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Introducing a WOW factor

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

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

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing the new and improved TYM tractors

Introducing the new and improved TYM tractors: In response to Stage V emissions regulations and customer feedback, TYM is launching a new range of tractors with a host of improvements and features to provide even more value to customers. And first off the blocks are the T255 subcompact and T555 compact tractors.

Replacing the TS25, a popular model in the subcompact tractor market, is the T255. With the same features that set the TS25 apart from its competitors, the T255 offers even more with its fresh new design.

Introducing the new and improved TYM tractors

Introducing the new and improved TYM tractors

Its 25.3hp Yanmar diesel engine is Stage V compliant but avoids the need for expensive exhaust treatments such as a DPF filter, keeping costs down for the customer. Available with a twin range HST, the new model is also equipped with auto throttle response as standard, which synchronises the HST pedals with the engine throttle for much simpler, and less fatiguing, operation.

A 540rpm rear PTO and 2000rpm mid PTO can be used together simultaneously to allow for efficient and multi-functional combinations such as a mid-deck and grass collector. Plus, following customer feedback, the T255 now comes with one set of spool valves as standard, rather than as an optional accessory.

The successor to the hugely popular T503, the T555 comes with even more power in the same compact frame, redefining what a compact utility tractor can do and avoiding the need to compromise on manoeuvrability.

The T555’s main attraction, and where it differs most from the T503, is its high efficiency 55.9hp Yanmar 4-cylinder diesel engine, which produces more power whilst still maximising on fuel efficiency.

It comes with two transmission options, a 16×16 manual with dash mounted forward/reverse shuttle lever, or a three range HST with auto throttle control. Plus, an updated panel with a new digital element shows the tractor hours, fuel gauge and information on the engine and emission system for improved user control.

Introducing the new and improved TYM tractors

Introducing the new and improved TYM tractors

Also available is a new TX55L loader which features self-levelling arms as standard, along with a pre-installed third function kit, and comes with a Euro fitment front bucket.

Steven Haynes, tractor sales manager at Reesink Turfcare, says: “With the arrival of Stage V compliance, TYM took the opportunity to add in this essential legislation while taking all the popular features of the machines’ predecessors and improving on them with a customer focused redesign that provides even more value. Whether you’re after a neat subcompact for your large estate or small farm, or something with more power for a golf course or sports pitch, the T255 and T555 both offer an efficient, versatile, and value for money option.”

To find out more about the TYM range and the tractor attachments available from Reesink call 01480 226800, email info@reesinkturfcare.co.uk, or visit reesinkturfcare.co.uk

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Introducing the most productive pedestrian aerator

Introducing the most productive pedestrian aerator: The new Air2G2 336 is the most productive pedestrian aerator on the market, with 36-inch probe centres allowing operators to cover ground quicker with the same industry-leading results.

Aeration has always been an integral aspect of sports turf maintenance, and the introduction of the original Air2G2 revolutionised the process. The principle of laterally injecting air using three probes up to 12-inches below the surface has de-compacted countless greens, pitches, and courts at prestigious sporting venues around the globe from Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club to Emirates Golf Club, Dubai.

Introducing the most productive pedestrian aerator

Introducing the most productive pedestrian aerator

The factors of no surface disruption and the option to operate the machine in wet conditions have seen many rely on the Air2G2 as their go-to solution for game or course saving aeration across all levels of professional, semi and non-professional sport. The ability to aerate when needed rather than working at designated times, has also led to more regular aeration at locations such as Royal Selangor Golf Club, Kuala Lumpur, where the Air2G2 has become vital to their maintenance programme.

Consistent use of the machine is proven to create surfaces that are healthy, firm, and free draining. This happens over time because the pressurised air fractures the hardpan layers without disrupting roots while increasing pore space which promotes faster drainage and root development. In turn, this respiration forces oxygen in and pushes CO2 and other anaerobic gases out for root zone gas exchange.

Introducing the most productive pedestrian aerator

Introducing the most productive pedestrian aerator

Operators have used the Air2G2 to solve a variety of problems from simple decompaction to reducing salt build-up, increasing air exchange and to introduce winter aeration programmes. With the wider 336 model, the work needed to achieve these goals can be done in less time whilst always getting the same impressive results.

For more information on the Air2G2 336, visit www.campeyturfcare.com or contact your local Campey dealer.

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Introducing BIGGA’s volunteers

Introducing BIGGA’s volunteers: The Open 2019 is heading to Sandwich in Kent this July and the British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association has revealed which members have been selected to join the volunteer support team that will help maintain playing standards throughout the event.

Each year The R&A requests BIGGA’s assistance with the championship and this will be the fourth time a volunteer team of BIGGA members has attended an Open at Royal St George’s, having also helped out in 1993, 2003 and 2011.

Introducing BIGGA's volunteers

Introducing BIGGA’s volunteers

BIGGA members who join the support team are given unprecedented access to golf’s greatest championship, supporting every match with bunker-raking duties.

The bunkers at Royal St George’s are among the most famous in golf, with the giant ‘Himalaya’ on the 4th hole proving an intimidating test, not just for the golfers who land in the hazard, but also the members of the support team who will tidy up the sand afterwards.

Every full BIGGA greenkeeper member is eligible to apply for a place on the team and over the years there have been incredible memories made by support team members.

Phillip Snellin of Donaghadee Golf Club was a team member at Royal Portrush in 2019. He drew the final match of the championship and had a money-can’t-buy view as Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood battled it out for the Claret Jug.

“The last two holes were among the best things that have ever happened to me,” said Phillip. “It was awesome. Walking down the 18th, I’ve never experienced anything like that. The songs, the atmosphere, the hair stood up on my arms big time and there’s no words that can describe it.”

BIGGA Chief Executive Officer Jim Croxton said: “The Open is, in my view, the finest tournament in the sport with the beautiful links courses that host the event being critical to that. Royal St George’s is a special venue and I’m thrilled that once again members of BIGGA have the chance to play a small part in presenting it for the world’s best players.

“Following two very difficult years in terms of weather, I know that Course Manager Paul Larsen and his team have put in an extraordinary amount of work to ensure the links will be in prime condition.

“I’m extremely proud that once again The R&A has called upon BIGGA’s professional members to assist with the maintenance of the course throughout the championship. The Open is a long week but everyone at BIGGA is looking forward to giving our all and ensuring the 149th Open is Royal St George’s best one yet.”

The BIGGA Volunteer Open Support Team will be provided with accommodation, food, refreshments and uniform for the event. Members of the support team may also be called upon at short notice to assist Course Manager Paul Larsen and his team with early morning preparation work and divoting duties. With early tee times and golf played until nightfall, the week is intense and physically-demanding.

The 149th Open takes place from 16 to 19 July 2020. Thank you to everyone who applied to be part of this year’s team.

Here are the BIGGA members who will be assisting the home greenkeepers for the duration of the event:

Robert Acheson, Thornock Park GC; David Ball, Thetford GC; James Bonfield, The Hertfordshire G&CC; Tom Bromfield, Trentham GC; Andrew Brown, Boundary Lakes; Mark Cleverley, Hollywood GC; Jason Connoughton, Yeovil GC; Daryn Curtis, Royal Mid-Surrey GC; James Dawson, Oulton Hall GC; Julian Drake, Neath GC; Nicholas Edwards, The Wisley; Michael Elderfield, Sandy Lodge GC; Edoardo Fauro, Walton Heath; Ryan Fiander, Lees Hall GC; Stuart Fry, Old Thorns GC; Craig Gibson, Essendon CC; Jorge Grandio, Royal Wimbledon GC; James Hampson, Llanymynech GC; Craig Hempseed, Mortonhall GC; Kevin Hensman, Rowlands Castle GC; Alastair Hollingsbee, Etchinghill GC; James Hook, Woodspring G&CC; Dale Housden, Drayton Park GC; Adam King, Radley GC; Antony Kirwan, Romford GC; Matthew Kitson, Royal Mid-Surrey GC; John Le Cappelain, Royal Jersey GC; Chris Low, Olton GC; Matthew Mackenzie, Ellesborough GC; Steven Mapes, Coventry GC; Michael Mead, Littlehampton GC; Peter Meek, The Wisley; William Merritt, Beacon Park GC; Ashley Millar, Churston GC; Harry Misselbrook, Harewood Downs GC; Ryan Neale, Blackwell GC; Joshua Raper, Golf Club Hosel E.V.; Laura Sayer-Hall, Ardfin GC; Tom Silcock, Macclesfield GC; Will Simmonds, The Richmond GC; Niels Sorensen, Randers Golf Klub; David Stewart, Walmley GC; Nick Street, Crews Hill GC; Ollie Tanton, Royal North Devon GC; Amy Thomas, Barton-on-Sea GC; Scott Thomson, Wetherby GC; Gary Tonge, Tain GC; Jeremy Ward, Rotherham GC.

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