The Groundsman

April 2015

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Visit www.iog.org for more information and digital editions AHEAD OF THE GAME 27 the Groundsman April 2015 in place and obtain full agreement to funding for the work, on one pitch, to be completed in 2013. However, a compromise saw an upgrade to the existing pipe drain system across all the pitches (by Greentech Sportsturf) by installing additional new drains between the existing ones, reducing the spacing from 10 to 5m apart - work that caused minimal surface damage – before a full pitch renovation could take place during summer 2014. "Unfortunately we still lost parts of all five pitches at times during the 2013/14 winter because of the massive amount of rain we had," Keith continues. "It was an exceptionally wet autumn and winter. Despite that we persevered and with the help and advice of the Scottish Rugby Union's head groundsman, plus the loan of equipment, our grounds team led by David Miller worked tirelessly. Miraculously we managed to hold an international match in March 2014 – but we still had the underlying problem of the thatch layer." So, in 2014, Keith's plan to remove the playing surface had to be fitted in around scheduled events; the cricket section arranged to play all matches at another venue effectively freeing up the grounds during the summer. Keith turned to Greentech's Kevin Brunton who advised how to go about it. Solving the issue "We couldn't start until June 30; that didn't leave much time but we were assured the pitch would be ready for play in just 10 weeks. We were sceptical. We started by using a Koro Field Top Maker to shave about 65 mm off the entire pitch and remove all vegetation. Having removed all the top soil, grass and thatch, we levelled out any undulations and re-grafted the drains to the surfaces then added more gravel and sandbanded. The whole process took 10 days." The surface was seeded at 40g/m 2 with Barenbrug BAR 7 RPR, a blend of four cultivars including the innovative stoloniferous ryegrass Barclay II that produces a fast-growing turf that can withstand and recover from extreme wear. "Being 100 per cent rye grass it provided us with strong, fast natural growth," adds Keith. After sowing the first seed on the Friday, grass was growing by the following Wednesday. "With Greentech supplying mobile irrigation systems, at around day eight to 10 the whole area was green. We continued the irrigation and brought the pitch back into play in early September. "My advice to anyone doing similar work is to treat the pitch gently during its first season. While the robust nature of BAR 7 RPR enabled us to get back into play very quickly, we decided to control the number of games played on it – we wanted it to be perfect for its first international match of 2015 (early February)." Changing the entire infrastructure of the pitch hasn't gone unnoticed by the people that count - the players. In fact, Keith says many of the Premier League teams have acknowledged the quality of the pitch and says it is really satisfying to see what a difference all the hard work has made. "When you're going to this much effort, it's important you get the soil tested," Keith adds. "Greentech sent samples to a lab in the US for in-depth testing and the analysis provided the information needed to give us a bespoke nutrition policy. We've also bought two new mowers and now do everything by hand, removing all the clippings – rather than mow with a tractor and leave the clippings on the pitch." Further upgrades Keith adds that the original plan was to gradually follow a similar process with the other four pitches – to rectify the thatch problem – but changes to the hockey and cricket surfaces have altered that slightly. "We are now embarking on an upgrade of our hockey and rugby facilities with the construction of a new synthetic water-based hockey pitch to global FIH standard, a new high specification grass training pitch with integrated irrigation and a new synthetic cricket wicket," he says. "We will renovate our other rugby pitches, to build on the investment we made in the drainage system, to create better facilities overall but grass hockey will cease and the areas used for this will be for rugby, too." l Estate manager Keith Hodgson When I joined the school, there were real problems with ground conditions in winter " " Tamsin Henderson is an independent PR and copywriting professional. E: tam@hellogather.co.uk About the Author

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