This week’s blog is really just a thank you to everybody for supporting TurfPro and taking the time to read our weekly Briefing. I have very much enjoyed writing the weekly blogs - there is always something interesting to say about our diverse industry. This edition will be the last one until the new year, so on behalf of TurfPro, I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and prosperous new year.
I’m looking forward to chronicling the season throughout 2019 – and as ever I am always on the lookout for any interesting technical articles which any of our readers would like to submit. So please if you have something to say on a fascinating turf industry subject, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'll leave you with some thoughts and reflections of 2018, starting with perhaps the most challenging aspect of your job, dealing with the weather. It has certainly been difficult coming out of a cold and wet prolonged winter, straight into a dry and windy April - followed by four months of the hottest weather on record. Not a good year for selling mowing machinery and fertiliser products.
Our two main industry shows (IOG & BIGGA) again enabled us the opportunity to see the latest industry developments and innovation in machinery, products and services along with the opportunity to network and meet fellow professionals. I also enjoyed attending a number of conferences namely the Amenity Forum, STRI Science Live and the Service Dealer Conference.
However, on the sporting front we have had a number of successes, notably the FIFA World Cup held in Russia, with many British companies involved in the preparation and maintenance of the pitches and the fact that England performed better than expected.
In July Neil Stubley and his team of groundstaff prepared the immaculate Wimbledon courts and had the job of maintaining them through one of the hottest championships weeks of the year.
We also held this year’s golf Open Championship at Carnoustie. Another great effort by the greenkeeping team to produce an excellent playing experience for all those who competed.
Also, hats off to all the companies and suppliers involved in this year’s Ryder Cup in France - again another successful win for the European team.
As for cricket, it was a very challenging time for all the groundsmen who had to prepare a series of wickets for this year’s round international matches. And while on the subject of cricket I would like to congratulate Karl Mcdermott on his appointment at Lord’s. Looking forward to visiting you in the new year, Karl.
I personally enjoyed the autumn series of rugby internationals with all UK teams playing some great rugby on excellent playing surfaces. I was privileged to take the opportunity to visit Twickenham and meet up with Keith Kent and his team as part of my new role of Volunteer Pitch Advisor (AVP) for the Midlands as parts of the Groundsmen Connect programme.
As ever at Christmas it is a very busy period for the football groundsmen, having to prepare and repair playing surfaces at the coldest / wettest time of the year.
All in all, it has been a challenging year for all who work in this unique and diverse industry. It is often these challenges and high expectations that attracts us to this industry. No two years are ever the same, with every day a test to our commitment and skills to produce the best playing surfaces we can with the resources we have at our disposal.
While on the subject of the weather, we will no doubt during the winter months have to deal with some snow and icy conditions. Turf is especially prone to damage when it is frozen and when the ground is thawing. Normal practice is to keep off the playing surface during these conditions and wait until the ground has completely thawed, which is often not until mid-morning and, in extreme cold snaps, not at all.
Frost on the grass leaf tells us that the water inside the leaves is frozen. Remember that approximately 80% of plant tissue is made up of water. When this water is frozen, foot traffic on the turf causes the ice crystals in the cells to puncture through the plant's cell walls, thereby killing plant tissue.
When frozen, the leaves of the turf get easily bruised by foot traffic. After thawing, the affected turf turns black or brown and becomes sparse. The turf can often remain thin for long periods if damage occurs early in the winter. The fine turf on golf / bowling greens becomes more susceptible to disease and the playing surface can become uneven.
More long-term damage can be caused when play takes place as the turf is thawing after a prolonged freeze. Under these conditions, the top surface of the turf may be soft, but the underlying soil can still be frozen.
Most top end (professional / semi-professional) sports facilities have the ability to protect their playing surfaces with the use of undersoil heating systems, lighting rigs or frost covers. However, the rest are left with living with the consequences of the weather.
Most sports facilities should ideally have a frost and snow policy in place to help ensure player safety, whereby several contingencies are put in place to reduce frost damage and allow sport to be played during frosty conditions.
The sports facility should be inspected every morning by the groundsstaff, who then make a judgement on whether the surface is playable, depending on the severity of the frost. Most often the decision to postpone a match is often left to the referee.
As for most golf courses, to help cope with the wintery conditions, winter tee mats, are brought out for the winter period with temporary green areas mown out and introduced for winter play - often on the approaches, but also dedicated areas that have been set aside and managed, of sorts, ahead of winter. The best policy is for the club to inform golfers of the reasons why greens need to be taken out of play and, in extreme frosts, why the course needs to be closed.
Tree or woodland lined courses are more at risk to a prolonged white frost than those out in the open and free of any shade or restricted air movement. A continuous frost occurs at consistently lower temperatures and directly freezes the leaves of the plant. It is not as visible, but the risk of damage can be more severe since the entire leaf blade can rupture under the weight of traffic.
The other main issue is when the ground starts to thaw. Here, the surface becomes soft, wet and, sometimes, temporarily flooded since the underlying soil remains frozen and impervious to drainage. The grass plant is at severe risk at this stage due to the possibility of damage caused by the 'shearing' of the roots / stem, caused by the movement of foot traffic over a solid sub-surface. Fortunately, this condition seldom lasts for more than 24 to 48 hours within the UK.