As best and as safely as we can
by TurfPro Editor, Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR
Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR

It looks like this Covid -19 lockdown is likely to continue for a few more weeks before we see some sort of gradual return to normality. This will certainly test our patience and resilience in the coming weeks. I am just glad that the weather has been so good allowing us to enjoy our time isolating and getting on with our changed lifestyle.

Following on from last week’s blog, I thought it would be helpful to find out how a few of our industry professionals are coping with the current restrictions and what work they are able to do at their given sports facility.

First to set the scene is Vic Domain, Head Groundsman at Durham CCC

Vic said, “The current state of professional cricket is that we are closed until 28th May.

My belief is that the governing body, the ECB, have put in place measures for if we start in June, July, August or September. Priority is being given to Internationals, the 100 and T/20 competitions as these are the big money spinners. The Championship and 50 overs competitions may well be lost. As for recreational cricket it seems that the hope is to start at the mid-point of the league season so that teams would play each other once. There is also some thought that pro games could be played behind closed doors.


Durham CCC staff picture Vic Domain Head Groundsman left of group

Behind every consideration of course will be maximising income. The recreational game will be hugely affected as no game, means no income. With bars shut there is nothing coming into the clubs. It’s also difficult to ask for a subscription with no games. Facilities, grounds and fittings all need maintaining at a cost. For the pro game it is equally bad news as many grounds use their facilities to generate income through concerts, meeting space and other lettings. No people coming in results in no bar or catering sales, no shop sales, no memberships.

Perhaps when this is all over, we will have sadly lost a few clubs and perhaps a complete season. Yet a nation’s health must be placed before any sporting fixtures, for more sadly, the likelihood is that we may also have lost a few groundsmen, players and supporters. The great game however will survive.

Covid 19 has divided the groundsman's community with some people deciding that it is necessary for them to continue to drive to work and maintain the facilities, whilst others prefer to think that grass is not as important as a life.

In my working environment, all staff except three (two groundstaff) have been furloughed. Of the three still working, two live on site and one travels. We are keeping a maintenance plan of work going over our two grounds. This basically involves cutting and watering the grass so as to keep it in a condition whereby once it is deemed safe to work, we should be able to get pitches out within two weeks.

For me, I would have preferred the government to come out earlier and say either our work is considered necessary or not. If not, all grounds should have been shut down, with no exceptional circumstances. As is usual in sport, there have been too many grey areas. Everyone will have different opinions but a lot of it will come down to personal circumstances - are you healthy, do you have pre-existing medical conditions, do you go home everyday to someone who would be at great risk if they contracted the virus?

I then managed to speak to Adrian Kay, Head Goundsman at York Racecourse to see how he was coping the effects of this pandemic.

Like all UK race courses, all racing has been in lockdown since the 23rd March with a current review date set for the 30th April.

Adrian Kay at York Racecourse.


Adrian Kay

As for getting on with any work, Adrian has had to reduce what he can do under the present circumstances. He has completed a number of risk assessments, especially due to the fact large areas of the racecourse are open to the public.

Adrian is currently lone working (which he seems happy about). All the rest of the staff have been furloughed. With no racing imminent a reduced programme of essential work has been implemented - basically cutting the grass and watering.

Usually at this time of the year, the maintenance of the course is in full swing with the grass being cut 2-3 times a week, and depending on the weather, fertilised, aerated and watered to maintain the much preferred growing conditions and pushing growth along on the renovated areas.

However, now it is the complete opposite - doing the bare minimum, cutting once a week and watering during this hot dry spell of weather to maintain minimal growth. Adrian told me it is a strange experience working alone and getting some respite of not being bombarded with hundreds of calls and emails.

For Adrian 2019/20 has been an unprecedented season. A lot of track renovation work was completed last autumn, with all the home straight Koro-ed off, deep tine de-compaction, top dressed and overseeded and North bend have inserted excavated slits. Then came an extremely wet winter, with many parts of the course flooded, and all the track has remained saturated throughout the Winter. Just before the lockdown Adrian says they were able to aerate the majority of the course.

Adrian is keen to ensure he is only carrying out the bare essentials during this pandemic and by following the strict government guidelines he feels he is able to look himself in the mirror every morning and be content that he has done his bit to assist in suppressing this horrifying pandemic virus.

I then called Dean Gilasbey, Director of International Pitch Management who stated “The life of an International Pitch Consultant has unfortunately taken a turn for the worst during this period, we at Sportslabs/Propitch have opted to follow the governments advice and exercise a policy of staying at home.

It is impossible for us to travel abroad at this time anyway, so working in normal mode is impossible. This is the most sensible thing to do to ensure all the vulnerable around us are protected and keyworkers are supported as much as possible. I would like to think that I am fit and healthy enough that I would not be badly affected. That said, we would encourage everyone to follow the stay at home advice.


Dean Gilasbey (right)

Our offices have voluntarily closed with 75% of the company being furloughed. This also includes myself as I am unable to work/travel therefore it’s impossible for me to earn any revenue for the company. Not being able to work is not good for me and that is no understatement. I need to work, all my life I have spent over 70 hours a week doing what we as groundsmen love doing. This also applies for a large majority of professional groundstaff. Therefore I have adapted to the environment, which means looking at ways to improve.

Over the next couple of months, we are going to conduct webinars to educate groundstaff on the essentials of groundsmanship. This is aimed at the younger generation, the budding grounds people that I once was, always keen to learn. I have also been attending training webinars which we are running on all aspects of the services we provide, some of these being opened up to external delegates. As I always say, we will never stop learning in this industry, so hopefully we can get like-minded people into sharing knowledge too. I need a ‘busmans’ holiday (Holiday is what I class as work, something I love and enjoy meeting new people and learning from others). Being home is torture for someone like me, this is no lie. Being stuck in lockdown at home is seriously driving me insane just like the majority of grounds staff!”.

Next up was Adam King Grounds manager at Radley College who said, “I think we are in the same boat as all schools. We are working on a skeleton staff, just doing essential stuff. The real challenge lies ahead when mother nature kicks in and we really will have to let some parts go downhill - which will be sad but unavoidable. We have not done any pre-season work on the squares. My thoughts are by the time we start playing, or if we start playing, we will probably just need a bit extra rolling.


Radley College playing fields

As a school we start next week as a virtual school which will be a big challenge to the teaching staff and pupils.

We as a department have had 13 staff furloughed and as a school around 270 staff furloughed. Like all businesses, we will take a big financial hit and that will put pressure on budgets going forward. I have been part of a WhatsApp group with other grounds managers which has been great for information sharing and a nice bit of banter!


I spoke to Steven Nixon, Director of Bernhard Company who explained to me, “At this present time nobody knows how long this crisis will last, but clearly it has become much more difficult to continue to trade in the usual way until this pandemic is over. However, we will keep customers and partners up to date with developments and will review the situation weekly, always observing the latest UK government advice.


Steve Nixon


Looking to the future, the business will return to normal. The needs of the world will not change in the long term. Bernhard’s approach to helping customers deliver excellent playing conditions will be as relevant then as it was yesterday. We are asking our customers to please be confident that at Bernhard Company we will continue to be as passionate as ever in the pursuit of excellence in turf maintenance.”

Derek Smith DLF Amenity Sales & Marketing Manager told me, “Thankfully as we speak, DLF and Johnsons sports seed remain able to supply customers with seed. We have carefully followed the government guidelines to put the health and safety of our workforce and customers first. We are lucky in that as a business we went fully digital some time ago so all of our sales and administration staff are able to relocate and work from home with no interruption to our ability to answer calls and service customers.


Derek Smith at BTME

Operationally we have taken on board the latest best practice guidelines with regard to social distancing and appropriate PPE for the production teams, this has meant that whilst we are working with a reduced capacity we are still able to supply and deliver seed to ensure those contractors and turf managers that are able to work safely can continue to do so. Like everyone else we hope for a speedy end to the crisis but right now the focus is on everyone’s health and safety.

I think the GMA have done a great job with the latest guidelines which I’m sure will not only help turf managers work safely but also give them the confidence that it is officially ok to carry out necessary the turf maintenance operations including seeding, required to ensure the quality of the turf as and when we get back to normal.


“I also think that this lockdown has shown the real value and importance of our parks and public open spaces and the fact that once this pandemic is over and we starting getting the economy back on track, I personally think more money should be made available to preserve and maintain these priceless assets.”


In last week’s blog I reported on the various guidelines and notifications from a plethora of organisations and sport’s governing bodies.

I have since received an interesting article from respected industry colleague, Dr Tim Lodge, RIPTA - who has produced some thoughts for those working on golf courses.


Entitled How To Look After A Golf Course With No Golfers, it can be seen as this week’s TurfPro feature article.


Bare in mind this information may be subject to industry and government approval or modification as seen in the BIGGA Covid-19 Esssential maintenance guidelines and the Grounds Management Association Covid-19 guidelines.

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