass types there are several management options that may improve the standard of turf in very cold climates.

Undersoil heating and pitch covers are generally essential for the major stadiums in such climate areas and, as latitude and cloud cover have a major influence on light levels, most stadiums in these colder climates would also need supplementary lighting to extend the period of grass growth.

Maintaining a high standard of grass cover can also be a big issue in these colder climates. Annual meadow-grass (Poa annua) is very well adapted to the colder, wetter climates such as Iceland or the west coast of Norway.

Without the possibility of extensive end of season renovation there are only limited opportunities to establish preferred species, so annual meadowgrass tends to increase rapidly with time. To maintain a reasonable balance of grass species there is a need for regular over sowing throughout the summer months, with ideally a break in the middle of the playing season to allow a short renovation window.

High temperatures

High temperatures cannot be isolated from rainfall and there tends to be two main extremes where high temperature and rainfall interact: (1) high temperature but low rainfall in desert or semi-arid environments, (2) high temperature, high rainfall areas, although these can have a distinct wet season and a dry season which will have a major impact on turf management. For the monsoon season in Mumbai, India, the four months between June and September have a combined average of about 2250mm rainfall, while the four months from January to April have a combined rainfall of less than 5mm.

The main factor influencing grass quality in hot climates with either low annual rainfall or seasonal drought, will be water supply through irrigation and a good quality irrigation supply will be essential. For high standard stadiums water will generally be delivered using an appropriate pop-up irrigation system, but for more general, lower maintenance areas techniques such as subsurface irrigation may also have to be considered to improve water conservation.

Grass selection is normally based on warm-season species such as bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.), seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) or various Zoysia species, but there may be other considerations.

Dealing with global extremes

Dealing with global extremes

In the absence of cloud cover, nighttime temperatures in some desert climates can be very low giving a risk of dormancy of the warm-season grass. In some wetter tropical climates, particularly where there is significant photochemical air pollution in major urban areas, light levels might be insufficient to maintain healthy grass growth at certain times of the year, especially in stadium environments.

A further factor compounding issues of heat stress in many of the drier climates is the quality of the irrigation water and the potential build-up of salts in the soil. Assessment of water sources for irrigation becomes a major item in turf design in such areas and regular excess irrigation may be needed to flush accumulated salts out of the rootzone.

Very hot, wet areas also have some very specific challenges: these include high intensity rainfall (which I’ll discuss later) but also high rates of biologically activity and this can have particular challenges with disease, insect pests and weed invasion.

Management of the turf in the hottest parts of the world must consider all these issues. There are however some management techniques that can also restrict temperature stress, including:

• air circulation systems by which cooler area can be pushed from lower in the soil profile to cool the grass at the surface
• syringing with light applications of irrigation water to dissipate heat by evaporation
• shade covers mounted well above the grass surface to restrict the incoming solar radiation
• installing cooling pipes, reversing the principle of undersoil heating.

Transition zones

Some of the biggest challenges with grass selection occur in transition zones where there are extreme ranges of temperature. These include Mediterranean type climates in parts of Europe, South America, South Africa and Australia but also some of the continental extremes, where winter temperatures can be as low as -30°C, while summer temperatures may hit 35°C.

Under these circumstances a single grass type is very unlikely to be able to tolerate the annual temperature range: warm-season grasses will go brown and dormant in the winter and cool-season grasses are likely to be lost to heat stress and disease in the summer period.

Good management is obviously essential in such climates, but inevitably more than one grass species will be required, with the warm-season grass used in the summer and then being oversown with a cool-season grass to give the colour and performance required for the winter months.


It is impossible to provide a good quality turf surface without adequate irrigation and issues of turf management in hot, dry climates have already been discussed above. However, there are methods to improve the water retention properties of sports turf rootzones using various organic and inorganic amendments. The type and concentration of these amendments is critical – too little amendment and the surface may remain dry and hard. Excess amendment can lead to a soft playing surface, with shallow rooting that is easily damaged by play. Laboratory testing and a very good understanding of requirements for the growing medium is essential to help formulate the most suitable rootzone characteristics for a specific climate zone.

Very high rainfall is also an issue, as most sports surfaces rely on a relatively dry, stable surface for optimum playing conditions. Well-constructed rootzones, usually based on a high percentage of a suitably selected sand, are generally essential to give adequate drainage performance.

However even a well-constructed rootzone with a drainage rate of say 150mm/hr will not be able to cope with the most extreme rainfall events. In such circumstances it may be necessary to construct a turf facility with greater slopes to encourage surface runoff of water.

Dealing with global extremes

Dealing with global extremes

Technology can also help – many of the subsurface air circulation systems used for temperature control can be used to generate sufficient suction within the soil to help remove extreme rainfall from the surface.


Excess wind may sound more like a complaint of the digestive system than a problem faced by most sports turf managers, however there can be situations where high winds (or indeed a lack of air movement) can be a factor in sports turf management.

Aside from destructive events such as hurricanes, the most likely problems of high wind would be on exposed sites where irrigation can be affected.

If there are strong prevailing or drying winds, evaporation rates are likely to be higher and therefore water consumption greater. However, it is the effects on water distribution that may be the greatest challenge, as the effect on the uniformity of water application can be significant.

This may necessitate changes in the basic design of the irrigation system with for example changes in the specification for the pop-up heads or sprinklers at closer spacings than on a less exposed site. It will also increase the need for careful monitoring to ensure that there are no dry areas that are being missed and for selective hand watering to supplement moisture levels on any drier areas.

Lack of significant air movement should also not be under-estimated. In modern stadium environments the surrounding stands may restrict air movement to the extent that drying of the surface is compromised and the risk of disease and surface algae may increase.

Where there is temperature stress this can be even more important, for example with cool-season grasses growing at times of elevated summer temperatures. Under these circumstances the use of fans around the pitch to help air movement can be a very important factor in reducing turf stress and sustaining a high-quality playing surface.

Modern sports turf management

In the last 40 years the range of available technology has expanded to an unbelievable extent. The understanding of turf construction and management principles has improved, by both technological innovation and research investment. More marginal climates that gave high levels of stress affecting grass development can now have much better-quality turf surfaces, provided that development projects are well designed and constructed and that there are sufficient levels of resources to deal with these climate extremes.

New lawns shown NO MERCY

New lawns shown NO MERCY: Scott MacCallum gets to grips with EGO’s battery powered mower.

As a journalist, I am far more adept at writing about things than actually doing them. A theatre critic cannot be expected to deliver an emotion drenched soliloquy, nor could you rely on a sports writer to produce a smooth Cruyff turn.

New lawns shown NO MERCY

New lawns shown NO MERCY

And so we come to me and lawn mowers.

I must admit I’m what Capability Brown would be to feature writing, or Shakespeare to designing a Chelsea Garden. Not the best.

However, we have three lawns on our recently-acquired home and, once there is a little heat in the air, that grass does grow.

So, I was delighted when EGO asked me to road test their latest battery powered mower – the 42cm cordless self propelled mower – which joined the EGO stable earlier this year.

The excitement when the delivery van dropped off the large box was palpable, and, I’ll admit it now, tinged with a little apprehension. How easy would it be to transform the contents of the box into a working lawnmower?

The answer? Simple! Even a man of my limited practical means had it up and running in 15 minutes – a more proficient human being would have achieved the same feat in five, but I still saw it as both a feather in my cap and that of the EGO.

The mower is beautifully powerful and given that not only was it my first outing with the mower, it was my first attempt at circumnavigating our new lawns. Now I can tell you that while the intricate scallops and dainty satellite flower beds looked absolutely superb on the Estate Agent particulars, when it comes to lawns, I’d far rather have straight up and down squares and rectangles. So much easier.

However, we are where we are and while my first two cuts saw a degree of trial and error on the part of the driver, by the third cut I considered myself to be pretty capable. Those early attempts were characterised by my efforts to control the throttle. The self-propelled element is absolutely wonderful, but a brain has to become acquainted with the fact that the mower won’t stop until you released the handles on the top of the steering console.

I haven’t told my wife yet, but the odd area of the border where the shrubs and flowers are a little more dishevelled and scruffy – I’d be inclined to use the word “gouged”, are not the legacy of the previous owners, or next door’s dog, but my failure to adapt quickly enough to the self-propelled nature of the EGO.

It can run away with you a little and if one of the wheels slips off the side of the lawn it can leave an impact, in most parts negative, on the vegetation.

But once I had mastered both the mower and the lawn I truly was poetry in motion. The speed is controlled by a very simple dial in the middle of the console and this can be ramped up on a straight run – our lawns do possess a few – and reduced when it comes to the more twisty bits.

At 42 cm wide it is a nice balance of wide enough to reduce your mowing mileage and narrow enough to negotiate tighter spaces.

The grass box, part hard plastic, part fabric, is easily accessible and roomy – is that a word you can use for a grass box? A full box roughly fills a standard black bin bag and it is extremely simple to remove and reattach.

All that power I mentioned takes a little bit or servicing and I was pleased that I had been sent an additional 56 volt 5ah battery to complement the 2.5ah battery which came with the mower.

Our grass take around 40 minutes to cut and that would account for the entire life of the smaller battery or around three fifths of the larger – the battery indicator is split into well illuminated fifths so you can see how much you have left – so having a spare battery, which you can have charged and ready to step in, is extremely useful.

I have now used the mower for around half a dozen cuts and it has not caused me a single problem. I’d go so far as to say that it has made cutting the grass a real pleasure and I’ve not gone looking for an excuse for not mowing the lawn – a weather forecast showing even a slight chance of rain would previously have been enough for me to shelve the idea.

I’m certainly sold on battery power. My previous mower was a fine electric powered model and unwrapping from clothes poles and deciding which was the better option – a left or right turn to avoid running over the cable were all part of the experience.

So, I might not be the finest lawn mower man in the country but, at least, I’ve been able to come to some sort of definitive conclusion as a lawn mower tester!

Eon Bio – a time capsule with a difference

Eon Bio – a time capsule with a difference: David Snowden discusses the benefits of improving your growing medium and why using a soil conditioner is such a valuable tool…

The main benefits of soil conditioners are to improve the soil structure and therefore increase nutrient uptake and root mass. When applying to new greens at renovation time and when used on sports pitches to create a root zone with life in, soil conditioners increase the efficiency of nutrition.

Eon Bio – a time capsule with a difference

Eon Bio – a time capsule with a difference

We want to bring life to the soil and this is what Eon Bio enables our Greenkeepers and Groundsmen to do. When the grass plant germinates, it needs a bio-available food source and we require rapid establishment of the new plant to secure a healthy sward.

We have seen great success working with numerous Premier and Championship Football Clubs, when using Eon Bio, which has the benefit of a prill form, particularly easy to use.

Eon Bio is 100% organic and contains high concentrations of soluble, slow release Humic acid. This ‘time capsule’ releases and encapsulates mycorrhiza fungi and multiple forms of beneficial bacteria, which solubilise phosphates. We need to feed our soils to create the best growing environment.

With Eon Bio, the guess work is taken out, as the bacteria is specifically cultured and proven to benefit the soils and our grass plant, all wrapped up in a Humic acid food source for bacteria.

Surf ‘n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf: A horse’s impact on a surface, whether a racecourse or eventing track, has been much debated in sporting circles. On a professional sports stage the horse, averaging around 500kg, makes a significant collision with any surface. STRI agronomy manager, Steve Gingell, puts on his farrier’s hat to study hoof interaction with grass.

There have been several publications on the action and stages of horse’s hoof interaction with a surface. However, most are related to artificial sand surfaces and less so to grass surfaces.

Surf 'n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf

The key works are from the FEI Equestrian Surfaces Guide published through the Swedish Equestrian Foundation and Natural Turf for Sport and Amenity by Adams and Gibbs. ‘Science and Practice’ reviews the surface interactions at several racecourses in terms of firmness, penetration and resilience over time.

This is also a useful guide to how a hoof interacts with the surface.

There are a few testing devices simulating hoof interaction with different types of turf surface. The main equipment used on artificial surfaces is the Orano Biomechanical Surface Tester. This aims to mimic the phases of a hoof’s interaction with a surface.

Testing is also undertaken on turf using devices such as the TurfTrax Going Stick and the STRI Toro Precision Sense Testing, which gives data and maps indicating the surface performance. So how does a sports turf manager adapt their surfaces to ensure a safe and fast or competitive surface for a range of equestrian sports?


The majority of professionals accept that there are four stages of a hoof interaction with the surface.

Touch down

Where the hoof initially impacts the surface; this is a braking force. The hoof will receive a shock/feedback from the surface depending on whether it is hard or soft. Very hard surfaces will give injuries to the hoof and leg bones. Very soft surfaces give very little feedback as most of the energy of the initial shock is absorbed through the surface.


Where the full weight and impact of the horse focuses through the hoof. Typically, forces are vertical and therefore the surface firmness is much more important. Hard surfaces will injure tendons, ligaments and bones.

Soft ones give little feedback to the hoof and therefore energy of the motion is lost.

Surf 'n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf

Roll over

Where the toe of the hoof starts to push into the surface. A firm, surface can give little grip as the hoof slides on the surface. A very soft surface could dig in and lead to significant divot removal and lack of pace.

Push off

The most important aspect of this stage is a strong turf as this is where the horse is gaining propulsion. The toe is at the maximum penetration and the flat of the hoof is pushing backwards. Traction is vital and therefore an over soft or damaged surface could give little traction.


Impact firmness

The surface needs to have impact firmness, ie absorb shock when the hoof hits the ground. This is most important in a profile upper layer hardness. As an example, a very soft surface will have low impact firmness and a tarmac or a bound surface have very high impact firmness. This is very important in avoiding horse injury.


A surface needs to dampen and reduce impact forces (cushioning) and is achieved in various layers within the surface. A well cushioned surface reduces stress, ie soft racecourse, whereas a firm surface is fast but could cause injury.


Grip is important because a very low grip surface means the hoof slides and therefore injury can occur, whereas a very high grip surface can often have high impact forces. A surface must be able to withstand push off. It is important that some slide occurs to reduce the forces on the hoof.

Surf 'n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf


Responsiveness is a measure of how active or springy the surface is. A responsive surface gives energy back to the horse and this aspect is also related to the firmness and cushioning. A very compacted hard surface may rebound too quickly, whereas a very soft surface will give very little responsiveness.


A surface needs to be uniform so that the horse has confidence to reach its maximum performance. Variable surfaces, particularly in very short distances, can be significantly problematical.


In horse racing, the key aim is to provide a fast track that is both safe and fair. In flat racing typically, surfaces are maintained to a slightly firmer level with slightly shorter grass length than jump racing. The aim however must be to provide a reasonable level of cushioning and a medium to high level of impact firmness.

If a course becomes too firm, then the impact firmness becomes high and horses can suffer injury. Conversely, an over soft surface means speed and times are slower, therefore horses will tire more quickly. Grip is also important as horses will be using their maximum level of propulsion push off due to the high speeds of travel. There would be less grip issues as the hoof is not having to absorb any braking that would occur when using a jump.

In jump horse racing speeds are lower, and in between jumps over firm ground can create issues in a similar manner as flat racing. There is also a tendency to prefer a slightly softer going to ensure reasonable safety and moderate times. This is partially achieved through racing in winter months when soils are naturally wetter and therefore have less impact firmness, but also through a slightly longer height of cut at around 4-5 inches to give a little more cushioning.

When a horse jumps, grip in the initial stages is important, and then impact firmness and cushioning is vital on the landing phases.

Over a racecourse there will invariably be a degree of difference in uniformity as often different soils will occur, unless that track has been completely reconstructed. It is difficult sometimes to manage uniformity which is only achieved through varying aeration, irrigation cycles and fertility.

Surf 'n Turf

Surf ‘n Turf


Cross-country builds on the comments in horse racing. There will be sections of galloping between the sets of fences, coupled with explosive takeoffs, moderate impact landing forces and often turns a stride or two after.

It is important for horse safety that the track is of medium firmness to reduce the impact and has a good level of cushioning. This is usually achieved through a reasonable grass length, although grass height is much lower in eventing than would be in racecourses. So there needs to be appropriate irrigation strategies and grass health management through aeration and fertility to maximise the soil cushioning.

Grip is very important as a horse needs to feel confident to take on the various obstacles. Lack of grip means the horse may slide forward towards a jump or not have suitable footing on landing. As an event progresses the take-offs and landings will often become quite worn. Therefore, exceptional management with good levels of repair in these areas, running up to a meeting, is very important. Frequently woodchip or even gravels are put in and around a landing zone and these will tend to make surfaces very firm over time and should be avoided.

Aeration and an overseeding or returfing of poor areas immediately following an event is essential to maximise the turf condition.


Polo is interesting in that each horse will only be used for a very short period, but under a very intense level of activity. Due to polo being a ball sport the surface is also kept very short. The surface needs to have a moderate to elevated level of impact firmness, but not to a level that the horse becomes injured because of the shock impact with the ground. This high impact firmness gives good responsiveness, although it should be noted thatsometimes a very firm surface may not be as responsive as one would expect. It is moderately difficult to achieve a high level of cushioning on a very short sward, although the soil profile needs to be medium firm, well aerated and have deep rooting. A little organic matter is quite beneficial to ensure cushioning. However, elevated levels of organic matter can often lead to reduced grip and at significant levels give poor impact firmness.

Probably the most important factor is grip. Polo ponies turn very quickly, execute fast decelerations and accelerations. This means that the surface has to give confidence to the rider and the horse. A very dry soil profile may have less grip as the pony can slide on the dry top.

This is often relieved through sand dressings and through significant quantities of irrigation to create a slightly softer upper surface. Watering can be a problem as insufficient irrigation may only wet the surface and therefore create a shear layer.

Each site will have a different ideal moisture content for performance. It is not uncommon to find the centre sections of a polo field being firmer than the edges as this is where most of the play occurs and therefore targeted verti-draining through the middle of the ground is important.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry: Scott MacCallum catches up with Andy Richards to learn about his new role at the prestigious Haileybury School.

Many Wimbledon champions have taken inspiration from the poem “If”, which is written on the wall of the Players’ Entrance at the All England Club. You know the one – “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same”.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

I have no way of knowing if, back in the second half of the 19th century, its author Rudyard Kipling had an interest in sport, or a particular aptitude for cricket or rugby, but one thing is for sure he didn’t benefit from any such stirring words if he were to have marched from the pavilion of Haileybury School to open the batting, or lock the Haileybury first team scrum.

It may have been, however, that it was dealing with the highs and lows of his sporting time at Haileybury that inspired Rudyard a few years later to pen what is one of the best known and finest poems in the English language.

A school can be judged by its alumni and in that regard Haileybury, near Hertford, has an honours board to match most. In addition to Rudyard Kipling we have dramatist Alan Ayckbourn;
film director, Christopher Nolan; actor Stephen Mangan, and comedian Dom Joly, to name just a notable few.

The list of Haileybury’s Old Boys is interesting and eclectic and marks the school out as somewhere special, as do the superb grounds in which the school rests.

It was seeing those wonderful grounds which persuaded Andy Richards that he should move from Shrewsbury School, which he had transformed into a school with sports surfaces the envy of many professional clubs, to create sports pitches to match the quality of the rest of the school.

“Shrewsbury was a great place to work and I really enjoyed it but when the Haileybury job became available I was intrigued,” explained Andy, talking to Turf Matters eight weeks into his new role as Grounds Manager at Haileybury.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

“I didn’t know too much about the school but I looked into it and it looked impressive. When I came down for interview I was blown away by the buildings and the wonderful grounds.

The school had a really positive outlook into how they wanted to move forward and it was they who sold me the school and its potential,” explained Andy.

And that potential is truly huge.

The total area of 520 acres, all on one site, includes 300 acres of woodland.

“Woodland management is new to me, but I do enjoy it,” revealed Andy. Pitch wise, there are 17 grass pitches, two astroturf pitches, five cricket squares – soon to be eight squares to embrace girls’ cricket which the school wishes to expand.

“There is a masterplan in place stretching forward into the next 10 years and beyond with most of the facilities being upgraded. This is going to include a new cricket centre, new astroturf pitches, fitness suites, sports centres etc. It is really an exciting time to be involved here as we are right at the start of that programme.”

Sports facilities are very much what differentiates the private sector from the state sector and it is the quality of the sporting facilities and the coaching which marks one private school out from another private school.

“It’s a bit like selling a house. It is those first 20 or 30 seconds which leaves the biggest impression for the prospective pupil and parents. It is the feeling they get in those first couple of minutes, when they are driving into the school, and it can inform their whole outlook into whether they are going to invest the money into sending their child to that particular school.”

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

“It is our job to produce the best surfaces, grounds and gardens as we possibly can, and help influence that decision.”

Andy and his new team have very much hit the ground running and within his first two months in post a lot had already been achieved.

“In my first week we fraised mowed all five cricket squares and took three quarters of an inch off each square,” said Andy, revealing that it could have been the first time it had ever been done.

“We also fraised mowed the first team cricket outfield and took 20 mm off it and then we completely reseeded it.”

A recently appointed team at the head of the school, including a new Headmaster, has brought a vision to Haileybury and an ambition to improve standards. This includes a battery of new equipment.

“We are slightly limited on the machinery that we’ve got at the moment but I am working on a machinery replacement programme which will operate on a rolling basis. The school realises that it must invest in machinery and is well aware of the sort of money that will be required.”

“I have always done my own renovations and try not to use contractors at all and be completely self-sufficient. To me it’s the most important part of the job and you live and die by your renovations. I don’t like playing the blame game. We are the people who are going to be working with the pitch going forward so we are going to make sure it is right in the first place and if we don’t get it quite right we learn from it and do it right next year.”

“So, it means we need our own kit. We did a couple of passes with the GKB machine and there was a couple of wickets I still wasn’t happy with so we did them again, we got the surface exactly how I wanted. If that had been a contractor they might have done the two passes and gone on to the next job.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

I like being master of my own destiny.”

With a man possessing of such a perfectionist streak the answer to the question, “What are your own expectations for Haileybury going forwards and that 10 year plan?” brought about the expected response.

“I’d like to get there before then. I’d like to think that in 12 months people will have started to take notice of Haileybury’s pitches, heard about us and will have seen lots of the things we have done. Within three years I’d expect it to be on a par with quite a lot of the other schools and then, within five years, I’d like it to be pushing to be as good as it possibly could be.”

“I’d like it to be THE school in the south of England, it not the country. I want Haileybury to be known for having the best sports pitches and grounds in the country.”

And that ambition is shared by the rest of the school.

“My thoughts are mirrored by the Master, the Bursar, the Estates Bursar and the Director of Sport. We all want to get to the same place, be as good as we can possibly be and be the place to be.

It really is an exciting time to be here.”

Andy has been able to make a sharp start to fulfilling those ambitions because of his time within the industry which means that manufacturers and dealers are happy to lend him machines until such time as his new battalion of machinery arrives.

He has been delighted by the manner in which his staff – there are 12 in total including himself – have bought into the new regime.

“After I was offered the job I met the staff. They put a chair in the middle of the room and I outlined my thoughts. To be honest I’ve never known a more enthusiastic staff. They wanted to change and be let off the leash.”

“I told them that I’d come here to make the school the best in the country and that I wouldn’t leave until I’d done that. If they gave me 100% I’d give them 150%. They have all bought into that and are enthusiastic about doing new things. We’ve started to hand cut the rugby pitches so they are walking behind mowers for the first time.”

“The keenness of the staff was what sold me the place as much as anything.”

In general terms Andy is delighted to be a part of a thriving sector on the amenity turf industry.

Sheer Poetry

Sheer Poetry

“To me the schools’ sector is almost in a league of its own and an extremely strong part of the industry. We all have to be multi-taskers and be able to lay out an athletics’ track as well as producing high quality football and cricket surfaces. We are evolving, there is money available and everyone is pushing each other,” said Andy.

“I know most of the Grounds’ Managers at most of the independent schools in the country and we all get on well. They all love what they are doing. Time goes so quickly because we are all working one term ahead of ourselves. In the rugby term you are already planning what you need for the football term and in the football term you are already planning what’s happening in the cricket term.

“I absolutely love it. I’ve worked in professional football, having been Head Groundsman at Birmingham City for five years, but I can’t see me ever moving into any other part of the industry,” revealed Andy, who attributes social media for promoting the work of groundsmen and for promoting the quality now seen at schools such as Haileybury.

“People who had never been to Shrewsbury School knew about the quality of pitches we had and that was in part down to Twitter.”

Those who know Andy well, know that he will achieve his goals, no matter how high the bar is set, but to help him all he needs to do is return to the work of that famous Old Boy, Rudyard Kipling and his magnificent poem, if he reads on to the final verse and the last five lines he will find whatever inspiration he requires for what lies ahead:

If all men count with you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

It’s all about Grass Seed

It’s all about Grass Seed: Stronger germination and faster establishment are key.

DLF Seed’s ProNitro Coating Technology has been helping greenkeepers and groundsmen achieve stronger germination, faster establishment and lower input costs.

It’s all about Grass Seed

It’s all about Grass Seed

Four years on from its launch, the next generation of ProNitro is now available, featuring DLF’s new Hydroactive Water Management Technology. ProNitro’s targeted combination of controlled release nitrogen and sustainable water distribution optimises the delivery of essential nutrients and moisture to the developing seedling.

With sustainability an everincreasing priority for turf managers around the world, the ProNitro coating ensures available water is used more efficiently.

“The new ProNitro formulation has been conceived and developed as a direct action for input optimization on grasses, improving water distribution in the field. Making the best of every drop of water gives both the grass seed and the fertiliser the optimum conditions for establishment, strong root development and healthy, vigorous
growth,” explained Giovanny Lopez, Lead Seed Coat Technologist for DLF.

In trials, the coated seed contributed to a 34% increase in establishing plants and a 30% improvement in root growth. In addition, the targeted nitrogen application system reduces the leaching of unutilised fertiliser into the environment by more than 50% when compared to traditional chemical applications.

ProNitro combines sources of both fast-acting and slow release nitrogen with water management technology, encapsulated in a smooth outer coating for improved seed flow and accurate delivery. This ensures the new seed receives the full benefit of the available water and nutrition, encouraging the roots and shoots to grow rapidly – particularly important when overseeding into a competitive sward.

It is suitable for use on all types of playing surfaces and is available on a selection of popular mixtures from across the Johnsons Sports Seed range. On golf greens and football pitches, even those with low-fertility, sandy soils, ProNitro provides faster establishment, bringing surfaces back into play quicker. The improved uniformity and sward density also make it ideal for turf producers by reducing the invasion of Poa annua and broad-leaved weeds. Replacing the need for seedbed fertiliser, ProNitro saves both time and money.