Getting to the roots of sustainability

Getting to the roots of sustainability: Back in April, users of ‘turf Twitter’ bore witness to the effect extreme weather has on the sports turf industry.

A combination of 22 days of ground frost, record levels of sunshine and the fourth driest April on record made the preparing playing surfaces exceptionally challenging. Predictably, May was a washout with relentless heavy rain falling across most of the country.

Getting to the roots of sustainability

Getting to the roots of sustainability

Weather extremes add additional pressures and keep sustainability and climate change issues high on the industry’s agenda. The most commonly described approach to sustainability in turfgrass management is a reduction in inputs, such as fertiliser, fungicides and water, but grass breeders at Barenbrug have given turf managers the ability to underpin their sustainability strategy with Sustainable Grass Technology.

The result of years of specialist breeding, significant investment from the global leader in turfgrass seed production, and numerous independent and in-house trials, grasses in SGT blends have been bred to excel in one or more of four key areas of research;

  • nitrogen use efficiency to reduce fertiliser use and cost
  • drought tolerance to increase survival and reduce the need for irrigation in stress periods
  • increased disease tolerance to reduce fungicide use
  • lower clippings yield to reduce mowing frequency, labour and fuel consumption

“Our breeders had the foresight to anticipate the industry’s needs. These grasses have, in some instances, been decades in the making,” explained Dr David Greenshields, Barenbrug UK’s Amenity Commercial Manager.

“Our aim is to give turf managers all the desirable characteristics that help them meet the demands of the modern game, with minimal inputs, and for surfaces to retain their health, vibrancy and resilience under extreme conditions, such as drought or heavy wear. For turf managers looking to reduce their inputs and all the associated costs without compromising turf quality, using grasses specifically bred for that purpose and proven through independent testing is the ideal starting point.”

SGT’s breeding objectives led to the development of Barprium, a perennial ryegrass cultivar that has set a new benchmark for nitrogen efficiency.

Trials conducted at the STRI from 2016 to 2018 focused on identifying which perennial ryegrass varieties use lower levels of nitrogen most efficiently to deliver acceptable turf quality.

It compared the performance of seven of Barenbrug’s existing high performing perennial ryegrass cultivars against the new cultivar.

When low levels of nitrogen were applied to all cultivars, all performed to a good standard throughout the trials, but Barprium showed greater quality and coverage, even with a 50% nitrogen input. The other seven cultivars all ranked highly in the BSPB Turfgrass Seed Listings, making Barprium’s performance even more impressive.

Strong summer colour in Barprium has also proved an asset to the blend for low input golf fairways.

“SGT Rye Fairway is a great example of our global breeding and trials resource delivering excellent regional solutions. The fi ne fescue cultivars in the mix were selected for their sustainable performance characteristics,” explained David.

“Hardtop hard fescue and Barjessica strong creeping red fescue performed particularly well in periods of heat and drought.

Data from fi ne fescue performance trials conducted in 2018 showed that turf quality of hard fescue was unrivalled during the intense heat and drought of a memorable summer, and the recovery capacity of Barjessica was exceptional. The selected cultivars also provide excellent resistance to Red Thread – perfect for low nutrition fairways.”

David is urging Course Managers to consider the significant benefits of hard fescue on fairways.

“The summer of 2018 bought into sharp focus the situation turf managers face during lengthy periods without rainfall. Hard fescue has been used successfully on the continent, in the US and in Australia where summers are hotter and drier than ‘typical’ ones in the UK.

“It is the default species where there is no irrigation, which demonstrates its natural drought tolerance. It is also resilient and more nitrogen efficient than red fescue, and modern cultivars produce high quality turf.

“It currently makes up 50% and 20% of our two SGT mixtures, and I believe it will play a greater role in the long-term management of medium-fi ne turf with low maintenance requirements.

For new constructions and full renovations, sustainability starts with sowing the right cultivars. For established turf, overseeding with these new cultivars can enable the sward to adapt over time to provide additional resilience when and where it’s needed most.”

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village: There is a school in North Yorkshire which marches to its own beat. Celebrating the individual is at the heart of its ethos, with academic results to back-up its unique approach.

Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate, in Thorpe Underwood, half-way between York and Harrogate, is one of most prestigious schools in the country.

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village

In a trail blazing move in 2015 the school invested heavily in a new multi-million-pound Sports Village on the campus. Well, six years on that Sports Village is now well established, offering Queen Ethelburga’s pupils some of the finest facilities to be found anywhere and attracting top level professional teams for summer training.

The man whose role is to maintain the spectacular range of pitches and continually improve what is in place is someone whose own CV contains some of the biggest names and finest sporting venues around.

Ben Grigor was attracted by “a big advert” posted by Queen Ethelburga’s in the trade press and decided that what was on offer was an opportunity too good to miss.

“From memory it showed the pitches under construction,” recalled Ben.

“It very much looked like a job which would be a dream come true for whoever got it – to be building something from scratch ,” added the man whose CV contains the names of Rangers, at both Murray Park and Ibrox, and SIS Pitches, for which he was part of the early preparations for the Luzhniki Stadium, venue for the 2018 World Cup final, as well as other top sporting venues.

Having secured his interview, Ben’s approach during questioning was, to say the least, “high risk”.

“The CEO asked what I thought of the newly laid pitches. I’d had a walk round earlier in the day and picked up on a few things. So I said, ‘Can I be honest?’ When she agreed, I told her that actually the natural pitches needed improving.”

When constructed, the clay topsoil had been removed to install the drainage and the irrigation and then that original soil was put back on top.

“You are not going to get a high-performance pitch built on clay.

Ben’s honest assessment was taken in the spirit it was intended and the job was his. Things have not looked back since.

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village

“We agree a budget at the beginning of the year and we then get on with it,” said Ben, tempting fate by adding that he hadn’t had a complaint in five years.

On day one Ben arrived with no staff and no equipment, but it was building the right team which was his priority.

“Machinery is only as good as the people using it. So, I wanted a good team. I set up the rotas and procedures at a level that you would expect at a top-level training ground or stadium,” said Ben.

“I needed people who weren’t concerned when told that they weren’t going to get a day off in July, when we might have Newcastle United or England Ladies here doing double training sessions. I needed a team who were happy to be going in at 7am and finishing at 8pm and enjoying doing the work for the teams.”

“I’ve got a fantastic team now, many of them have worked at stadiums in the Premier League environment,” said Ben.

With the closure of schools as part of the Government enforced lockdown, Ben placed himself on flexible furlough during the pandemic to enable him to spend more time with his children in Glasgow, but also to make more working hours available to his guys.

“I was very conscious of their own circumstances.”

As to the machinery, there may be some manufacturers kicking themselves for not paying more attention when Ben put his requirements out to tender.

“I’d created a list of our needs and specifications. For example, what we needed from a tractor – air con, number of kilos it would need to lift, the width etc. The Toro Pro Core was the only one that had a company name attached to it.

“I put it out to all the main names in the industry but only a couple got back to me at the time. Perhaps they thought we were just a small school!”

Ben works to ensure the team is getting the best deal long-term as his purchase of a Koro proves, “We started Koroing pitches in-house, when timings suit us best.

It paid for itself very quickly when set against bringing in contractors to do the work.”

Ben has taken on board a working practice that he first experienced when a young greenkeeper at Crow Wood Golf Club, just outside Glasgow.

“The two other greenkeepers and I were given our own six holes to look after and it created great competition between the three of us. You always take pride in what is yours. So here the guys have their own pitches to look after.

If there is a limited amount of fertiliser left they will ask if they can have it for their pitches and that creates a bit of healthy argument about who gets it,” said Ben.

Having teams set up training camps during the 10 weeks of the summer break is very much part of the estates commercial offer.

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village

“Last summer when teams couldn’t go abroad, we hosted Newcastle United here. I think the team may have had reservations about coming to a school, but they were amazed at the quality of our facilities. So much so that they are looking to return again this year, if they are training in country again.” said Ben, who added that Leeds United also used the facilities while their own training ground was being renovated.

Queen Ethelburga’s facilities include five artificial pitches and a workout area, constructed by S&C Slatter; a five-a-bay cricket practice net facility; two multi-games areas for football, basketball and netball, a larger multi-games area for netball, tennis and basketball, a water-based hockey pitch. Every pitch is floodlit to a standard good enough for HD filming.

“We’ve also got three underwater treadmills, ice bath recovery and a sport science area. The CEO visited St George’s Park to see what was there before the project started.

Our facilities are equal to many of those in the Premiership.”

So why does Queen Ethelburga’s have such stunning sporting facilities, and what was the catalyst for investment such a vast sum of money?

Well, the school threw its hat into the ring in 2013 to be training base for one of the Rugby Union World Cup 2015 finalists only to be knocked back because the facilities weren’t up to the required standard.

“We were told that we were a lovely place but that our facilities were not up to it. All we were at the time was a traditional school playing field with no irrigation or anything else in place. They said that the accommodation and everything else required was great.” explained Ben.

While the new facilities have helped to maximise the sporting talents of some to move into the professional game, the ethos of Queen Ethelburga’s is very much to enhance the talents of their own students, right from nursery age, rather than to bring in pupils who have already been identified as having sporting potential.

One of those is certainly 17 year-old Jason Qareqare, who made a huge impact on his debut for Castleford Tigers against Hull. With his very first touch in professional rugby league, and less than a minute into the match he scored a brilliant try – a try you could say born on the playing fields of Queen Ethelburga’s.

Speaking with Ben you very much get a feeling of a man not only on top of his job but relishing the challenge of meeting the expectations of an ambitious school, prepared to invest in making itself the best it can be.

And while the career ladder for an ambitious groundsman might see a top school as a stopping off point on the way to a high-profile professional club, the job of a Head of Grounds at a top school can be very much a career pinnacle.

“Initially I think there were reservations by the school about how long I would stay, but I really I can’t see myself going anywhere else,” admitted Ben.

The improvements to the school pitches, which were the subject of Ben’s honest feedback at his interview, have been built and improved on as part of a planned phased programme.

The school with its own sports village

The school with its own sports village

“We’ve been rejuvenating the surfaces. As I say they were clay-based and while they had put in sand bands it wasn’t enough, so what we’ve been doing is stripping the surfaces off and replacing them with a sand profile on the surface.

“It has meant a fair amount of time and investment, but I’m pleased to say that they trusted me.

“Once we’d done the first pitch, the benefits were clear,” said Ben, whose aim is to get every pitch to the same level across the complex.

Much of the renovation work was carried out last year, whilst the campus had to remain closed to all but key worker students, but now the aim is to have all the pitches back and available all year.

“The school is our primary focus.

We want the teachers to be happy and we want the students to be happy with the service we provide.”

While Queen Ethelburga’s might have been ahead of the pack when investing in their facilities, other schools have since followed suit.

“What we achieved, nobody else was even considering, we were ahead of our time. We’ll need to keep being dedicated to continuous improvement though, to remain at the top of our game.”

That’s Queen Ethelburga’s. Always marching to that beat of its own drum.

Pitch perfect

Pitch perfect: Scott MacCallum talks with Yves De Cocker, of PitchTecConcept, about his role in ensuring that our wonderful new stadiums have pitches to match.

It really has been a 21st century phenomenon. You can barely visit a city or large town without coming across one, and the transformation from the previous incarnations to what we have today is truly startling.

Pitch perfect

Pitch perfect

I’m talking about modern sports stadiums.

We’ve certainly come a long way from the grounds – they weren’t called stadiums in those days. Remember the old fashioned terraces, sometimes covered at the home end – a luxury the visiting supporters were rarely afforded? And the stands – where counter intuitively people sat – but often behind pillars, meaning a well-practiced neck swivel to retain continuity of the action.

Nostalgic? Undoubtedly. Comfortable? Never.

The new stadiums? On-site parking; not a bad view in the house and comfort of a level you’d expect to find at the Royal Opera House. No more cricking of your neck . And even better! If you miss a bit you can catch up on the giant screens at either end of the ground. Some stadia even have retractable roofs so the players won’t get wet, never mind you.

As I say, they are a phenomenon. But there have been, and still are, teething problems. With 360 degree stands, air doesn’t circulate, and the sun doesn’t have a chance to do its stuff to the turf. Pitches were being replaced on such a regularity that it was giving the Finance Director, never mind the Head Groundsman, palpitations.

Solutions have emerged – retractable pitches, grow lights etc- but there is still an issue that what has been regarded as the best stadium is not somewhere which is conducive to the growing of grass.

One man who wrestles with these issues on a daily basis is Yves De Cocker, the Managing Director of PitchTecConcept, and a man who has spent the last 20 years solving problems at some of the biggest and highest profile stadiums in the world.

He has four World Cups and three Olympics on his CV. This man knows how to make a pitch work under the most extreme circumstances.

“The whole set up of thinking about building a new stadium is completely different to what it was 20 years ago,” explained Yves, speaking from his home in Belgium.

“I don’t think that before the Emirates was built for Arsenal that anyone really realised that the centre stage of the stadium – literally – was the pitch . Ideally, the stadium designer should work his or her plans around the pitch.

“At the Emirates the pitch was at the centre of the whole project and you can see that now, because Arsenal have had an immaculate, fantastic, pitch ever since,” said Yves, who does admit that there often remains an unawareness of the importance of the pitch when the project is still on the designer’s table.

From Yves perspective he could see that on one side of the table were the stadium architects and designer while, on the other side, was the end users – the stadium owners and the football federations.

There was one thing missing.

“What was missing was someone, or some company, that could help the end user in determining exactly what their technological needs were and how they were going to maximise all of those technologies,” said Yves, whose approach to date has helped almost 900 clients.

“I want to bridge the gap between the customer and the pitch technology industry. I see myself as an external colleague for the end user, whose role is to make the most of their investment. A guardian of the concept who will not only make the most of the technology but also assist in making the client think more conceptually and holistically.

“If you are only going buy grow lights, or only going to buy a hybrid grass system your risk of failure is much higher than if you invest in a concept and work together to make it work,” said Yves, who has worked at three of the stadiums hosting the Euros, including Wembley.

Ideally the best time to lay out the concept it right at the very beginning and Yves knows that it is far better to prevent issues from arising in the first place rather than resolving issues which do emerge as the project develops.

“I’m a realistic guy and I know that most of the time I’m called in when its already in the construction or operational phase.

Pitch perfect

Pitch perfect

But it’s never too late to change what you’ve decided so long as you are willing to open your mind and you are prepared to rethink and reconsider what you’ve done.”

The message is, however, don’t start the design and then think about the pitch. Make sure the pitch is at the centre of everything.

Sounds straightforward but there are many mistakes made, and which continue to be made.

“One of the main reasons is that the people who are in charge of deciding what they are going to do, and how they are going to do it, are not fully aware of how the pitch technology principle works. Very often there is a difference in understanding between the grounds team and the people making the decisions.

“Grounds Managers don’t always get what they want, and the management doesn’t understand the needs of the groundsman

Therefore, what is often chosen is not the best option.”

With modern day stadiums you are dealing with huge sums of money and mistakes, avoidable mistakes, with regard to the pitch can be very expensive.

“One of my main challenges is to convince people that I’m not just here to earn money for PitchTecConcept, but that I can actually help them save, or even earn, money for their organisations.”

Yves has a three step process to how he conducts his consultations.

“Firstly, I ask what they expect from their new pitch and most of the time you can see them thinking ‘Does he really think that we don’t know what we want from our pitch?’.

But then you go into a little more depth and it becomes apparent that they haven’t really thought about it thoroughly. We are helping them to understand more fully what it is they want to achieve.

“Part two is to make an assessment of what already exists and that’s not only about the type of pitch they have and the equipment they have to maintain it. It is also about the culture of the club; how do they work with their pitch and the people who are responsible for it. We then produce a report and offer suggestions.”

Part three is very much an option, and isn’t something which carries a PitchTecConcept fee.

“They can take my advice to heart and try to implement it themselves and that’s fi ne. They can fi le it somewhere in the office and do nothing about it, which isn’t the best option, but does happen. The third option is that they want me to stay on board and talk with suppliers of pitch technology, determining what is really needed and start the implementation of it. Once it is all in place, they want us to continue with the on-going training of club, federation or stadium manager.

“I do not charge them forthis and it is part of an open discussion. The one proviso is that I work with industry partners and suppliers, because if I need to take responsibility for the end result,
I’m not going to work with people or companies that I don’t know.”

Yves has seen a real step change in the way business operates since he started in the industry 30 years ago.

“It used to be that you had a salesman and someone who was perhaps going to buy from you. It was almost like a fight between the two.

“Nowadays it is a much more open relationship. It is about working together to make the best out of what we can both do, and what value we can bring to the table so that I can do my job to the best of my ability and they can benefit from it.

“In my case the customer knows everything and it is a very easy way to work and I’m finding that more and more organisations are starting to like that idea.”

With the stadiums progressing in sophistication and in number, as those old favourites grounds are being replaced Yves, and PitchTecConcept, are likely to be extremely busy over the next few years.

Good things come to those who wait…

Good things come to those who wait…: Scott MacCallum catches up with the most patient man in greenkeeping – Paul Larsen, who has had to wait an additional 12 months to prepare an Open Championship course.

The Open Championship at Royal St George’s Golf Club is going to be a wonderful event.

Good things come to those who wait…

Good things come to those who wait…

The course, one of the best on the Open rota, will be in immaculate condition, the weather will be superb and the golf will be exciting, irrespective of how many spectators are there to create the galleries.

How can I be so sure? Well, I’m merely following the old adage “Good things come to those who wait”, and oh how the club, and, in particular, Head Greenkeeper Paul Larsen and his team have had to wait.

At the beginning of last year everything was on track for The Open, in July. The long and medium term planning had gone well and Paul and his team were hoping for a good spell of weather in the months ahead so that the course would be fast and running, just how the R&A like it.

And then…

The decision was taken to postpone the Championship for a year on April 6, and immediately the date, which had been penned into the diary since 2017, when Royal St George’s hosting was announced, disappeared over the horizon.

“To be honest when the news about the postponement came through my mind wasn’t really on The Open. It was on the virus,” recalled Paul.

“I only had five people in, including myself, everyone else was on furlough, and we were just doing the bare essentials on the course to keep it going, as we were instructed to do. We also had the heatwave at the same time so we were hand watering everywhere and not really cutting.

“To be fair the fescue was thriving but The Open was suddenly in the background,” said Paul, who admitted that he was one of the first to take the virus seriously.

“Without going OTT we were doing all the cleaning of hands and equipment, which eventually was official advice, from the very beginning.”

With the US Open being moved from June to September, The Masters moving to November and some European Tour events being played before the original Open date, there were thoughts that a slightly shorter delay may be possible but Paul was pleased that the ultimate outcome was the end result.

“They have considered holding it later in the year but had they moved it to September there would have been light issues and it would have had to have been a reduced field, but around that time we were going into quite a severe lockdown.

“I personally think they made the right decision. There was no messing about, and everyone’s health came first,” said Paul.

The postponement was announcement before any of the huge stands or marquees had been erected but most of the underground infrastructure, TV cabling etc, was in place.

“In a way it has meant that they had a head start for this year,” reasoned Paul.

The club took the greenkeeping staff off furlough when it was deemed safe to do so and they took the opportunity to carry out work that was possible with the course devoid of golfers.

“It was great by the club that they took everyone off furlough and it meant we could get a lot of work done. We’ve done a lot of path reshaping which would have been difficult with golfers on the course and we’ve cleaned out a sand dune behind the 4th green, an area which might be in play.”

Ironically, the original Open week was an exceptionally busy one at Royal St George’s.

“We held an Open tournament for the members which was open to everyone and people could play off the Championship tees if they wanted to. We were getting 120 people playing each day and the weather was great and the course looked and played really well.

“So it would have been great for The Open if it was played.”

In fact, the week before history was made with the first ever professional ladies’ event held over the old links. The Justin Rose Series, a wonderful initiative to give ladies playing opportunities in these strange times, was played with a strong field of professional lady golfers. Gemma Dryburgh, of Scotland, was the first to have a Royal St George’s victory on her record, with a one under par round of 69.

With everything planned for, and geared up for, a particular week in the diary, having that date move by 12 months could have been deflating for Paul and his team. But not so.

“Keeping motivated, a problem?

Good things come to those who wait…

Good things come to those who wait…

Good question but ‘No’, in a word. The story goes back to when we lost a lot of grass in the drought of 2018. We hadn’t really recovered from that so when we were moved back a year we had great fairways and great playing surfaces in general, but our semi rough was quite hard to get back and contained quite a bit of soft broom.

“So the motivation has been to get that up to scratch . The guys have been hand-dressing the semi. I didn’t want top dressers over it, so we’ve done it in the old-fashioned manner.

The motivation was always there, but the extra 12 months has given us extra motivation to get it better.”

It actually made the very next question a little redundant, but being a stubborn so-and-so, I asked it anyway.

“Was there a date in the calendar that you went back into Championship mode?”

Not too bad eh? But an obvious answer…

But I did get a little more.

“At the end of the day, without the team I’ve got here the results wouldn’t be possible. They’ve been out hand shoveling top dressing day after day, over and over.

They’ve got on with it. It’s not just the hours they’ve put in, it’s the physical energy required to do it.

“I’ve worked on many golf courses and a lot of people think that you just sit on machines in the summer and that it’s easy. We do a lot of hand cutting here and it is physically demanding. They are very fi t from it and they have been absolutely brilliant for me,” said Paul.

Like all Head men Paul is rarely happy with the weather which is dished up to him – a Greenkeeper’s Rain Dance should be up there with the likes of the Argentine Tango and Charleston as a Strictly standard – and sure enough spring didn’t cut the mustard.

“We wanted a good spring, but we didn’t get it. However, this month (May) we’ve had 68mil so that’s rejuvenated everything. Had we had gone from a dry spring to a dry hot summer we’d have got no germination and all our work would have been done and we’d have had no dividend from it. But with all this rain you can see it coming up.”

Elsewhere the delay has meant that the bunkers will be a year older than they would have been.

“We didn’t build any the year before as we didn’t want them to look brand new but with quite a hard winter with a lot of snow we are finding cracks in some of them so we will be finding a way of freshening them up. I’ve got a few techniques to get them right, but they are at the end of their five year cycle.”

For the week itself Paul has had to tweak his original plan and call on his neighbouring golf clubs for help.

Good things come to those who wait…

Good things come to those who wait…

“It will be an unusual Open because normal the team and volunteers stay on site in Bunkabins for the 10 days before and during the Championship. Now everyone has to leave the site and go home at the end of each day and I have had to get 25 local volunteers to help. Normally we have guys for the other Open rota courses but that’s not happening either.”

So 25 local greenkeepers will have the opportunity of experiencing an Open.

“We’ve got to plan what each one will be doing, and we are hoping that they will come for a day’s training beforehand.

There will always be one of my guys with them. It’s going to be interesting. I’ll let you know how it goes after The Open.”

Thinking back to the last Royal St George’s Open – Darren Clarke’s popular win in 2011 – Paul, Deputy at the time had a job he is very pleased to be relinquishing.

“I was painting the holes and I couldn’t relax until the final hole was cut and white painted. I’m glad I’m not doing it this time!”

Despite having been the greenkeeper who has had to show more patience than any other in modern times for his Open to arrive, Paul hasn’t let his mind wander to the week itself.

“I don’t live for the future. I always have a plan, but I don’t particularly think about how I’m going to be feeling. I just accept it on the day. It is what it is, otherwise you are just worrying about what it is going to be like.”

But I really don’t think Paul and his team should be worrying. As I say “Good things come to those who wait”

Maintain or replace?

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

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

Maintain or replace?

Maintain or replace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride-on mowers – what to look for

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


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

Ride-on mowers - what to look for

Ride-on mowers – what to look for

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Rise of the SuperBents

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

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

Rise of the SuperBents

Rise of the SuperBents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turf management is coming home

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

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

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was our plan,” explained Karl.

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turf management is coming home

Turf management is coming home

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

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

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

The countdown has started

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

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

The countdown has started

The countdown has started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The countdown has started

The countdown has started

TM: What grasses do you have on the course?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The countdown has started

The countdown has started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A charter for excellence

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

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

A charter for excellence

A charter for excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A charter for excellence

A charter for excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A charter for excellence

A charter for excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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