With a name like Rafal Muzyk one would correctly assume that this is not an Irish name. Rafal was born and raised in Krakow, Poland and he fell in love with Ireland after a visit there twenty years ago.
Rafal is the groundsman at Ierne Social and Sports Club, a very unique club in the heart of Dublin’s fair city. The Drumcondra club was formed in 1911, originally as a cricket club. Soccer was played there, but soccer and cricket have long since gone. In 1953 the pitch & putt course was built, and in 1997 a bowling green was added. The club also has three all weather tennis courts with floodlights, and it recently added two grass courts. It is planned to add another two courts in the future. These are just the outdoor facilities. Inside there is indoor bowls, snooker and a well equipped gym. This is a club where most of its members are retired people living around Dublin city. The club has around 550 members.
Rafal’s journey to becoming head groundsman at Ierne reveals a remarkable story. In 2001 he was studying horticulture at the University of Agriculture in Krakow in his native Poland. As part of his studies he was sent to Ireland on a six-week work placement to a vegetable farm in North Dublin. Rafal loved his time in Ireland so much that, instead of returning back to Poland to complete his horticultural studies, he decided to take a year off college and stay in Ireland. After the year was up Rafal returned to Krakow to finish his horticulture studies, and in 2004 he successfully obtained his Masters Degree in Horticulture.
The lure of returning to Ireland was very strong. He came back to the Emerald Isle soon after obtaining his degree. One day he was strolling along the beach at Portmarnock and saw Portmarnock Hotel and Links course. Wandering through the links he met Fintan Brennan who was (and still is) the course superintendent there. After a long chat, Fintan suggested that he apply for a job on the course. He applied, and soon afterwards he was called for an interview and got a job as a greenkeeper there. Rafal worked with Fintan for five years, gaining plenty of experience and knowledge.
In 2010 a vacancy arose to look after the maintenance of a sports club in Drumcondra, Dublin. This was Ierne Social and Sports Club and the person would be responsible for the maintenance of the bowling green, pitch & putt course and tennis courts. Rafal applied for the position and was successful. He has been managing the sports complex there ever since.
Pitch & putt course
The 18 hole pitch & putt course at Ierne is a compact but tough course to play. Even though the longest hole is 63m, the greens are small, so accuracy is important as there are mounds and bunkers to avoid. The shortest hole measures 32m. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, as many as 1000 rounds of golf were played there every week during the summer months. As you can imagine this puts a lot of stress on the greens. Every Spring and Autumn Rafal hires a solid tiner to aerate the greens to help reduce compaction. At these times he applies a granular fertiliser to help the grass recover.
With a limited budget available, it makes more economic sense to hire some of the machinery for the course that is only going to be used once or twice a year. As well as hiring a solid tiner (Toro Pro Core 648), Rafal also hires a Vareedo seeder and an Air2G Aerator when needed.
A frosty pitch & putt course
One of the most important products Rafal has in his chemical store is a growth regulator. He uses it not just to control the growth on the greens but he finds that it also helps with good root development. He noticed as well that, after overseeding, the new seedlings establish better on areas of heavy traffic when a growth regulator is applied.
There are very few bowling greens in Ireland. The vast majority of them are located in Dublin. The bowling green at Ierne covers 1400m and can facilitate up to six matches at a time. The members are delighted with how the bowling green has improved since Rafal started maintaining it eleven years ago. Maintaining bowling greens is similar to golf greens. You need to watch out for similar diseases, keep thatch under control and prevent annual meadow grass from taking over the sward. Some of the members of the bowling club help out with tasks on a voluntary basis such as hand weeding the green.
Part of the perimeter is removed for machinery access to the bowling green
The green is mown at 5mm during the summer and increases to 7mm in winter. Around 6 – 8 times during the growing season Rafal overseeds the green with slender creeping red fescue. On worn areas he uses ProNitro coated seed to help quick establishment. He also gives a light topdressing of sand. Scarifying, hollow coring and topdressing are carried out every Spring and Autumn.
Every year Rafal gets the soil tested on the greens. The feeding programme he uses is based on the results of this test. Organic granular fertiliser is applied to the greens 2 -3 times during the growing season, with liquid applications of biostimulants, seaweed, and wetting agents.
Ramps are placed for machines to drive over
Similar to the pitch & putt course, Rafal uses a growth regulator on the bowling green as well. He noticed that some members like to use the same end of the green for practicing and for playing matches. This causes some wear and tear so applying a growth regulator helps these worn areas to recover.
Machinery access to the bowling green involves lifting one of the perimeter boards and placing ramps from the path to the bowling green.
Four sprinkler heads are placed at the centre of each side of the green.
Ireland’s largest sports stadium, Croke Park Stadium, is only down the road from Ierne Social And Sports Club. Croke Park is the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). This is the place where GAA hurlers and footballers around Ireland dream of playing, especially in an All Ireland Final. Therefore one would be forgiven in thinking that, from a groundsman’s point of view, this would be a bit off putting for Rafal. On the contrary he saw this as an opportunity and for ten years was a regular volunteer at the stadium for big events, helping pitch manager, Stuart Wilson and his team. On important match days Rafal would have helped with the grounds maintenance before, during and after these big matches. Jobs he was tasked with included making sure the goal nets were secured properly; repairing divots during half time. He gained valuable knowledge and experience volunteering at Croke Park.
One of the lawn tennis courts
The lockdown effect
The lockdown has affected the club in many ways. The course is currently closed for play but in the summer of 2020, when restrictions were lifted, membership increased. The club saw a surge in membership as people wanted to avail of the outdoor facilities there. The location of the club helped with this increase in membership as it is situated in the centre of Dublin. People living in the city wanted a place where they could exercise and stay healthy. Ierne Social and Sports Club ticked the boxes for them.
The practice green
But the lockdown had a more personal effect on Rafal. His parents still live in Poland and his mother, in particular has been in poor health recently. Torn between work and concerns for his family, in July 2020, he took the hard decision of taking leave of absence from Ierne Social and Sports Club to travel back to Krakow to look after his parents. He hopes to return back to Ireland this Summer, depending on how the pandemic plays out. The club have been very supportive towards Rafal. They hired a local groundsman on a part time basis and up to six volunteers from the club help with the maintenance of the outdoor facilities. Rafal is in regular communication with them, guiding and advising them on what needs to be done. The club are reassured that Rafal is always at the other end of the phone, ready to take any calls. They look forward to him returning to work again.
Ierne Sports And Social Club is a unique and special place to visit. There are not many clubs like it that offer wonderful facilities to people living in the centre of a large town or city.