2018 World Cup in Russia

2018 World Cup in Russia: Laurence Gale takes a look behind the scenes at the venue for the World Cup final to be held in Moscow in July.

With the FIFA World Cup less than two months away, many of the stadium venues will be focusing on ensuring their playing surfaces are fit for purpose and one venue in the spotlight will be the Luzhniki Stadium selected by the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup committee as the venue for the final, which will be held on 15 July 2018.

The original stadium was demolished in 2013 to give a way for the construction of a new stadium. The self-supported cover was retained. The facade wall was retained as well, due to its architectural value and later was reconnected to a new building. During the construction a brand new DessoGrass Master pitch was installed in 2015.

GrassMaster is an ideal hybrid grass system for top-level tournaments, multifunctional sports pitches, venues with a busy schedule and state-of-the-art training facilities. A total of 20 million in-house produced High Performance Fibres (HPF) deliver a reinforced natural grass playing surface that is proven to last for up to 15 years or more.

The job of looking after the pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium is down to Head Groundsman Vladislav Lysenko who has been employed at the club for 15 years, 12 in the role of Head Groundsman and, since 2014, in the role of consultant and a member of the RFPL commission for assessing the quality of football fields in Russia.

The number of ground staff employed at the stadium varies between four and nine depending on the fixtures and quite often the weather conditions. Seasonal renovations are usually carried out during the winter break of fixtures in December, the success of the renovation work will go a long way to retaining a healthy tight sward going into the new year for the resumption of the championship and European cup fixtures.

With over 30 games played at the stadium the use of their MDM Lighting rigs plays an important part in retaining grass cover particularly during the winter months.

Maintenance of the pitch is centred on keeping the sward heathy by mowing at a height of between 23-28mm, mowing two to three times a week depending on conditions using a fleet of Dennis G860’s mowers. An ongoing programme of aeration, fertilising ,overseeding along with a good post game repair strategy of divoting, brushing and cleaning up with rotary mowers helps keep the pitch in good health.

Feeding regimes are centred on providing a balance of liquid and granular feeding products such as COMPO, Florovit, ICL, YARA Mila.

Vladisav has a comprehensive range of equipment supplied by iGo, Dennis, Toro, A.Carraro, SISIS, Redexim and Caiman which he uses as part of his maintenance programme.

I am sure Vladislav Lysenko and his staff are going to be kept very busy in the coming weeks to ensure the Luzhniki Stadium pitch can cope with onslaught of this year’s FIFA World Cup matches and having the opportunity to produce the playing surface for this year’s World Cup Final being held at the Stadium.

 

The four year World Cup cycle has once again come full circle and we can look forward to drama, spectacular entertainment, controversy and debate which is guaranteed every time.

Such is the global nature of the World Cup, 2018 will be completely different from eight years ago when we were introduced to the Vuvuzelas, which characterised, some would say blighted, the South African World Cup, and the Sambas and Copacabana joie de vivre of Brazil’s World Cup four years ago.

This time around it is Russia with 12 stadiums spread over 1,800 miles in a country which is truly massive, offering a full range of climates, local characteristics and weather. The stadiums themselves are superb. Venue for the final itself is in Moscow and has been totally revamped with work only being completed this year. Now known as the Luzhniki Stadium, with a capacity of 80,000, it will become only the fifth stadium to have hosted a World Cup Final, a Champions League Final and an Olympic Games. Other stadiums are either brand new or have been completed in the last four or five years.

While the contrast between South Africa, Brazil and Russia can scarcely be more stark one constant between the three countries, three continents and three World Cups is Dennis Mowers who have supplied some of their industry leading mowers to each.

The Dennis G860 cylinder mower is the one chosen for the task of preparing pitches for the world’s greatest football players when the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks-off in June 2018.

Virtually every one of the stadiums will have their pitches maintained by the G860 and that includes the venues selected for the latter stages of the tournament.

Dennis’ involvement has not been a short-term or recent success however. For the past ten years Russian clubs have been using turf maintenance equipment from Dennis and 70% of the Russian Premier League teams have either a G860 or Dennis Premier mower.

Many of the groundsmen know the quality and robustness – they know that they can use them for a diverse range of maintenance tasks without ever having any issues, even in the Russian weather!

The Dennis man with the collection of air miles which would make Alan Whicker envious is Sales Manager Toby Clarke, who has worked extremely closely with Queens Grass, the company’s Russian dealership, to ensure whichever country lifts the World Cup on Sunday, July 15, Dennis will also be celebrating another significant victory for the company.

 

Turf Matters caught up with Toby, during one of his few days at home!

How long have you been working with FIFA or the individual Russian stadiums?

Our dealer, Queens Grass, has been working with Russian stadiums since 2001, while in 2008 we set up the machinery business in Russia together with Dennis and later on with SISIS Machinery.

How many stadiums will we see with Dennis Machines this June?

During the tournament at least seven of the 11 stadiums will use the Dennis mower, 70% of the training camps will be using Dennis as well.

How many machines will you have at the World Cup?

Around 88 Dennis mowers will be used throughout the tournament for key maintenance tasks as well as presentation preparation before games.

Do you have a package which you’re offer to the stadiums or is each one completely different?

Every offer is made specially for the stadium or training complex for their individual needs and was tendered by the Russian Government

How has the work involved with Dennis and the Brazil World Cup differed from that in Russia?

Russia is whole different ball game, in Russia you really need to work with local companies like Queens Grass which have been serving football stadiums for many years. Russian clients like to know they can have reliable machinery and spares back-up with local companies that supply European machinery.

Are there added complications dealing with an eastern bloc country?

Let’s say the customs and borders in Russia are an interesting challenge!

From a technical perspective does the different climactic conditions in South America and Eastern Europe mean that machines are set up differently?

Yes, the mowing height of cut will be different along with the pitch construction. We ensure that when we deliver machines to each stadium or training complex that the groundsmen and/or contractors using the machines receive all of the relevant training required.

Once you’ve supplied the machines is your work done or will you be on hand to ensure smooth runnings?

The machines are delivered and ready to use. We supply kit for the first round of maintenance so the clients are ready to work directly after they receive their new Dennis mowers.

What do you believe being so heavily involved in the Greatest Show on Earth does for Dennis?

It is not easy but great at the same time to work in such a tournament, the quality of play depends on the pitches quality as they will be watched by millions around the world, so presentation is key. It is a nice challenge to have!

From a personal perspective, do you get a kick out of being involved in an event like the World Cup or is it just another contract?

It is impressive to be in all these new stadiums and training camps, it is not just another contract; it is a responsibility and is something that we are all very proud to be a part of.

 

A Q&A with Mark Harrod of MH Goals..

What are your predictions for the World Cup?

I’m going for a Brazil – Germany final with Brazil avenging the 7-1 in 2014!

England are reigning World Champions at U17 and U20 level, why do you think youth football in this country is so strong at the moment?

Over the last few years there has been a lot of focus on improving the game for children. It wasn’t that long ago they were just shoved onto an adult sized-pitch with a ball that they could barely kick, let alone play with. Now they play mini-soccer and 9v9 first, only moving onto the full-sized pitches when they are big enough. We are making and selling more and more goals for these variations, so it’s obviously an approach that is taking hold across the country, and one that allows children to develop their skills earlier, with visible results.

How do you see the health of the grassroots game at the moment?

We’ve always been keen supporters of grassroots football, sponsoring dozens of leagues and cup competitions across the country, and it honestly seems to be as popular as ever, despite the doomsayers who are convinced the nation is glued to their smartphones.

If you go to a park or community pitch on a Saturday morning you’ll see clubs running coaching for children as young as three. The women’s game is more popular that it has ever been too, with over 3 million registered players in the UK.  Plus you now have walking football too, which has allowed a generation to start playing again, so yes, things are very healthy at grassroots level.

How has the Football Foundation made a difference?

Grants from the Football Foundation are making a massive impact. Clubs and schools can apply for funds to replace old, unsafe equipment, build new facilities, even improve pitches and buildings. It’s a great scheme and it helps reinvigorate communities. We will be supplying Football Foundation funded projects across the country this summer and we’re also at the heart of the Beacon of Light Centre – Sunderland’s new innovative sports and education facility and the first of its kind in the UK.

You’re well known throughout the industry as a safety expert, what changes have you seen over your career?

When I first started football goals had wooden sockets, metal hooks and hand painted frames. Safety standards were unheard of back in those days! As time went on it was becoming clear that a standard was required to improve the safety of the equipment being produced. I was involved in the first ever standard, BS EN 748, which implemented formal testing on full-sized goals, including stability and strength testing and basic finger and head entrapment standards. The banning of metal hooks from crossbars and uprights was also major step forward as these had caused a number of nasty injuries over the years.

What can you tell us about the new BS EN regulation coming into force this June?

BS EN 16579 is something I’ve been advising the BSI and CEN for several years and in July it will become the new safety standard that all new goalposts under 24x8ft will have to conform to. It’s a Europe wide standard which replaces BS 8462:2012 and makes several improvements, such as reduced width of net hook channels to reduce the chance of finger entrapment, more stringent stress testing and the introduction of new medium and light weight goals.

It’s also the first ever safety standard to regulate rugby posts, covering socket installation, goal strength and maintenance.

I’m really pleased with the changes we’re bringing in with this new standard as they’ll address a number of issues and make the game safer for everyone.

What should people look for when they’re buying goalposts to ensure they are safe?

Obviously that they conform to BS EN 16579! Go for goals with a solid crossbar and avoid mitred corners as these have a habit of coming apart and exposing sharp dangerous edges. Use a Football Foundation approved supplier as this ensures that the goals are up to standard. It’s also important to check what anchors are being supplied, for example goals with U peg anchors aren’t going to be any good on a synthetic pitch.

You acquired Pressure Jet Markers just over a year ago, what was the thinking behind this decision?

Pressure Jet Markers has been about for more than 60 years and is an iconic name– there aren’t many people in the industry who haven’t dealt with them over the years – so when we heard that the owners were looking to retire we knew this was an opportunity we couldn’t miss. After all, this is a company that was always ahead of its time; creating the first line marker to use a high-pressure jet to spray paint directly onto the grass, the first power driven line marker, and numerous other firsts.

It was a company that matched innovation with consistently high standards, a perfect match for our own values. We now continue to manufacture the class-leading transfer wheel machines – The Linesman, The Prince and The Dimple – and use our own modern manufacturing techniques to improve durability and ease of use.

The Beast On The East

The Beast On The East: Scott MacCallum takes his life in his hands and heads to Carnoustie ahead of this year’s Open Championship.

Carnoustie has always been one of the iconic Open venues… IT IS revered within the game. For one thing it has a role of honour which contains the name Ben Hogan – the only Open venue to do so. Hogan played in one Open, at Carnoustie in 1953, and won. His austere manner  matched that of the town to a t and the locals took the Wee Ice Man to their hearts.

Driving to Carnoustie to meet Head Greenkeeper, Craig Boath, I noticed something that was a little strange. The east coast of Scotland is not known for its balmy temperatures but I was coming out in a bit of a cold sweat.

Carnoustie – Championship Course

Now it may be that a few world famous golfers will experience exactly the same when they arrive for this July’s Open Championship. Last year’s Masters Champion, Sergio Garcia, could certainly be forgiven for doing so. As the rising superstar in the game in 1999 he managed to negotiate the 18 holes of the first round in 89 – out in 44 back in 45. Admittedly that was five shots better than I scored the last time I played the course, but I know that would have been of little consolation to Sergio.

He did redeem himself at the last Carnoustie Open in 2007, however, but, having led for three rounds dropped a shot on the 72nd hole and lost the play-off to Padraig Harrington. More memories he’d like to drop.

No, the reason for my cold sweat was nothing to do with my prowess or lack of it on the course but two incidents, one at each of the aforementioned Opens, which might have seriously scarred a lesser man.

In 1999 I was in the privileged position of being inside the ropes on the 18th hole as Jean Van de Velde was heading for a well deserved, and fairly, uneventful victory. His meltdown has been well documented and the footage of Jean, with rolled up trousers standing in the burn short of the green, is one of the most memorable in sport.

Jean’s chances had gone up in smoke when his approach to the green ricocheted off a bracket on a stand which was sitting at 45 degrees to the rest of the structure and bounced all the way back over the burn and into deep rough. From there he had hacked it into the burn.

Well, that second shot missed my head by a matter of inches. Had it struck me I would have had a very sore head, my picture in the papers and Jean would have been Open Champion and not local hero, Paul Lawrie. Indeed, had the ball not hit that little bracket flush and bounced 40 yards backwards Jean would have been over the water, able to get a free drop and had sufficient shots in hand to lift the Claret Jug.

My second piece of trauma occurred a couple of days before the 2007 Open. I was driving a minibus containing a group of greenkeepers, who were part of the Open Greenkeeping Support Team, to the golf course to familiarise themselves with what they would be doing that week.

I was delighted to see many of the spectators waving to us and thought it was a wonderfully friendly start to the Championship.

Smack!

The low bridge which gave conventionally sized vehicles access to the course wasn’t quite tall enough to take my minibus.  On the upside for the rest of the week it as always easy to spot our unintentionally modified mini bus amid the dozens of others, but on the downside it led to a very interesting conversation with the hire company when we got back home.

So, with things happening in threes, I am a tad concerned about what might happen at the 147th Open.

But I digress. Carnoustie has always been one of the iconic Open venues. The town itself isn’t much to look at but the name, Carnoustie, is revered within the game. For one thing it has a role of honour which contains the name Ben Hogan – the only Open venue to do so. Hogan played in one Open, at Carnoustie in 1953, and won. His austere manner, matched that of the town to a T and the locals took the Wee Ice Man to their hearts. A lasting tribute to him is the 6th hole, known as Hogan’s Alley because he threaded his tee shot between the bunkers and out-of-bounds on each of the four rounds.

Tom Watson won the first of his five Opens at Carnoustie – beating Australian Jack Newton in a play-off – and the honours’ board also includes Henry Cotton and Gary Player.

Carnoustie – Championship Course

But Craig Boath, along with the Links Superintendent Sandy Reid, and the rest of the 33 strong Carnoustie Links greenkeeping staff – they maintain three superb golf courses – are looking forward not back. And judging by the condition of the golf course they can look forward with confidence.

“We want to have the best golf course possible every day of the week and want the visitors who come to Carnoustie to experience the same conditions as the professional golfer gets,” explained Craig, who was on the team in ’99 Deputy Head Greenkeeper on the Championship course in ’07 and became Head Greenkeeper in 2012, when legendary greenkeeping man John Philp retired and Sandy moved up from Head Greenkeeper to Links Superintendent.

“We started thinking about this Open as soon as we’d finished in 2007, so in one way we’re always preparing for an Open. But as we get closer we’ve been working much more with the R&A – Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive; Grant Moir, Director of Rules, and Clive Brown, Chairman of the Championship Committee – and have a very good relationship with them.”

Fairway widths remain the same as from the last Open, while greens should be around the 10 mark on the stimp. The team has also been working on their rough for the past four or five years.

“We’ve been trying to eradicate the poorer grasses and encourage the finer grasses in the rough and feel that rather than having defined semi to main we can have a semi rough and feather it into the main rough,” explained Craig, who comes from a long tradition of Carnoustie men who strive for finer grasses and firmer surfaces.

Carnoustie does possess a fearsome reputation and I asked Craig that, if the sun shone and the wind didn’t make an appearance, whether he’d be disappointed if the winning score was 15 or 16 under.

“I would be a little bit. But I don’t think it will. I know people talk about Tommy Fleetwood shooting a course record 63 in the Dunhill Links last October, but the pin positions in the Dunhill are set up for the amateurs – same with the tees, while the rough is on the wane, and the course a little softer, when the Dunhill Links is played.

“Obviously if the wind blows and it would be nice to get a range of winds from different directions  – it might happen it might not – it will make it interesting, but Carnoustie is not so dependant on the wind for protection as other links courses.”

In what is probably a first in modern Open history the course facing the 156 players this year will be shorter than the 2007 version. Generally speaking every last inch is squeezed out of the Open rota courses to combat the modern day superfit athletes who can power a golf ball well over 300 yards but, while it’s only 20 yards, Carnoustie has given up some distance.

“The 1st is shorter to enable a stand to go in behind the tee and the 3rd is a little shorter too, with more options available for the players. Carnoustie has always lived up to the test of time, so there is no need to lengthen it. Going back to when James Braid designed it in the 1920s it was 7200 yards.”

Hence its reputation for being a monster and one of the toughest golf courses in the world.

What has been noticeable in recent years has been the sheer scale of the Open circus when it comes to town with more and more television companies covering the Championship and all the ancillary paraphernalia which accompanies it. Indeed Carnoustie is benefiting from the installation of permanent fibre optic cabling for the last Open.

“I can’t remember too much about 1999 but I know it was much bigger in 2007, with the need for a much bigger contractors area. But now it has doubled from 2007. I really have noticed the difference in scale,” said Craig, whose passion for the links is shared with Sandy – who sadly was tied up in a meeting during my visit – ensures that no stone is left unturned in creating a magnificently maintained golf course.

With a number of tournaments under his belt Craig also knows what it takes to prepare a course on a daily basis and cutting will start around 4.30am each morning.

“With the R&A and the STRI out doing testing on the greens we may have to do a bit of leap frogging at times but I’m not too worried about that.”

And not worrying is a quality which will carry Craig through the next few months. When we spoke, growth was around three weeks behind but a bit of heat in the air and it will kick on. And let’s face it  you can’t worry about something you have no control over!

Asked about whether the week itself will offer trepidation or excitement Craig’s laid back spirit comes to the fore again.

“Once we get to the week before, and I know everything has been done, I know we’ll be ok. We’re just waiting for that wee bit of growth.”

So while I will be approaching this year’s Open waiting to see what fate is in store for me Craig, Sandy and the guys will have everything under control.

Exploring The Lakes

Exploring The Lakes: A recent family trip to Sydney to see my daughter, afforded me the opportunity to visit some local sporting venues, I was particularly interested in visiting the Lakes GC , knowing that Simon Blagg, a British Greenkeeper, was working there.

After a few phone calls I managed to contact Simon who is now the Assistant Superintendent at the Lakes Golf club. We arranged a date for me to visit the course and duly met up some days later. Upon arrival at the club I was introduced to the Courses Superintendent and head mechanic, followed by a whistle stop tour of the course and facilities.

Exploring The Lakes

I was fascinated to find out more about the course and how Simon had adapted his skills to work in a quite challenging climate.  I would like to thank him for his time and taking the time to put pen to paper to produce this fascinating in depth article.

Growing Turf Down Under – Simon Blagg

From growing up in my home town of Madeley, Cheshire in the UK, to working at The Lakes Golf club in Sydney, Australia; the past fourteen years of my turf career have been an amazing experience to date.

I completed my turf qualifications at Reaseheath College. While there, I worked at Keele golf course which has now unfortunately closed down, before working two great summers under John Turner at Leek Golf Club, who taught me a significant amount about sustainability in the turf industry. At the same time I working as groundsman of Maer Cricket Club.

In 2008 I set my sights on the Ohio state Turfgrass internship program where I worked at Whistling Straits, in Wisconsin, and then onto the Doral Golf Resort, in Florida. Working on the Blue Monster course, I got to experience my first golf tournament when Doral hosted the annual World Golf Championship event.

After I returned to the UK I worked two seasons at Loch Lomond Golf Club. The club hosted the Scottish Open a week before The Open. In between the first and second season at Loch Lomond I secured a summer casual position for six months at New South Wales Golf club in Sydney. This was when I got my first taste of life in Australia. I met my now wife, within the first week of being in Australia.

New South Wales hosted the 2009 Australian Open. I had gained valuable experience from my from my time at New South that summer. I returned to Loch Lomond in 2010 to assist with the preparation for what would be the club’s final Scottish Open. I can’t thank Dave Cole, at Loch Lomond, enough for what he taught me during that time, including his attention to detail and how to keep incredibly high standards.

After the home summer of 2010, I was lucky enough to secure a sponsorship at Roseville Golf Club in Sydney, Australia. I worked my way up the rank and eventually became Mark O’Sullivan’s assistant in 2013. I remained at the club for another two years and after a total of five years, and an Australian citizenship achieved, I decided to apply for the Assistant Superintendent position at the Lakes Golf club in Sydney.  After a successful interview, I started at the Lakes in early January 2016.

The Lakes is on the southern side of the city, roughly around 15 minutes from Sydney’s central business district. The area is a popular golfing destination, with the Lakes backing on to both Eastlakes and Bonnie Doon Golf Club and The Australian within a 5km radius.  The golf club is situated within the Botany Wetlands  a series of interconnected ponds forming an open space wetland corridor stretching to 226 hectares.

Exploring The Lakes

Over the years the course design has been altered, in particular in 1950s when the state government put plans together to build a six lane express-way right through the middle of the course. This road is the current Southern Cross Drive.

The club then employed American Robert Von Hagge who agreed to redesign the course. Von Hagge’s redesign was constructed and completed by June 1970. During the 70s and 80s, the Lakes was renowned for its fast true greens. However, by 1994 the greens were begging to show their age and the winter grass population was too much. The club then decided to resurface all of the greens with SR1020 Bent grass.

By 2006 the greens were again over populated with Poa Annua and did not meet specifications.  The board approached Mike Clayton to conduct a course master plan.

The club decided to rebuild both the 1st and 18th greens first. After the members’ approval of the two new greens, Clayton was commissioned to rebuild the remaining 16 greens and two lady’s greens. The redesign included rebuilding the whole golf course as well as upgrading the Irrigation system. The greens were seeded with A4 bent grass. Tees Santa Ana couch and the fairways that were altered were returfed with common Kikuyu.  Roughs and dunes were over seeded with Fescue. The course was re-opened in July 2009. The current course measures 6286 metres and is a par 72. In 2010 the club hosted The Australian Open, which was the first tournament since the 2002 ANZ Championship. The club was asked again to host the tournament for both the 2011 and 2012 Australian Opens.  The 2011 tournament was a successful event, hosting pros to the likes of Tiger Woods. It was seen as good preparation for the 2011 Presidents cup. In November 2018 the club will host its’ seventh Australian Open. The club has around 1200 members and for the first time in 15 years there is now a waiting list for new members. The golf course averages around 45,000 rounds of golf per year.

Anthony Mills has been Superintendent of the Lakes golf club since 2012. Myself and Aaron Taylor have been Anthony’s assistants since January 2016. We currently operate with a full team of 19 that includes two casuals and mechanic. An additional four casuals will be added to the team to assist with preparation for the Australian Open. I’m a strong believer in getting overseas talent to come over and work for six months. We try and take the casuals on from September through to the end of February. For those coming from the UK, this often works well with the end of the UK summer and then heading into our summer period. On a working holiday visa, it allows you to work with two employers for two six month blocks. It gives young greenkeepers a fantastic opportunity to come and work in Australia and learn about managing warm season grasses in different climates.

Bunkers – 72

Sandy Waste

Total Area 10 Hectares

A unique feature of the Lakes is its Sandy Waste areas. Where some course has thick rough to edges of fairways the lakes has large areas of exposed sandy waste. These are carved into the landscape to make them look like they have been there for hundreds of years. These areas are raked twice a week with two sand pros. The sandy waste requires a lot of maintenance. Mainly weed control. We ap Turf grass Species

Greens –A4 Bent grass/ (Cool Season) HOC- 3mm

Total Area- Two Hectares

Over the past three summers we have operated a poa eradication program on greens. This is a selective herbicide program which I will talk more about later in the article. During autumn and winter we apply separate applications of Paclobutrazol and Epethon. This is designed to supress the Poa annua grass and stop it from establishing a seed head. We renovate the greens twice a year. In spring we scarify the greens at a depth of 10mm and follow this up with hollow tine aeration with 5/8 tines. In autumn we only use 1/2inch tines. After both practices we use a USGA construction sand to fill back in the holes. During summer we use a combination of 8mm and 5mm pencil tines to relive surface tension and aid oxygen flow. We mainly use Toro Triplex mowers to cut the greens. We try and cut the greens with walk mowers once a week to improve presentation. Moving forward and increasing staff numbers we will look to using walk behind greens more often.

Exploring The Lakes

We have recently commenced using a growing degree day program on our greens. After an application of growth regulator, I record the growing degree day figure. This is worked out by adding the average high temperature with the average low temperature and dividing it by 2. With the daily GDD figure obtained you add it up every day and when the number equals 200 you are due to apply the growth regulator again. This program is a great way of avoiding bounce out before the growth regulator runs out.

Tees- Santa Anna Couch (Warm Season) HOC 10mm

Total Area- Two Hectares

Santa Anna couch is a warm season grass that requires a very aggressive renovation in spring. This is because Santa Anna spreads through stolons. These stolon break down over time and add to the thatch layer. We scarify the tees to depth of around 25mm to remove large amounts of organic matter. The tees are then shaved down at 8mm to remove excessive grain. Grain forms when the turf is cut in the same direction all the time. Grain creates an uneven surface and often scalps when cut. By shaving back the couch, we are removing the grain and chopping through surface stolons and encouraging it to produce new shoots. Couch is a very hungry turf species and requires plenty of nitrogen to keep it in good condition. With it being a warm season grass it requires 30-degree air temperatures to get it moving out of winter dormancy. A hot summer is great for couch, but a cold spring and cooler summer can result in a poor quality surface. Regular applications of growth regulator are essential to ensure the grass doesn’t get to elongated and thatchy

Fairways– Common Kikuyu (Warm Season) 10mm

Total Area 25 Hectares

Common Kikuyu is another warm season grass. It is very course grass that has a larger leaf blade than that of couch grass. Like couch, Kikuyu requires aggressive renovation practices in spring with deep scarification and hollow tine aeration. Again due to its stoloniferas growing pattern, organic matter can build up quickly if not managed properly. Primo is the most important resource we use of the kikuyu during the summer season. Without growth regulation the heat and humidity the kikuyu is exposed to causes it to literally grow in front of your eyes. If you don’t have any regulation in the plant the quality of cut is massively affected as too much grass is being cut by the mower. We apply primo every three weeks during summer. Starting off with low rates of 1 litre a Hecate in spring and leading up to sometimes 2.5L/ Hectare in the heart of summer. We apply a 15% Nitrogen + Iron and Manganese fertiliser with the primo to assist with turf health and improve colour.

Rough– Common Kikuyu 50mm

Deep Rough and Bunker Surrounds- Red Fescue HOC 150mm

Fescue and Australian climate are not a great combination. The blend of Chewings, Red, and Hard fescues in the deep rough are cut at 150mm a couple of times a year. We would normally like to leave these areas to grow up however to many balls were being lost and slowing up play so it was decided to keep it managble at the 150mm height. The fescue around bunker surround is cut with strimmer’s every three weeks, apart from control weeds in these areas, they receive a small amount of fertiliser in spring if required. Other than that we keep it well irrigated.

ply pre-emergent herbicide to the edges of the waste land and islands. We have had better results by doing this, but it doesn’t stop all of the weeds. Often we have to get additional labour hire in to help pull out weeds.

Challenges of the site

Poa Eradication Program

In 2015 the board made the decision to eradicate winter grass from the greens. At the time, rebuilding the greens was not an option the board wanted to take, so therefore chemical treatment was decided to both eradicate and stop the poa from completely taking over from the original bent grass greens. The past three summers we have been on an aggressive Nominee herbicide program. Nominee is selective herbicide that contains Bispyribac-sodium. The chemical applications start in November and usually finish up in early January. We have trialled the product at different rates every season. Anything from half rates at 500mls/H every three weeks to quarter rates every fortnight. We aim to try and apply around 2L of Nominee in around a three-month period.  The night before a nominee application we increase our irrigation on greens as we can’t water them for 24 hours after the nominee has been applied. Cutting of the greens is avoided on application days. The dew is removed with dew brooms and additional hand watering is undertaken depending on the weather forecast. The herbicide is then sprayed and no water is to be applied until the following morning after the greens have been cut.  Once all applications were finished, we started a two week plugging program where we plugged the winter grass scars out of the greens. The overall herbicide program has reduced the poa in the greens by around 30% in the three years. They say you can get around four years use out of the chemical before resistency builds up within the plant. Options going forward look like rebuilding all of the greens after the Australian open.

Exploring The Lakes

Climate/ disease pressures

Sydney is not the hottest city in Australia, but it certainly can turn the heat up at times. Last year we had the hottest summer in 150 years with the average temp being around 33 for around 40 days in a row. This was coupled with extreme humidity and night time temperatures that were not decreasing. This put the Pythium stress potential through the roof. Both Pythium blight and root rot can cause a severe amount of damage to greens. Prolonged leaf wetness through nigh time irrigation and high humidity are a recipe for disaster.

Pythium Preventative

During summer we spray every three weeks for both Pythium root rot and Pythium blight. An application of Propamocarb for root rot is sprayed at 6.5L/Hectare and is irrigated with six minutes of Irrigation.

Fosetyle aluminium and thiram are applied the following week to control Pythium blight and brown patch. These products are left on the leaf. Sometimes we will include another contact fungicide to prevent dollar spot.

During the winter months in Sydney we are rather fortunate that its doesn’t really get that cold. Out in western Sydney they do get frosts and all warm season turf goes dormant. Being so close to the ocean at the Lakes we very rarely get any frosts at all. Our average rainfall in Sydney is around 1200mm per year, however this last year has been below average with very little rainfall.

Nematodes

One of our biggest challenges at the Lakes golf club is managing nematodes. We have a very high population of sting nematodes throughout all of the playing surfaces. A standard threshold for sting nematode is 20 per 200g of soil. We have numbers up at around the 700 per 200g of soil in greens. To put it lightly the roots are being eaten alive. On greens we operate a strong nematicide program that involves applications of abamectin (Agador) and (Thumper) when necessary. The label restricts how many applications you can apply per year. With the nematicide we also apply a product called turf clear. This is penertrant wetting agent that contains SiQuat molecules that when come into contact with the nematode its ruptures the cells of the nematode resulting in immediate death. We have had some better results in recent times when using turf clear. We don’t treat nematodes in the fairways and tees purely because of the size of the property. However, we apply wetting agents every four weeks to the tees and fairways and fertilise more in the specific weaker areas.

Sandy soil profile and Irrigation

The entire course is built on a sand dune. This certainly has its advantages with very free draining soil after heavy rain and no drainage required in bunkers and greens. However, it also has its disadvantages as the sand has very little water holding capacity and it leaches nutrients. Coupled with the nematode issues this make retaining moisture in the fairways a big challenge. Every four weeks during summer we apply a retaining wetting agent to aid moisture retention. We also have to ensure that we top op hot spots on fairways using the irrigation system in the morning and afternoon as well as running a specific hot spot program in the night time irrigation program.  The Lakes is a very exposed sight this means that the course is very susceptible to high winds. High winds results in turf surfaces drying out. All of this is taken into consideration and extras water is applied to the specific hot spots to ensure that they don’t dry out. Our average total of water applied to the course per year is 350 Mega litres of water per year. We are very fortunate as we are allowed to use as much water as we like as we pump out of one the large Lakes on site. During summer we have a hand watering program that works very well to ensure the greens remain healthy and drought free during extreme heat. We use the TDR moisture sensors to measure moisture percentage to ensure that greens don’t dry out.

Projects leading into Australian Open 2018

In November this year the club will host its seventh Australian Open. Over the last 18 months we have been very busy with construction projects. These have included rebuilding tees and resurfacing cart paths and extending sandy waste areas. In April 2017, we commenced our biggest project of all; the upgrade of the practice precinct area.  The old practice facilities were beginning to look a little fatigued. The greens had a large percentage of Poa Annua and did not compliment the greens out on the course with very little undulations. Safety was also a big factor in the redesign. We were seeing a small percentage of golf balls leave the driving range and land on the 10th and 11th holes. The upgrade of the practice facility involved the following:

  • Rebuilding both practice putting and chipping greens.
  • Rebuilding and lowering the height of the range tee by 500mm.
  • Installing a Tee line driving range mat for use in winter.
  • Installing target greens on the range fairway to replicate shots played out on course.
  • Installing further mounding on both sides of the range to protect golfers on the 10th and 11th
  • Installing mounding around the teaching facility.
  • Rebuilding a new chipping green with suitable practice bunkers.
  • Rebuilding the 10th Championship men’s and lady’s tees.
  • Rebuilding the 1st gold tee.
  • Installing a new concrete pathway to both the 1st and 10th

The new putting green was seeded back in May 2017 and was opened in late September. All of the major earth works and turfing was completed by November 2017. The new turf driving tee was recently re opened and we are hoping to have the chipping green re opened by the end of March.

With all major projects complete we are now concentrating on fine tuning the golf course heading into the winter months. November will be here in no time at all. Planning and preparation is essential when preparing for a tournament of this size.

I would like to thank Laurence Gale from Turf matters magazine for allowing me to contribute this article. It was great to catch up with Laurence back in December when he was in Sydney visiting his daughter.

I am always on the lookout for keen, enthusiastic greenkeepers from the UK who are interested in travelling to Australia to work the summer season. Anyone interested in coming to work in Australia in 2019 I can be contacted at the below email address.

Simon Blagg

Asstsuper@thelakesgolfclub.com.au

Stars of The Big Top

Stars of the big top: Laurence Gale pops into Edgbaston to see how marquees are providing additional preparation time for both grounds’ team and players.

A recent visit to Warwickshire CCC enabled me the opportunity to catch up with Head Groundsman Gary Barwell, who now starts his seventh season at the club. He like the rest of the county groundsmen are busy getting their practice net facilities ready for the onslaught of as new playing season, which year on year seems to be starting earlier.

Warwickshire, like many of the other county clubs, have invested in the use of outdoor tented/marquee structures in recent seasons to cover their net areas, with the aim of creating a natural grass wicket practice facility that allows the club the opportunity to practice four to six weeks earlier.

As the years have passed the sharing of knowledge and the development of these facilities has moved forward at such a pace we now have utilised a number of innovations to create the perfect indoor greenhouse environment using de-humidifiers, heaters and lighting rigs to control and manage both soil and air conditions in the marquee/tent thus allowing the staff to prepare and produce decent, natural grass wickets for practice in late February early March.

Gary was keen to show me their system, a huge 20metre by 18metre marquee that is able to cover nine, six foot wide wickets. These wickets where covered with flat sheets in December to protect them prior to the erection of the marquee on January 8. It took four days to erect and a day to set up the humidifiers, heaters and lighting rigs.

Some pre-season rolling, around five hours was done to the area using their blotter and auto roller, followed by a 14 day prep for the two first practice wickets. Everything is going well, however, they have had a couple of real cold nights -4 -6 degrees which has meant a lot more heat required to maintain their target of keeping an even 6 degrees inside the marquee at night. The de-humidifiers  are there to prevent any condensation forming and dripping onto the wickets and bowlers run ups.

Gary was able to maintain a comfortable 18 degrees during the day which is ideal for what he wanted to achieve. Everything was on schedule for when the team arrive for their first practice on the February 15 with the aim of providing six weeks of practice time for the team taking them through to April when they hope that their outdoor nets will then be ready for use.

I am sure like many of the other county groundsmen the provision of early training facilities brings with it many challenges and additional work loads, but like most they revel in learning new skills and testing their abilities to produce the best playing surfaces they can for their clubs.

balanced crank shaft on the XF that fires the tine into the ground so quickly that makes the difference. It does not seem to hang on to the tines when they come out so you don’t get ‘lift’. Everything is clean and precise and tidy. That’s what makes it fantastic.

“On the majority of quality cricket squares a 10mm tine with a 75mm x 50mm hole pattern is what we aim for. You can do a job with 8mm tines when the square is very hard and very tender layered because you won’t get disruption but 12mm is just too big.”

Indeed Wiedenmann UK credits Keith with pointing them towards introducing the 10 mm tine for cricket applications.

“Keith has been a long-time advocate of the 10mm tine. He was the first to suggest and indeed the most vocal, that we were missing a trick by not having it, said Chas Ayres, Wiedenmann UK’s Sales Manager.

During the cricketing aeration window usually Keith will in the main spike to a depth of 175mm or 200mm with 75 x 50 centres.

“I will speed up or slow down to make holes wider or narrower.

“If the square is a bit tender then we’ll go to a 75 x 75 pattern, giving fewer holes but less opportunity for disruption. This season many cricket squares have been very dry, and without the correct moisture levels cricket squares are more liable to ‘pluck out’ so it’s down to judgement on the day and the forward speed I think suits.”

With so many cricket grounds to get through in a relative short amount of time Keith has to plan ahead to serve his clients, tending to allocate a week to 10 days for each county and basing himself in the centre of a cricketing area.

“I work with the cricket groundsmen’s associations so if the club grounds are all within 10 miles of each other, six sites in a day is achievable but if they are a bit further apart then maybe just three or four.”

Keith Exton’s affinity for turf excellence transfers to other sporting codes throughout the year but he and Perfect Pitches are best known within the cricketing world.  “He’s the top authority,” said Chas.

“I call him ‘Mr Cricket Wicket’ because he’s absolutely intuitive about aeration. For him it’s like a sixth sense. His operator skills make him at one with his machine so he’s really an artisan craftsman.”

Feel The Power

Feel the power: Laurence Gale takes a look at PowerGrass and chats with Graham Longdin, of Agripower, about its qualities

Within the last five years we have seen a dramatic increase in the installation of synthetic turf stabilisation systems, mainly driven from the success of the tried and tested stitched systems now being used in many stadium and training ground pitches around the world.

These Hybrid Grass systems come in all manner of guises, ranging from sown in filaments to insitu based synthetic carpets that are top dressed with rootzone materials and overseeded to produce an hybrid grass playing surface. One of the latest products on the market is PowerGrass.

And one of the first pitches to be constructed with this new Hybrid Turf system is one at Bisham Abbey installed by Agripower last May. A recent conversation with Philip Coxhill, Grounds Manager at Bisham Abbey, and Graham Longdin, MD of Agripower, gave me a greater insight into this new  PowerGrass  Hybrid grass pitch.

The system was developed in Italy with many trials ran to test it performance and ability to produce a robust reliable playing surface, the makers PowerGrass claim this hybrid turf has innovative features and offers better playing and growth conditions than any other system of reinforced natural grass or old type hybrid grass and at the same time is the only one that offers a sports field playable even without the natural grass. The synthetic turf is stable and the natural grass can be easily installed with simple seeding.

PowerGrass hybrid turf is not simply a product, it’s a complete system, this new system has been designed to take into account the many physical, chemical and mechanical inter-actions that take place when maintaining a natural turf playing surface. At present 95% of hybrid pitches are built purely on sand and some are in fact buried benneath the top, leading to very hard surface requiring aeration purely to soften the surface for the user. Powergrass is the first system to address the issue and seek to better the current trend.

To find out more, I contacted Graham, who had installed the new pitch at Bisham.

I believe this is the first Powergrass pitch in the UK to be installed?
Yes, we installed the Powergrass Pitch last June at Bisham Abbey working closely with their grounds manager Philip Coxhill.

Is this one of your own innovations?
Yes, we helped design the hybrid carpet and increased the amount of fibres avaliable for play, and enabling the system to cope with very heavy usage, rather than mimic the existing hybrids we sought to better them.

How long have you been perfecting this system?
The first fields were laid in Italy, and then followed up with two further fields in Holland, we then had our input, to make a more resilient surface for the UK market. The new carpet was first Laid in Grosetto in Italy which is the field TGMS (TurfTrax Ground Management Systems Limited) went to view prior to us being awarded the contract at Bisham, two further fields have been installed in the UK since then and we have strong enquires and looking forward to a busy season in 2018.

How does this pitch system work, what is its specification and how is it installed?
The pitch system can work either with a full construction  of a drained plateau with a shallow 80mm gravel raft , and 80mm of rootzone/sand, mixed with a combination of naturally occurring additives. The Powergrass carpet is laid and stiched together over the growth medium and then filled to a depth of 35mm leaving 25mm of free pile above the soil. A pre seeding fertiliser is then appliead  and then seed at a rate of 50g/ms.

All fields must have irrigation to promote controlled growth. Where the system differs from traditional ‘stitched-in’ hybrids is that it can be laid over existing pitches, subject to enhanced drainage if required, such as Bisham.Working in conjunction with a leading pitch consulatnt the existing field is accessed and tested to ensure that the Powergrass system works in harmony with the existing site conditions.  This innovative system can dramatically reduce on-site costs and reduce construction time in half.

What other systems are you up against?
Stitched in systems would be the target competitors as they are more recognised in the market place although far more expensive. Some other carpet systems rely on being biodegradeable and these has proven to have had some issues with establishing rootgrowth.

Powergrass allows the roots to penetrate the carpet backing from day one and is playable within four weeks from initial seeding as long as the maintenance regime is intensive and correct.

Other hybrid carpets are not stitched together and some are completely buried in sand and only stabilise the top sand layer or they replicate the traditional systems with fibre content around the 30000 fibres to 1 m2, Powergrass has nearly three times more fibre and combined with additives creates a softer surface and allows the fibres to be in play and protecting the crown of the grass plant.

Is this system suitable for both Rugby and football?
Testing is currently ongoing but initial results are very favourable with the pitch being used currently to 25hrs per week . Initial player feedback is very good with the resounding comment that it is a far softer and more comfortable pitch to play and train on.

What is the overall cost of supply and Installation of this product?

It varies depending on what is existing on site, it can be as little as £220,000 when installed on an existing well drained pitch or up to £440,000 for a full new construction with irrigation 

What is the recommended maintenance regime for this system?
We recommend that an overseeding of 5g/m2 every 6 weeks combined with a light scarification to keep the pitch in good condition and avoid any heavy end of season maintenance.

Other than that, treat as any high quality pitch, with cuttings being removed at all times, the surface is designed to be softer and doesn’t require regular vetidraining to relieve hardness only to aerate, at this stage we believe that aeration should only be required 1-2 times per season.

The failing of most existing Hybrids are hardness; historically the industry has been obsessed with drainage and this has led to pitches being built on straight sand which has excellent drainage properties but at the cost of the players premature fatigue and potential injuries. Powergrass has been developed by Agronomists, natural grass consultants and  carpet manufacturers and to this end it is all about the player and the grass and the system below and not about selling carpet volume.

When did you start the installation of the Bisham Abbey Pitch?
After some preliminary meetings with the clients (Bisham Abbey  represented by Phil Coxhill and their consultant partners  TGMS Limited.We, where able to start work last May effectively installing a Powergrass reinforced system into an existing fully drained pitch.

How was the Powergrass carpet installed?
We basically removed, koroed off the top 40mm of the existing turf and rootzone materials, power harrowed to open up the top 25mm and re-graded the levels. The pitch was then Vibra Sand mastered to reconnect the existing drainage bands, vertidrained to decompact the top 150mm and then top dressed with  cork, coco fibre and zeolite materials. This mix of organic matter was then incorporated into the existing rootzone to improve shock absorbancy and fertility.

The pitch was then final graded and  then rolled to firm the surface ready for the Powergrass system which was laid and stitched in place; after filling with a further 35mm of infill material the system was then fertilised and seeded with Barenbrug Bar RPR Stadium.

Having favourable soil and air temperatures in June, the seed was up in four days and we were cutting after ten days.  The pitch is now performing very well, with players commenting on how well it plays, especially noticing it is much softer than the previous playing surface. Also, the wear factor has been amazing, the pitch has been able to accommodate more fixtures, in fact it is now providing over 25 hours use a week compared to the 12 hours it could stand previously.

Phillip Coxill has been extremely pleased with the results and is now considering the installation of some more Powergrass carpet to increase the  training areas at Bisham Abbey.

Works complete, irrigation on for the first time.

Improving on a Masterpiece

Improving on a masterpiece: An opportunity you would not let slip through your fingers! Scott MacCallum took the chance to visit the Machrie, a golf course very close to his home and his heart but which is not quite so easy for others to reach. He also manages to complete an entire article about Islay without once mentioning its most famous product – whisky.

Making changes to anything already regarding as excellent can be extremely risky and is often compared to adding a touch up to the Mona Lisa – best intentions may abound, but it rarely has the desired effect.

Now the Machrie golf course, on the beautiful Inner Hebridean island of Islay, wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to compare itself to that famous work by Leonardo da Vinci – leave that to the likes of the Old Course and Augusta National. However, it is still very near the top of the tree when it comes to outstanding British golf courses. So maybe the work that has been carried out over the last three years could better be compared to polishing the antlers on Edwin Landseer’s famous work, The Monarch of the Glen, particularly appropriate as deer do roam wild on the island. 

However, on this occasion, art or golf course critics would be hard pushed not to recognise that the original has been improved upon. The proud stag looking that little bit more majestic and those 18 holes, woven between the dunes at the Machrie, even more enjoyable to play.

The results of the golf course work, and the near completion of a stunning new hotel, are all the more remarkable given that just a few years ago it looked as though the Machrie, hotel, golf course and all would fade away leaving nothing but memories – not least the famous match in 1901 played out between golf’s great triumvirate, James Braid, JH Taylor and Harry Vardon, for £100, which was reputed to be the largest prize ever played for on the British Isles at the time.

In administration, hotel abandoned and golf course looking a little lost, it was bought by Gavyn Davies and his wife, Baroness Sue Nye, who fell in love with the place – at first sight – in 2011.

Since then that work on the Monarch of the Glen has been on-going and has probably even exceeded what Gavyn and Sue envisaged as they began the project.

Renowned golf course architect DJ Russell, himself a former Tour pro; golf course constructor Edinburgh Landscapes have seen short term contracts become long term as the work developed.

Also brought on board was Course Manager, Dean Muir, head hunted from Muirfield where he had been Deputy Head Greenkeeper, and Dean has been heavily involved in all the course work since his arrival three and a half years ago, not least in ensuring visitors and members of Islay Golf Club had opportunities to play while work was going on all around.

“DJ asked if we could have a chat about the prospect of coming over here and it sounded interesting,” recalled Dean.

“It was a good few months since previous Course Manager Simon Freeman had left and it had become very run down – the 9th green had thistles growing in it feet high. I came over again later and Gavyn and Sue flew up that day to meet me which was very flattering. I kept waiting for someone to jump out and say it was a big wind up,” said Dean, who was full of praise for the job that Simon and his team had done with limited budget.

But it was never going to be an opportunity he was likely to let slip through his fingers.

“I’d have hated to have turned it down and then, three or four years down the line, watched someone else take it on and think why did I not do that.”

That said it has not been plain sailing and has involved Dean embarking on a pretty steep learning curve, not least because of the move from the east of Scotland to 30 miles off the west coast of Scotland.

“I always knew that that the west coast was wet but you don’t really appreciate how wet until you are here. At Muirfield we averaged around 600mm of rain per annum; here we’re pretty much 1600mm. Someone told me that the Machrie was the wettest links course in the country and I think they are probably right.”

From an agronomic perspective it has seen Dean making changes to his thinking and making grass choices which he wouldn’t have made had the Machrie regular rain patterns.

“I came over with grand ideas of fescue but I soon realised that I had to change tack. I spoke with David Greenshields, Barenbrug, and he suggested that we introduce some dwarf rye. I’d used it on walkways at Muirfield and thought that it would work so we went 20% ryegrass on the fairways with the view that if it didn’t work we could kill it out and go back to fescue. It worked a treat so last year we increased it to 60% in our overseeding and then, this year, we’ve gone up to 75%.”

He sees full establishment taking up to six years with the newly shaped sand based contours not retaining the nutrients to speed root development particularly with the rain flushing through anything which has been introduced to strengthen and speed up development.

“The greens have come through the winter exceptionally well but I’m looking forward to the time when we have more establishment and we can see the course performing well for 12 months of the year.”

Island life is suiting both Dean and his wife but being surrounded by sea has meant his planning has had to go up a notch.

“I have to plan everything a month to six weeks in advance and I organise for supplies to come inclusive of carriage as it allows me to make a like-for-like judgment when placing orders. I’ve also learned to have delivers sent to Glasgow instead of Tarbet, which is a few miles from the ferry port. Reason being that lorries run from Glasgow every day and only stop at Tarbet if they’ve got space on board so I’m more likely to guarantee my deliver. Things like that you learn from experience.”

Dean has employed a mechanic to ensure breakdowns don’t mean the visit from a mainland based dealer and wherever possible they aim to be self sufficient.

While Dean was getting to grips with the agronomics he has also worked closely DJ Russell and Eric Samuels, of Edinburgh Landscapes, on the changes to the course and other additions including the fabulous six hole par-3 course which will be a huge attraction to those new to the game and a nice distraction for corporate groups pre or post dinner. Together with the new Golf Academy which features both covered and open bays it will offer practice facilities that would shame many other clubs or resorts.

The redesign has seen the removal of many of the blind shots which were a feature of many older golf courses and it now flows through the dunes opening up the holes and the wonderful views which the course boasts.

“There were around 17 or 18 blind shots before and visitors would struggle from not knowing the course. Even members now lose balls on the 17th which remains a blind shot.”

Never overly peppered with bunkers the original new design had none but currently five have been added, two to frame the par-3 3rd green and two in the 6th fairway to concentrate the mind on the tee shot. The other one is at the back of the 7th.

“DJ was never against bunkers. He felt that the contouring of the ground meant we didn’t need them and having seen the course develop he wants to make sure those he does put in are in the right place.”

With the new 47 room hotel due to open in May or June the “building site” first impressions of the Machrie will disappear and it will become the high quality Campbell Gray Hotels run hotel Gavyn and Sue had always dreamt it would be.

Without actively marketing the golf course it has already crept up several spots in some of the course rankings and the completed Machrie will no doubt see another boost. 

“We have been keeping it under the radar as we’re not finished yet and first impressions currently are not great.

“Mark Ganning, of Hunter Industries, brought three American clients over last summer having just been at Carnoustie. He drove up the potholed entrance road, sand blowing everywhere, into the car park and our temporary facilities. One of the guys asked why on earth Mark had taken them here. They teed up, got to the top of the hill and saw the course open up in front of them with the Bay in the background. It was a beautiful summer’s day and they all fell in love with the Machrie.”

Another group of Australians had been enjoying the golfing trip of a lifetime playing every top course in Scotland when they arrived on Islay.

“They’d just played the two Machrihanish courses and had been to Dornoch, Cruden Bay, Trump, Carnoustie, St Andrews, King’s Barns, Muirfield, North Berwick, Troon and Turnberry. Every top course in Scotland. They were asked by a podcaster which were their favourites and they mentioned here and Dornoch.”

It is magnificent company to be keeping and with Islay, and the Machrie, either a flight or a ferry ride away, the inaccessibility will add to the attraction for many.

Wind, rain and, in the summer, midgies apart, Islay is a trip not to be missed if only to see that Monarch of the Glen looking better than ever.

Edinburgh Landscapes

Eric Samuel, of Edinburgh Landscapes, arrived on Islay for what he thought was going to be a 16 week project – a few tweaks to and amendments to the course. Three years on he is virtually an honorary islander!

“The project just grew and grew and we were delighted to be a part of it,” said Eric.

“It’s fair to say that had Gavyn decided to close the course the work could have been done in half the time but he didn’t want to close the course for those islanders and visitors who wanted to play.”

Edinburgh Landscapes have worked on some extremely prestigious jobs including Renaissance, Archerfield and the changes to the PGA course at Gleneagles in advance of the Ryder Cup but according to Eric the Machrie doesn’t lose out by comparison to any of the others.

“I would say that this project is up there with those other projects. It’s a fantastic place. You just need to walk the course and see the wonderful contours and the way the light catches them.”

Many of the contours are natural but there are others which have been man made by Eric’s son Robert, who was the shaper and who has now moved on to work with top American golf course architect, Kyle Phillips.

“What we aim for is to look as though we’ve never been here and that people can’t see the difference between the natural contours and those which we’ve put in.”

Eric was heavily involved in the development of the six hole par-3 course.

“DJ wanted six holes where every hole could be played from every tee. Sounds great but not easy as you have to have every green able to accept a golf ball from all angles. As it is you can do it from every hole bar one but it has been designed for juniors to play driver and run the ball up or people to practice their short games. Basically it was the old 18th hole. We marked it off and pushed some dirt about,” said Eric with typical Scottish understatement.

DJ Russell

For DJ Russell, pictured, a long established and respected Tour golfer, now resident at the prestigious Archerfield Club, near Edinburgh, becoming involved with the Machrie was a case of fate.

“It was a case of owners in it for exactly the right reasons and a group of people coming together to achieve something special,” explained DJ.

“We had Edinburgh Landscapes, who are spectacularly good at what they do and who have built some of the greatest modern golf courses on the planet – Loch Lomond, Archerfield etc. It’s a hell of a CV; me who has had a lifetime in golf and understands what golfers want and Dean Muir, who has been involved in preparing for Open Championships and producing links golf courses to the highest possible standard. You could not imagine a better scenario.”

DJ arrived initially to look to tweak a few things, change some of the poor holes and replace them with much better but it was a delay in the sourcing of a water supply which created the opportunity to do something on a much grander scale.

“We thought we’d get the water issue resolved quickly and get on with building the hotel but in fact it took three and a half years to get permission for mains water to the site. That gave me two and a half years to wander around the site and see what would make a really nice hole and then work out how I could link together 18 extremely good holes. There is no point if having a couple of spectacular holes and linking them with holes that are not so good.

“It was then a question of getting the owners to buy into the concept and then, just as importantly, getting Islay Golf Club’s backing,” said DJ who added that it was the hope that the golf club would always be the beating heart of the Machrie.

That achieved the new course would remove many of the existing blind holes and shots and replace them with a well worked route weaving its way around the wonderful dunes.

“If you got hit by a featherie it wouldn’t hurt too much. Get hit by a Pro V1 on the back of the head and you know about it,” was DJ’s explanation for the need for fewer of the blind shots for which traditional links golf was so well known.

As to the lack of bunkers DJ’s philosophy is to make the course playable to all. “There were a few bunkers on the original course but they can be a problem on links courses. For example there was one on the 14th but it meant that, downwind, unless you were an extremely good player you couldn’t land the ball over the bunker and keep it on the green.

“The Machrie is one of the ultimate links golf courses and nine days out of 10 you should be keeping the ball out of sky and along the ground. The course has been designed so that anyone can play a shot into the green but it is all about controlling the speed of the ball and distance control.”

He sees the wonderful six hole par-3 course as key to the ambition to make golf so much more accessible to the youngsters of the island.

“Fraser Mann is coming in as Director of Golf and he has been in charge of the junior golf programme at Carnoustie and we really want to put a golf club in the hands of every kid on Islay and see if they like it.”

Speaking with DJ his pride and passion for the Machrie just pours out of him.

“I hope in my heart that this becomes one of the places where you arrive with an expectation level which is high but that it is surpassed when you play the course.”

Shrewsbury Rugby Club

Laurence Gale enjoys a nostalgic trip back to Shrewsbury Rugby Club: Our personal sporting heritage in this country, nearly always starts from our introduction into sport during our schooling days and then more progressively by the good work done by hundreds, if not thousands, of community sports clubs. 

My own sporting career started in the same way, introduced to rugby by my maths teacher Mr Williams. After leaving school I joined the Woodrush Old Boys team club, Woodrush RFC, a community club run by ex-players and volunteers.

As a keen rugby player who went on to represent school, club and county levels, cumulating in the opportunity of playing for several senior clubs, namely, Moseley, Worcester, Birmingham, and Nuneaton, Portsmouth and Newport enabled me to play with some great players and more importantly enjoy the benefits of belonging to a community run rugby club.

After my playing days, I coached rugby at several clubs and recognise the valuable work these clubs do for their local community. Also, having spent 45 plus years working in the grounds industry as a ex-Greenkeeper/Groundsman coupled with my coaching roles I value the benefits of producing safe well, presented playing surfaces.

In the past it has often been difficult to encourage clubs to invest money and resources to maintain their pitches however, since the formation of the National Lottery in 1994, we are seeing a vast improvement in the investment in pitch and club facilities.

A recent trip to Shrewsbury Rugby Club, where I incidentally coached in 2004-2006, gave me a chance to catch up with some old familiar faces and have a few beers.

I was very impressed with the condition and presentation of the pitches at Shrewsbury. In fact, they were some of the best community pitches I had seen for several years.

I was so impressed I wanted to find out how the club had managed to achieves this major shift in attitude towards their pitch facilities.

Like most community clubs they are always run by a core group of committed individuals, often past players, who want to put something back. Shrewsbury have one such man in Glyn Jones, their current president and treasurer, who for 49 years has held many roles. He began his playing days in the late 1960s, went on to coach the club, held several key posts, however it was when he took over the role of Treasurer in 2004 that the clubs fortunes started to change, with a drive to improve the club facilities.

In 2004 they managed to raise £90,000 to self-fund the re-fabrication of the clubhouse, this was soon followed in 2006 by raising an additional £32,000 to complete the work adding new changing rooms and a new club house roof.

In 2007 the club managed to secure £15,000 to build a new gym and refurbish more changing rooms, with all the building works completed, it was mow time to focus on the grounds, with a programme to improve the pitches and install some new floodlights.

The first phase began with a small self-funding budget of £8000 to refurbish the first team pitch floodlights in 2008. Away from the club, Glyn runs his own landscape gardening business, with a very much hands on role, this affinity with grounds maintenance was one of reasons he wanted to oversee the larger project of improving the club’s four pitches/training areas.

The pitches at Sundorne have always been prone to drainage problems, due to their heavy soil make up, especially during the winter months, tasked with marking the pitches every week, Glyn knew only too well the work required and the significant investment that would be needed to improve the four pitches.

It was then a case of the club putting together a number of bids over several years, applying for appropriate funding via the RFU and Sport England.

In 2006/7 season the club acquired a grant of £65.000 from the RFU to primary drain the training pitch, the following year the club self-funded £15,000 to pay for secondary drainage (sand bands) for the training pitch.

This was soon followed up with another successful bid for £120,000 to fully drain (primary/ secondary drainage) and install a new set of floodlights on the second team pitch in 2012/13. 

Finally, in 2014/15 the club managed to get a further £145,000, with the club having to find 15% (£15,000) to undertake the installation of a primary and secondary drainage system to the first team pitch along with a brand new set of floodlights.

In total the club has managed to invest over £500,000 on both the clubhouse and grounds in the last 13 years and the net result has been the transformation of Shrewsbury Rugby Club.

With all the work complete it was now a case of ensuring an ongoing maintenance programme was implemented to insure the pitches remain playable and fit for purpose, especially when several senior teams and a large junior section using the pitches on most days of the week.

In fact, Glyn has taken on the role of maintaining the pitches himself. Glyn has put out the mowing of the pitches to the local council, who come in on a weekly basis, usually Wednesdays and cut all the main playing areas with an 18 ft wide Major rotary deck maintaining a height of cut of 75mm. He also gets the council to come in and aerate the pitches a couple of times a year using a combination of Vertidrain and Linear aerators.

He also gets the pitches sprayed with a selective weed killer, the marking out of the pitches is done by Glyn and Derrick on Thursday or Fridays using a spray jet line marker along with some pedestrian mowing/strimming of some amenity grass areas around the club house.

As for end of season renovations, it often depends on how much money there is left, but generally they allow enough to top dress all four pitches with 120 tonnes of sand and overseed any worn areas.

In total the club spend around £25,000 on annual maintenance work, most if not all this money comes from the generosity of local sponsors and any fundraising events.

It goes without saying these community clubs would not survive without the commitment and guile of these dedicated members. Having seen for myself at close hand the work Glyn has achieved over the last 20-plus years at Shrewsbury RFC is beyond belief. He and the rest of the dedicated members at Shrewsbury should without doubt be congratulated on these major achievements.

I just hope this next generation of players respect and enjoy what must be one of the best run clubs in Shropshire.

 

HISTORY OF SHREWSBURY RFC

Like all good clubs Shrewsbury can trace its origins to a bar, in this case the now demolished George Hotel. In 1908 a casual conversation between Freddie Richards, Bill Jones and a man called Deakin led to the formation of the club and a first fixture at Sutton (now Sutton Road) against Stafford. The pitch was rented from a farmer and attendances at the first game were sufficient to buy goal posts, jerseys and balls; how times have changed! The result of that first match remains a mystery, but obviously it was enjoyed by all who participated.

The ground had moved to Upper Road Meole Brace with the headquarters moving from various hostelry to hostelry dependant on the behaviour of the members and friendliness of the landlord. After the second World War a subsequent President Geoff Warn reformed the club with himself as Secretary and T. Gordon Hector as President. Matches were played at Longden Road or Shrewsbury School, until the club moved to the West Midlands Showground in the 1946/47 season. Bert Williams who was originally captain in 1938/39 then re-took over the Captaincy until 1955/56and followed Mr Hector as President in the early 1960s.

Then came the the highly successful years of the sixties during which time the 1st XV were virtually unbeatable. The playing success led to a very good club fund raising, through the Shrewsbury Amateur Sporting Guild run by Arthur Richardson, enabling the purchase of the present ground at Sundorne Castle in 1964. The early-1970s saw the club going through indifferent times with the loss of some familiar fixtures and sadly the death of Sir Derek Capper in his first year as President.

In the 1980s the club enjoyed further success under the captaincy of first Chris Pittaway and then Keith Faulkner. After some lacklustre years in the 1990s the club became regenerated with the enthusiasm of former coach and Chairman Alan Davies, Secretary Graham Jackson and Chairman David Brown. This work has been continued by Glyn Jones Chairman/Treasurer and Gary Dean, Secretary, who together with others have seen through the financing and construction of extensions to the club house and the improvement of facilities which have recently seen the addition of a gym. The club can now boast of a large and ever increasing mini and junior section, under the Chairmanship of Grant Mckelvie, assisted by Sam McKelvie, with James and Sarah Ballantyne.

World Class, without resting on their laurels

World Class, without resting on their laurels

Laurence Gale travels to Derby to see developments at Dennis and Sisis: It has been a couple of years since my last Dennis and SISIS factory visit and it’s always good to catch up to find out about any new developments and see what new products may be coming on to the market.

Like most proactive companies, R&D and product development are important in driving the company forward. It was at the recent IOG SALTEX show where we saw Dennis’ new PRO 34R rotary mower and a battery powered pedestrian rotary mower – and judging by those who saw them, it is safe to say that these products are highly anticipated. The rotary mower is a totally new concept for Dennis who, until now, have been renowned for producing their iconic range of cylinder mowers.

World Class, without resting on their laurels

Our visit started with a very warm welcome by company owner, Ian Howard, whose vision has been instrumental in the success of the Dennis and SISIS brands. It was apparent that Ian “along with his vastly experienced senior management team” have ensured that the company is in more than capable hands.

In 2011, SISIS was acquired by Howardson to sit alongside Dennis as a division providing the groundcare industry with a truly comprehensive range of British manufactured products. This monumental acquisition signalled the start of a perfect partnership in which the two brands are now synonymous with world class turf care equipment.

Without resting on their laurels, the Howardson company continues to work hard on improving the value and versatility of both Dennis and SISIS products. In the last seven years their machines have continued to gain UK and global recognition and this is supported by the robust and dedicated sales/marketing and demonstration team.

The further acquisition of Crocodile Precision along with continued significant investment by All British Precision in the engineering process of the components, has further enhanced the company’s ability to produce a larger range of quality British made products more efficiently.

In recent years we have seen the Dennis/SISIS branded machinery being used at many of the top-flight sporting venues for football, cricket, rugby and bowls both home and abroad.

One of the main reasons for this has been due to the fact Dennis/SISIS has listened to its customers and have taken the opportunity to redesign and develop new products. Take, for example, the new PRO 34R rotary mower, which the team have been working on for over two years to bring to the market. This was a direct result from listening to the requirements of many of the world’s top groundsmen.

This new 34-inch-wide machine offers a powerful vacuum and cutting unit that helps present and clean up sports pitches. This machine has been on trial at several Premiership football clubs thus enabling the company to thoroughly test the machine and Iron out any potential problems.

As with most Dennis products they are built to last, with a proviso it needs to be able to guarantee at least five years of untroubled service working on the harshest of terrains. This new machine sits nicely with the G860 range of mowers, designed with many similarities in terms of hand controls, engine and chassis and comes with a good back up service and a reputation of Dennis reliability.

It was apparent that Dennis are also very up-beat about the other rotary mower waiting in the wings, which was first seen at 2017’s SALTEX show. Their new battery powered pedestrian mower gained a lot of interest. It certainly looked a robust, well designed innovative machine from the Dennis stable and they have been working with Bosch for a while to bring this mower to fruition.

The concept of Dennis moving into battery powered machinery is no doubt in their minds, especially in the way the industry is starting to embrace these new technologies. There will certainly be plenty of opportunities to ‘battery-fi’ many of their products in the coming years.

The company were happy to share their sales figures in terms of positive growth year on year since 2010, which is testament to all the hard work being done by all parts of the business.

The current sales figures are split 60% UK and 40% overseas with the company having 30 dealerships servicing and distributing products in the UK, coupled with a further 45 dealerships worldwide. Sales abroad are growing all the time and Dennis will, for the third successive year, be supplying many of the venues in this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The sales team is backed up by a field support/demo team and the combination of experienced field staff, backed up by technicians and the support of all the factory staff, together with a renewed marketing strategy led by Roger are the reasons why Howardson Ltd is growing a reputation of building quality British made products for the professional turfgrass industry.

It was then time for our tour of the factory, beginning with a visit of the metal fabrication and tooling areas which feature in the All British Precision department. The investment in robotic milling and tooling systems has reduced waste and speeded up production of key parts.

We then visited the new powder coating paint shop, a very clean and appropriate facility that enables the company to be in control of the quality and number of parts being painted.

Finally, we saw the assembly area, where staff concentrate on assembling and putting together a range of Dennis and SISIS products, multi-tasking and sharing job roles so they can be more flexible to meet customers’ orders.

Dennis/SISIS are very proud of their business and are keen to continue to serve the turf grass industry with investment. In recent years we have seen the popularity of their free seminar and education days grow. The annual cricket day which now attracts well over 200 groundsmen.

All in all, Dennis and SISIS have been very busy in the last seven years and are beginning to see the fruits of their labour.

I would like to thank Dennis/SISIS for the opportunity to visit and see first-hand the work they do behind the scenes to ensure Dennis and SISIS remain one of the leading British manufacturers in the turfcare industry.

Demain’s the name

Demain’s the name: When the name of the Professional Groundman of the Year was announced at the IOG Awards Dinner in November, there was one man in the huge function suite in the National Motor Cycle Museum, in Birmingham, not paying too much attention.

Vic Demain, Head Groundsman at Durham County Cricket Club, in Chester-le-Street, was basking in the warm glow of success, having seen his team named Professional Cricket Grounds Team of the Year earlier in the evening and he had to be nudged to get on his feet to go collect the award.

“I looked to the stage and there was my name on the screen and my first thought was that this can’t be right, it has to be a mistake. But it slowly sunk in and I went up and collected the award,” recalled Vic.

To be fair to him his surprise had a degree of justification. A cricket groundsman had never won Professional Groundsman of the Year while, a mere six years before, Vic was a groundsman working in recreational cricket.

“My name is now engraved on the Cup alongside a host of legends in the world of groundmanship. Everyone on it is so deserving and I feel I shouldn’t be included among them, that I’m a bit of an imposter.

“That said it’s been absolutely brilliant. I still haven’t come down and I have to pinch myself that it’s happened,” said Vic, speaking to Turf Matters in his first interview since his success.

The story of how Vic came to join luminaries of the industry is remarkable and one which should provide inspiration to anyone who has been knocked back, got up, got knocked back again, yet still rose to the top of the tree.

He left school at 16 in Faringdon, located between Oxford and Swindon, and took up an apprenticeship at a local building company. Apprenticeship completed Vic launched his own business which he ran for 20 years until the housing market crashed in the mid-90s and his company folded.

“I’d always been a lover of cricket and was the sort of guy every club wants. I’d cut the grass, I’d do the fixtures, my wife would make the teas, I’d take coaching courses. Anything, so long as it was involved with cricket. On the field I wasn’t very good, but I was really keen and made the most of what limited ability I had. I just loved the game,” he explained.

Looking for employment, ideally in cricket, he applied for and eventually, at the second attempt, got the job of Cricket Manager on a private estate, where he learned rudimentary groundsmanship.

“I knew nothing about it whatsoever, and remember this was before the days of internet, so I got out and spoke to the old boys who were looking after their own grounds, and learned a lot from them.

“After about four or five years we got the ground up to Minor Counties’ standard and Buckinghamshire played there. It really was the best job in the world.”

Until the next set back.

“We had a change of management and the new manager decided that cricket was costing the Estate too much money and took the ground down the contractor route. I was made redundant.”

Next step was to Milton Keynes and Campbell Park working for a contractor but a yearning was growing for his own ground and when he saw an advert for a job at Uxbridge Cricket Club. He jumped at it and fortunately for Vic they jumped at him and it was there that he spent the next seven seasons as Head Groundsman, a ground where Middlesex played a number of games

Now this next bit is all-important for those of you feeling that life has passed you by and stretching out ahead is not so much a potential pathway to success, but a rut.

“It was the wet summer of 2012 and Nottinghamshire came down to play Middlesex. It never stopped raining, but we worked diligently and while we didn’t get a result in the end, we did manage to get quite a bit of play.”

Keep reading…

“At the end of the season Nottinghamshire were looking for a Deputy Head Groundsman and I thought, I’ve got no chance as I’d not worked at that level, but decided to throw my hat in the ring anyway. However, I’ve been told that when the Director of Cricket saw the applications and noticed the Uxbridge connection he said, ‘That’s the guy I want because when we went to Uxbridge they worked so hard to get the game on’,” said Vic. 

It’s a lesson for everyone.

“I try to impress upon people that if you work hard, put in the graft, don’t hide in the shed when conditions are bad, and always been seen to be doing your best, someone may notice you. That’s exactly what happened to me.

“Honestly, I was about 50 at the time and was beginning to think that it was time to start winding down a little, but my career has really taken off in the last five years. Look whats happened to me, these last five years have just been crazy. You couldn’t plan for it.”

The final piece in the career jigsaw came in 2015 when he applied for the vacancy at Durham.

“I guess I’m one of those people who always wants to test themselves and I wanted to work at the highest possible level and for me, at Durham, the biggest attraction of all was that I knew in 2016 there was going to be a Test Match. There are not many Test Grounds and not many people who have done a Test Match so for me that was huge.”

But Durham wasn’t a job for the feint hearted. The pitch was well known to be damp and bowler friendly. Also the club was experiencing financial difficulties, brought about by the contractual obligation when Durham became the latest addition to the County Championship in 1992 that the Riverside be developed as a Test and International venue. This is a part of the country not regarded as a cricketing hotspot.

“I started in March 2015 which was too late to do anything with the pitches. When I arrived I was concerned about the poor grass coverage on the pitches. We are lucky that we have a big square but five or six of those pitches were not going to be usable until July.

“The other issue I faced was that, for me, Nottingham had been the furthest I’d been north. I’d been used to working around the London areas which has a completely different climate. My pitch at Uxbridge was probably the most batsman-friendly you’d ever see so, in order to get the bowlers interested, I’d leave 10-12 mm of grass on each pitch.

“I tried to do that at Durham in my first season but the ball was going around corners and the batsmen were not happy at all. The one thing about that season was that the cricket was hugely entertaining for the person buying a ticket. No game ended in two days, but we had a lot of three day games and every game we played ended in a result.”

It wasn’t until the end of that first season that Vic finally got a handle of the pitch, and not before he sought the sage-like advice of the very man who would know.

“I couldn’t fathom out how pitches always seemed to be a on the damp side despite me trying to dry them out. All I could come up with was that water was coming up from underneath the surface. So what I did was track down Tom Flintoft, Head Groundsman here 30 years ago. He’s a lovely guy and I’ve spoken to him a lot since. I asked him if there was chance that my theory was correct and straight away he said to me that there was more water under the square than there was in the River Wear!”

Knowing the issue and resolving the issue are two completely different things however.

“In the short term there is really nothing you can do outside of digging up the pitch and putting in a membrane to prevent the water reaching the wicket but with our financial constraints that wasn’t going to happen.” Vic’s appreciation of what he was dealing with coincided with an instruction from the ECB to all Head Groundsmen that pitches should be more spinner friendly and the change to the toss rule which gave visiting Captains the option of bowling first.

“With the history at Durham no-one was ever going to say they were going to bat first so our pitches simply had to change. What I did was shave all the grass off and got them to be flat, white and reasonably hard so, after a game or two, we actually did see the away team wanting to bat first. The bowlers weren’t too happy and maybe it wasn’t as exciting cricket for the paying public. Perhaps there is still some middle ground to be had,” said Vic, who did become a hero to Keaton Jennings, who based on the amount of runs he has scored on Vic’s pitches, has since opened the batting for England.

Oh, that Test match and the reason Vic took that leap of faith north.

It was against Sri Lanka in May 2016 and to be honest that leap of faith Vic took in moving north looked decidedly misplaced when the week before a Sri Lankan team, shorn of its legendary batters and bowlers who had retired, were twice skittled out cheaply at Headingley in a match which barely lasted three days.

“People were saying that on our traditionally bowler friendly pitch that it could all be over in two days, but luckily England won the toss and batted, putting on over 400. Then having added to the run of low scores and being forced to follow-on the Sri Lanka’s showed some real mettle and batted well to overtake England’s first innings total and the match went into a fourth day.

“It was a reasonably good Test and all the reports were positive, but it was cold, mid-May, the weather wasn’t great and crowds weren’t huge.”

It tended to sum up the plight of Durham.

At the end of 2016 the financial problems came home to roost. Despite finishing fourth in the First Division Durham were relegated for financial reason and, to really kick them when they were down, they started each competition of the 2017 season on minus points.

The Board was removed and a new one put in place led by Chairman Sir Ian Botham, who has used his profile and contacts within the game to pull Durham through these immensely difficult times.

“A lot of people were very concerned about their jobs. My staff were worried, we were all worried and it was one thing after another – bad news after bad news after bad news – so, 12 months later, to be able to take these two wonderful awards back to the club was just fantastic.

“We knew that we were up for Headland Amenity Professional Cricket Grounds Team of the Year. We’d been short-listed along with Hampshire, as we had been the previous year when we lost out to Essex, so I was hopeful that we might have a chance. I was hugely delighted when we won not just for my team but for Team Durham back at the club – all the staff.

“It was brilliant for my small team – my Deputy Mark Patterson who has been at the club for over 15 years; Ben Hall, who has been here for eight years and for Amy McKewan, who is in her second season here and doing her apprenticeship. My coming in just three years ago was difficult for us all. I was joining a team which was already established and for Mark and Ben they had only ever worked for one boss and become used to doing things one way. I was never going to be the same and change is difficult to deal with, particularly with the wider issues going on.

“But three years on we’ve got there and our Award is a rubber stamping and recognition for what we have achieved. I think part of the reason we got the award was our ability to produce what we have done under financial constraints.”

An hour listening to Vic and you can fully understand why he also picked up the Ransomes/DLF Johnsons Alex R. Miller Groundsman of the Year award. His enthusiasm and drive are infectious and he possesses a can-do attitude which has survived through a number of career disappointments.

Five years on from the last of those disappointments, and a time when he was considering looking for a job to ease himself into retirement, he sits alongside the very best groundsmen that this country has produced.

Whether he believes it or not, he fully deserves that honour.

Vision of the future

Vision of the future: Laurence Gale finds out what’s behind Gloucester City Council’s successful PPS Initiative.

As an ex-local authority manager, I fully understand many of issues councils are facing in the light of the Government’s tight rein on council budgets and, notably, understanding the frustrations of many practising Parks Managers who for many years have been forced to reduce service delivery in their parks and amenity open spaces.

However, to combat these cut backs, councils are now seeking new ways of working and obtaining funding from other sources. Without doubt the National Lottery and Heritage Funding Schemes have helped enormously in recent years, with millions of pounds filtering down to councils who have been savvy enough to understand, and learn quickly, how to make the most of these funding opportunities.

Another way of saving money and operating effectively is by working with new partners who are willing to take on the maintenance and management of some of the land assets. For example, in recent years we have seen local councils pass on this responsibility of these to town and parish councils and local sports clubs.

However, this can only be achieved, after investing in a detailed survey and consultation with many organisations, sports clubs and evaluating current working practises and costing of any proposed schemes.

This usually is achieved by the process of the council formulating and producing a Playing Pitch Strategy (PPS) to evaluate the way ahead. This strategy is usually set between 5-10 years depending on the size and scale of the project.

The existence of a robust and up-to-date PPS will enable informed and evidence-based decisions and actions to be made across a range of agendas including sports development, strategic planning and planning applications, educational provision, funding, facility and asset management, public health and the management and maintenance of provision of high quality playing pitches and playing fields to meet the sporting needs of local communities. All local authority areas should have an up-to-date PPS. By providing valuable evidence and direction a PPS can be of significant benefit to a wide variety of parties and agendas.

A recent visit to Gloucester gave me the opportunity to meet up with a very forward thinking local authority which has initiated its own PPS and is now starting to see the fruits of its labours. In terms of having a vision, they now have a set of local projects to improve the delivery of better pitches and facilities in the Gloucester area.

I met up with two of the lead officers who have been working on the PPS, David Pritchett, Open Spaces

Strategy Officer, and Adam Gooch, Principal Planning Officer. Their PPS runs from 2015 -2025, a 10 year programme. Now well into its second year the council is starting to see the benefits of its actions, with plenty of improvements to the maintenance and management of its pitches.

Since the PPS was adopted in January 2016, improvements in some form or other have been made to over 40% of playing field sites. This includes things like verti-draining but also reconfiguring pitches to provide for the community’s needs.

One of the main reasons for the success is the Delivery Group, which meets at least every six months and has representation from Sport England, FA, RFU, ECB, England Hockey, Active Gloucestershire and Aspire Sports and Cultural Trust. The relationships they have built have been instrumental in developing a very positive and focussed partnership in delivering the aims and objectives of the PPS.

The key aims of the Gloucester PPS are:

  • To protect the existing supply of sports pitches for meeting current and future needs.
  • Secure tenure and access to sites for high quality, development minded clubs, through a range of solutions and partnership agreements.
  • Maximise community use of outdoor sports facilities where there is a need to do so.
  • To enhance outdoor sports facilities through improving quality and management of sites.
  • Adopt a tiered approach (hierarchy of provision) for the management and improvement of sites.
  • Work in partnership with stakeholders to secure funding.
  • To provide new outdoor sports facilities where there is a current or future demand to do so.
  • To achieve this, the PPS makes the following strategic recommendations: a) Secure planning gain for playing pitches from housing growth; b) Rectify quantitative shortfalls in current pitch stock; and c) Identify opportunities to add to the overall stock to accommodate both current and future demand.

Since the PPS was adopted the following projects or tasks have been completed or are being implemented by the Delivery Group:

  •  A range of improvements have been made to priority sites by the NGBs and/or sports clubs. In some cases this has included a visit from a specialist FA/RFU ‘Pitch Improvement Advisor’; this tends to be where the NGB funds the assessment and improvement measures in the first year, with a commitment from the club for the two following years.
  • Improvements works undertaken to pitches so far include top-dressing, verti-draining and over-seeding. Sites that have benefitted are Gala Wilton, Gordon League RFC, Hucclecote Playing Fields, Saw Mills End Playing Field, Longlevens Recreation Ground and Waterwells Sports Centre.
  • The FA, RFU and ECB have offered training courses for grounds men and women of Gloucester sports clubs to enable improved skills for maintaining and improving playing fields in the City and will continue to do in the future.
  • The Council has also worked closely with the local County Sports Partnership, Active Gloucestershire, in preparing workshops with local schools, to explore opportunities for increased community use of educational facilities.
  • A new multi-sports hub is being developed to the north of the city on land owned by the University of Gloucestershire and the City Council. This will include two 3G pitches, the first of their type in the city.

Looking ahead to the future, the Delivery Group has recently completed an Interim Review of the PPS to make sure it remains up-to-date. This has been endorsed by the City Council and will ensure that decisions are based on up-to-date evidence and reflect the needs of the local community.

Council Officers continue to work with the NGBs to identify priority clubs that would benefit from increased security of tenure on pitches that are in City Council ownership. This will enable those clubs to bid for funds for the improvement of pitches and/or facilities direct from the NGBs or Sport England. Whilst in the early stages, opportunities are currently being explored with Tuffley Rovers for changing rooms at The Lannett. i) Gloucester City FC has submitted funding bid to the FA’s Football Stadium Improvement Fund (FSIF) to assist towards the implementation of the new stadium.

To maintain the momentum that has been built up, and to ensure improvements to pitches continue in a sustainable way, the Council are also looking into a new ‘pitch improvement programme’. While in the early stages, the aim will be for the City Council and wider PPS Delivery Group to support sports clubs in undertaking improvements to pitches and facilities they use. One option being considered is based around community grants.

To date the Gloucester Playing Pitch Strategy is gaining momentum and has been looked upon favourably by Sport England, The Institute of Groundsman (IOG) and the Gloucestershire FA.

Matt Boucher, of the Gloucestershire FA, spoke well of the work being done to date.

“The Gloucester City Council PPS Delivery Group has been a pleasure to be involved with from developing the strategy through to now actively delivering. As the strategy was being developed it was clear that the quality of the pitches within Gloucester were poor and improving the pitch quality was going to be a key part of the action plan.

“Gloucestershire FA and the IOG have worked closely with Adam, Dave and the rest of the delivery group to review a number of local authority owned pitches and provide an increased level of maintenance. A year on and it is great to see some of the improvements at certain sites, feedback from clubs has been really positive,” explained Matt.