Last week I was lucky enough to attend one of the popular Dennis / SISIS Groundcare Seminars held at the prestigious St Albans School’s Woollam Playing Fields.
A very oversubscribed day, there were over 250 groundsmen and managers attending.
The popularity of this seminar has grown every year since its inaugural event, held at Uxbridge CC in 2011. Its recipe for success has no doubt been the combination of a number of factors; great venues, having excellent guest speakers and supported by a number of complimentary company partners who are devoted to supplying a fine range of machinery, products and sundries to the sports turf industry – combined with a healthy thirst for knowledge from the attendees.
It is the third time St Albans has hosted the event. A big thank you to Ian Smith, Turf Consultant and Steve Ascott, Head Groundsman and his grounds team for preparing the site, which offered exceptional presentation of sports facilities and a superb lunch was provided.
There was not a blade of grass out of place. All the sports pitches looked absolutely fantastic for the time of the year. No doubt the recent spell of fine weather has helped.
The day began with a welcome by Kyran Bracken MBE former England Rugby International who currently works at St Albans School in the capacity of Elite Sport Development Manager and 1st XV Head Coach. He was keen to praise the work of the grounds staff and commented on the excellent playing surfaces they prepare on a daily basis.
This event is also supported by a number of partners / sponsors who were on hand to give advice and show off their wares throughout the day. In total there where ten companies Bernhards, Consolidate Turf, Cricket World, Garside Sands, Harrod Sport, Headland Amenity, Limagrain, Poweroll, RT Machinery and SIS Grass.
Compare for the day was Robert Jack, area manager for Dennis / SISIS who was hand to keep the day moving. First speaker was Rob Kendle, of ATB (Sports Solutions) who gave an insight on the demands of a modern skilled sports turf contractor with regard to renovating and rejuvenating playing surfaces. He spoke of the specialist equipment and machinery needed to be efficient and precise, showing some examples of the different types of work the company have completed.
Next up was Dr Iain James (TGMS Ltd) who gave an insight into the role of a consultant and the importance of carrying out a feasibility study prior to undertaking any major sports turf project.
This document is a vital tool to determine the success of the project and ensure it meets all the objectives and aims set out by the client and makes sure appropriate qualified contractors are employed to undertake the work with the aim to keep it within budget and delivered on time.
It was then the turn of the renowned Alex Vickers, consultant (IOG) and one of my old lecturers who taught me at Cranfield University. Alex without doubt, is one of the country’s leading experts on soil and as usual gave an enlightening talk on the principles of soil porosity (drainage).
He then gave some tips on how to identify the different soil types we generally must manage and ways we can improve the soil’s ability to drain by a combination of management and cultural practices.
We then broke for lunch, giving the attendees a chance to network with fellow professionals and volunteers plus visit the sponsors stands. One of the most interesting demonstrations during lunch was seeing at first hand the reinforced stitching of some cricket practice net areas by the company SIS Grass.
This practice has become quite popular in recent years with many top sporting venues now investing in this technique thus improving the performance and durability of their natural grass playing surfaces.
After lunch we were entertained by two more excellent speakers, first up was Keith Kent, head groundman at Twickenham, who gave a talk about his career to date and introduced the new RFU Groundmen Connect Scheme that involves a support platform for RFU clubs.
To date well over 1000 groundsmen have signed up to the RFU’s Rugby Groundsmen Connected scheme since its launch in October 2014. Members have a direct communication channel on pitch maintenance issues with Keith Kent and other RFU staff.
Since its launch Keith has visited literally hundreds of rugby clubs and given valid advice on how to improve their playing surfaces. He also spoke of the new machinery offers that can be obtained via the Groundmen Connect scheme. This includes the chance to purchase a range of equipment such as the SISIS Quadraplay, Outfield Spiker, Iseki Compact Tractor and Wessex Roller Mowers.
The final speaker of the day was Chris Wood, ECB (Pitch Advisor) who gave an interesting talk on his fifty years working in the industry cumulating in his role of county pitch advisor / inspector for the ECB.
All in all, a very entertaining and thought-provoking day. I would like to take the opportunity of thanking Roger Moore and his staff at Dennis for putting on such a well organised event. It was nice to catch up and talk the talk with so many dedicated turf professionals and colleagues.
As for the weather, we seem to be having a mini spell of exceptional high soil and air temperatures for this time of the year. With temperatures well into double figures, an early flush of growth is being promoted. No doubt there will also be a hive of activity going on, especially with many cricket groundsmen looking to get some early pre-season rolling completed while conditions allow.
Making best use of the weather has always been a groundsman’s trait. Even with all the latest forecasting software programmes and the use of local weather stations, we still need to react quickly to the ever-changing weather front.
Weather patterns have defiantly changed in recent years. No longer do we get the seasonal trends I experienced when I started in the industry back in the 1970s. Back then we could expect the wintery weather to last several weeks. We would then have a decent spell of spring weather, April showers and then need to cope with a summer of hot, dry weather.
How times have changed. However, we now have a fine array of machinery, equipment and scientific knowledge to aid the turf professional, to help them cope and work with these weather fluctuations.
I’m not sure of how long this favourable weather will last?The key is to make the most of it and get any appropriate work done - particularly some beneficial aeration work - while the weather lasts.