So, how are we doing?

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

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

So, how are we doing?

So, how are we doing?

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

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

Volunteers at the helm

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

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

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

Getting the professional game back on

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

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

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

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

The unsung heroes of sport

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

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

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

Joining the sector

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

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

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

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

Get the mow how

Get the mow how: Honda knows gardens are as important to our homes as any room in the house, more so than ever before. In a single day, the lawn is a running track for the dog, a football pitch for the kids and a dinner spot for the family. To withstand all this, we need to look after our lawn and gardens, and to do so successfully, we need to understand the significant role the weather plays.

To investigate and explore this intrinsic relationship between weather and gardening, Honda has teamed up with TV’s Broadcast Meteorologist, Laura Tobin, for the season ahead. A self-confessed weather fanatic, Laura’s career in meteorology started at the Met Office, before she moved to the RAF to provide mission-critical, aeronautical meteorology reports and briefings to flight crews. Since then, Laura has become one of the nation’s top weather forecasters, appearing regularly one some of the most-viewed national programmes hosted by leading broadcasters.

Get the mow how

Get the mow how

Over the course of the gardening season, Laura will feature in five episodes in which she will visit and speak to lawn and garden experts to uncover hints, tips and guidance that you can apply in your own garden, taking into account the influential effects of weather and climate change.  Along the way, we will also be bringing you some handy information on how our range of Honda mowers can help you keep your lawn in optimum condition.

Our first video sees Laura visit Tamsin Westhorpe in the stunning, frost-kissed Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire. The pair talk about what to expect from the weather in the first month of spring and what your care routine for the “backbone” of your garden, the lawn, should be, starting with the season’s first cut; looking at when, why and how to perform it.

We look at the constantly evolving climate patterns that have and are continuing to change mowing habits in your garden for good. This all means you may be mowing earlier in the season and for longer – demanding a durable, reliable and high quality lanwmower, such as the izy-ON HRG 466 XB, to live up to the task ahead.

In the video, Tamsin shares her experience of using the Izy and how she’s found Honda’s all-electric, Cordless mower to be a revelation thanks its clean and quiet operation as well as it’s user-centric features such as the Versamow Variable, single-speed propulsion and Universal Battery system.

Watch the video at

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How to help rainfall rescue project

How to help rainfall rescue project: If you’ve some time on your hands, here’s a UK rainfall project that’s caught our eye at Rain Bird Golf.

The weather is always a topic of conversation for Brits.  Can you, your staff or family members take part in the Rainfall Rescue project and add to our UK rainfall know-how?

How to help rainfall rescue project

How to help rainfall rescue project

The UK has rainfall records dating back 200 years or so, but the vast majority of these are in handwritten form and can’t easily be used to analyse past periods of flooding and drought. Professor Ed Hawkins is a Reading University scientist who has run a number of “weather rescue” projects but this is the biggest yet.

The Rainfall Rescue Project is seeking volunteers to transfer hand-written data to online spreadsheets.

The project is looking to fill the yawning gap in UK digital rain gauge records between the 1820s and 1950s.

Each of the 65,000 scanned sheets contains monthly rainfall totals for a particular decade at a particular station, approximately three to five million data points in all. If Prof Hawkins’ team can convert this information to a digital format, it could lead to a much better understanding of the frequency and scale of big droughts and floods. And, that will assist with planning for future flood and water-resource infrastructure.

For example, many across the country had a sodden start to the year because of heavy rainfall. Meteorologists suspect October 1903 was just as bad, if not worse, but unfortunately, because all the rainfall data from that time was hand-written, it’s not possible to analyse this data. Likewise, there were some very dry springs and winters in the 1880s and 1890s. Britain had six or seven very dry winters and springs on the trot. If that happened today, it would probably cause serious problems for water companies because they rely on wet winters and wet springs to recharge reservoirs.

Prof Ed Hawkins explains, “Water companies have to plan for a one-in-100 or one-in-500-year drought but we’ve only got 60 years of very dense digital data, and so it’s very hard for them to come up with reliable estimates. We know there are periods in the past that, if they happened again, would probably break the system. The same is true for very heavy rainfall and floods.

You’re not required to rummage through old bound volumes; the Met Office has already scanned the necessary documents – all 65,000 sheets. You simply have to visit a website, read the scribbled rainfall amounts and enter the numbers into a series of boxes. If you do just a couple of minutes every now and then – that’s great,” said Prof Ed Hawkins. “If you want to spend an hour doing 30 or 40 columns – then that’ll be amazing. But any amount of time, it will all add up and be a tremendous help.”

This can literally take 5 minutes – why not use your tea-break?
Take part in the Rainfall Rescue project here.

If you choose a particular year to work on, why that year? Is it the year your golf course opened or the year you held your most memorable tournament? Share your story on Twitter with #rainfallrescueUK. Tag@rainbirdgolfuk and we’ll share your story too!

Jimmy Sandison – Regional Golf Sales Manager – UK, Ireland, Iceland and Scandinavia

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How Turf Changed Tennis

How Turf Changed Tennis: The STRI’s Mark Ferguson explains how an improvement in the grass deployed on tennis courts changed the way in which the game was played, writes Scott MacCallum.

Remember back to the Wimbledons of the 70s and 80s. There was little British involvement beyond the second round; in the second week the courts looked like a yellow massive “T” surrounded by varying shades of green; and, for the men at least, a rally of over five shots was something of a novelty.

How Turf Changed Tennis

It was the days of Ilie Nastase, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Roscoe Tanner, and the man with the best name in the sport – Vitas Gerulaitis. It was all white balls and wooden racquets. It was also the days of the “You cannot be serious!” and “Chalk dust blew up!” moments, and the bad bounce.

To a significant degree it was the bad bounces which forced players to adopt a serve and volley approach, rather than remain at the back of the court trying to work openings but risk a low bounce ruining all the great lead up work. Racquet technology improved dramatically in the 80s and led to the grass court game becoming dominated by big servers. This meant that the game was dominated by short rallies and became predictable.

That was all to change in the 90s.

The STRI had always been involved with Wimbledon on an advisory basis, but it was in the early 90s that they became more heavily involved with the All England Club and The Championships.

As part of that a whole raft of research, surveys and botanical assessments of the courts were carried out – a programme which continues to this day.

“The most important trial was the ‘Grasses for Tennis’ trial which was set up in 1993,” explained Mark Ferguson, the STRI’s Research Manager.

“What quickly became apparent was that there were better grasses out there which could be used on the courts.

That wasn’t the fault of anyone as no research had been done prior to that and new breeding technology had only recently brought in new varieties.”

The new cultivars of perennial ryegrass provided a much better surface. More consistent than the old seed mixtures that had been based on golf course grasses such as bent and fescues, which quickly became invaded with annual meadow-grass.

“At the start of The Championships, the surface had a low bounce due to the cushioning effect of the poa, but as it wore down (to avoid using out twice?) whole plants kicked out, leaving bare patches which led to unusually high bounces. This encouraged players to keep rallies short.

How Turf Changed Tennis

With the arrival of the new rye grasses the game changed, the courts became much more consistent and players were confident enough to play from the back of courts which performed a bit more like hard courts, albeit the ball came through much more quickly.” explained Mark, who has been STRI’s Mr Wimbledon for 13 years.

“The work that has been done on grasses has played a big part in the way the game has been played.”

The current Wimbledon mixture is supplied by Limagrain and has been used for the last 10 years. It comes from three cultivars – Melbourne, Malibu and Venice.

“Breeding has hit a bit of a ceiling, improvements are now more marginal. Ryegrasses have become so good now that it is difficult to genetically engineer something which is better. There are some coming through and there are some excellent companies out there which have had great success in trials and they are tested at Wimbledon as part of the trial work.”

As part of Mark’s wider role, he is involved with the Lawn Tennis Association, ensuring that all the venues used by the LTA receive support and advice.

This is important as a few years ago the future of grass court tennis was in some doubt particularly with the US Open moving away from grass courts in 1975 and the Australian Open following in 1988.

“Funnily enough I’ve just finished writing an article called the ‘The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Grass Courts’.

When tennis became a sport everyone played on grass. Clay became an alternative in Europe and then in the 70s and 80s we got the hard courts as the game became much more fashionable. These courts were much more maintenance friendly, although I only recently learned that the US Open courts are resurfaced every year,” explained Mark, adding that the ITF now recognise 10 official surfaces but there are hundreds of variants within them.

Mark spends time visiting lawn tennis clubs up and down the country offering advice and support at places which don’t have large budgets – perhaps a one-man band looking after the courts. It is part of the LTA’s use of the revenue – £40 million a year is the latest quoted figure – which comes from The Championships.

“They can’t afford to do everything they would like, but they are doing their best to prepare a good surface and we can really help these people.

“There has to be a grass court legacy within the UK for Wimbledon to survive as a grass court tournament. There has to be a grass court season so that players can become accustomed to the grass each year and that Wimbledon doesn’t become a grass court tournament in isolation,” explained Mark.

Today’s Wimbledon is a massive sporting event – Mark believes that it is the biggest annual sporting event in the world – and Mark and his four strong team attend from the week in advance of The Championships each year.

How Turf Changed Tennis

They take daily measurements on each court, including practice courts and the qualifying courts at the Bank of England Sports Club, using the famous old Clegg impact hammer, to measure surface hardness. Soil moisture readings, ball bounce, chlorophyll index and live grass cover is also measured.

“To measure live grass cover we go to the same eight areas on each court, every day and take a count of live grass, that’s 800 spot identifications per court, per day.”

All measurements are processed and made available to Neil Stubley to direct specific management on Championships and practice courts. If, for example, a player questions the playing quality of a court, the measurements can prove that surface characteristics are consistent with other courts and other Championships.

“We have readings for every court going back to the 1990s so we can demonstrate objectively how a court is performing compared to previous years.”

Mark is a friendly, interesting and open interviewee, but there was one question which elicited a more cautious response than the others.

“Can we say now that the courts are measurably better than they were a number of years ago?” That was the question.

“I hate to use the phrase ‘better than ever’ as it is a real hostage to fortune and can become a stick to beat you with. We aim for surface characteristics to fall within certain parameters, but there are a number of factors that can influence how courts play, the weather is an obvious one, also hours of play, type of play etc”.

“Last year for example the two men’s semi-finals went to five hours 15 minutes (Djokavic-Nadal) and six hours 36 minutes (Anderson-Isner) and that put so much wear into Centre Court for the final two days. A year before there were much shorter semis and the wear would have been much less. However, Centre Court still played great for the final weekend.”

By the same token the Centre Court roof has not had a real impact on the day-to-day condition of the surface, but in another way, it does make a difference.

How Turf Changed Tennis

“The roof on Centre Court is at the north end so it doesn’t impact in terms of shade but what the roof does bring is continuous play when the rain comes. Live TV want play all the time so there is a temptation to overuse the court, and it needs to still be in good condition on day 13. Other courts are brought out of play as the fortnight progresses and there are fewer matches to play.”

With the No.1 Court roof coming into use at this year’s Championships the Centre Court workload can be managed a little more easily.

Mark is seen very much as part of the Wimbledon team, travelling down from his base in Bingley once a month throughout the year and more regularly as The Championships approach and he works very closely with Neil and his team.

Mark is immersed in tennis and doing what he can to ensure that the traditions and beauty of the grass court game are maintained, but he certainly doesn’t see it as a chore.

“For me it’s not just another job. It is an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be involved with Wimbledon. It’s an honour to be down there each year and to have an input in a positive way on what goes on.”

It’s fair to say that with Mark’s expertise and the talents of Neil Stubley and his team the future of Wimbledon is secure for the long, long term.

How To Choose A Waterer

How To Choose A Waterer: Plants and trees can be expensive to replace, and keeping them healthy is the passion and expertise of SCH Supplies. As manufacturers of waterers, no one understands the importance of adequate hydration better.

SCH manufacture essential plant saving watering units, with capacities from 50 to 2000 litres. These watering units are typically towed behind a ride on lawnmower or a small tractor, but some can be pulled along by hand.

How To Choose A Waterer

An unpowered waterer is typically used to refill watering cans. They are also suitable for flood watering as the valve can be opened and left until the vegetation is sufficiently hydrated. If the waterer is fitted with a water bowl and float valve, it is ideal for livestock that are far from a fixed water source. However, if you need to get your watering done without delay, a powered waterer is for you. A powered waterer lets you spray huge quantities over vast distances, and flood watering can be done in a fraction of the time.

How To Choose A Waterer

The next decision to be made is between a petrol engine and electric motor. There are many different sizes of both, however petrol will typically outperform an electric motor of similar size when it comes to flow rate. A petrol engine is best suited for the groundsman that needs to go all day; as long as you keep a container of fuel with you, the waterer can be used with continuously, whereas a battery powered waterer will need recharging. With some waterers, it is possible to attach your electric motor straight to your towing vehicles battery, and if your vehicles alternator is sufficient, it can power your electric motor for a significant time. The benefits of an electric motor include its low noise output, which is essential for those that enjoy peace and quiet.

How To Choose A Waterer

The style of wheel is very important on a waterer. Large low ground pressure flotation wheels help reduce track marks in the grass, and give the trailer stability and cushioning when on rough unfriendly ground. Two sets of wheels are required on some of the larger bowsers which allow them to stay upright and stable when detached from the towing vehicle. Fast tow wheels, paired with a road legal chassis is required when the tank is to be taken on the road. A baffled tank is essential for on road use, as it prevents the water from causing dangerous imbalances during turning and acceleration.

Skid mounted waterers are perfect if you already own a trailer or have a vehicle with a flat bed. These waterers can be easily stored when not in use, and most can be maneuvered on and off the vehicle unassisted.

Many powered waterers are designed to be used with a telescopic lance which can reach up to 6 meters. These are ideal to water hanging baskets. These are available in any combination of the above styles, and are popular with zoos, stadiums and leisure parks.

How To Choose A Waterer

Contact SCH for a free brochure featuring over 200 British products on 01473 328272, email, or visit their website to find out more

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