Covid-19's impact on our sector
by TurfPro Editor, Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR
Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR

 I have spoken to several groundsmen and contractors this past week and asked how the virus will continue to affect them - the simple answer is they are not sure


I do not think we could have foreseen or comprehended the recent extraordinary events that have plagued our sports turf industry this winter - and indeed life as we know it.

The year began with the record breaking levels of rainfall and floods we had to contend with followed by coming into a spring of completely unheralded challenges with the spread of this devastating Covid-19 virus.

Nobody knows how this is going to pan out. Our government is playing a waiting game to reduce the impact of this terrible virus. Already we have seen the cancellation of many large sporting events, notably the closure of all premiership fixtures, six nation rugby matches and even this year’s London Marathon.


Matters have further been compounded with the announcement by our Prime Minister Boris Johnson effectively banning mass gatherings in the UK amid the coronavirus outbreak - canceling all remaining sporting events.

Johnson said that from Tuesday 17th March mass gatherings requiring emergency workers are something "we are now moving emphatically away from". He added that social venues, including pubs, should be closed.

This news was soon followed by another announcement from The Rugby Football Union who has suspended all levels of the game in England until 14 April because of coronavirus.

The announcement came soon after the Premiership was halted for five weeks.

The RFU said all activity, including club training, league and cup matches, and rugby education courses, should be stopped.

The quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, scheduled for 3, 4 and 5 April, have also been postponed.

The Pro14 and Top 14 leagues were suspended indefinitely last week.



The RFU said its decision to suspend all rugby activity came after Monday's government advice, which included avoiding "non-essential" travel and contact with others.

The Scottish Rugby Union has announced that it has set aside £500,000 to help struggling clubs deal with the catastrophic impact of the coronavirus.

The Club Hardship Fund will aim to "offer financial assistance to grassroots clubs facing cashflow and immediate financial challenges" during the ongoing crisis, with Scotland's domestic season now put on hold until March 29. 

In a statement, Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson said: "These are unprecedented times and we are acutely aware of the significant day to day financial challenges our member clubs will face in the coming weeks if fixtures cannot be resumed in the mid to long term and other planned fund-raising initiatives are curtailed.

Asked how long the new advice on avoiding social contact will last for, UK chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty says it will be a "minimum of weeks to months".


"Depending how it goes it, it may be longer," he added.

He says it is important that people realise the measures will need to be in place for the "long haul" if the National Health Service is to be protected. "We've got to see this as a long game," he said.

There are so many decisions to be made on the way forward. Each and every country is dealing with it in their own way. The consequences of this pandemic will be huge, costly and no one could doubt it will have a damaging effect on our industry, economy and way of life.


Every major sporting body and professional sporting club is working hard behind the scenes to reduce the impact of this virus. I have spoken to several groundsmen and contractors this past week and asked how the virus will continue to affect them? The simple answer is they are not sure. Many are still awaiting a decision from government on what sanctions need to be undertaken.

Others have decided to lock down their facilities and allow no access.

So, what can that mean in the short and long term?

I would expect at the elite level, groundsmen will be expected to continue maintaining their sports facilities both at the stadium and training grounds. However, there may be some restrictions on working hours, movement and deliveries.

There will be many questions that need to be answered in terms of will the premiership be concluded or indeed extended, that will have knock affects as to whether or when the club may get their pitches renovated?


Similarly, will the Six Nations be concluded or postponed? We await with bated breath.


At the moment I am sure there are plenty of sports turf contractors, waiting for some clarity on what the clubs will need and when. Obviously this will have a knock-on effect on their work loads, planning and travel arrangements, and whether they will be able to source and obtain the necessary materials and products to do the work.

Premier Pitches, the sports turf contractors, released a statement for their customers 

Like many businesses the supply and demand of products and services will be severely affected by the continued spread and effects of this virus. I recently spoke to several of machinery dealers at a recent Makita Trade day who said it been one of the toughest years for trading already. A very wet winter has delayed the spring sales of machinery and the virus is likely to hold off any predicted recovery along with the fact that it may become difficult to get spares and machinery from overseas suppliers.



This has been backed up by a recent article written by my colleague Alan Mahon for the Service Dealer Ireland magazine who wrote an interesting piece stating that there is no doubt that the Coronavirus has done a lot of damage to the global economy. 

The British and international Golf Greenkeeping association (BIGGA) has also announced their guidelines on dealing with the virus to safeguard the welfare of its members and gold clubs 

As for Local authorities, APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) have announced their support measures in response to COVID 19 outbreak.


There is no doubt that the Coronavirus has done a lot of damage to the global economy. It has affected energy prices, supply chains, restaurants, hotels, airlines and autos to name but a few. My hope is that this virus will eventually fade out with the onset of warmer weather.

If that is the case, normal life as we know it could resume in the next few months. Just remember the life goes on and we are very good at adapting to change. In the meantime, observe the precautions and guidelines for Coronavirus. Visit the HSE website


I personally think The UK government is doing a remarkable job in the circumstances and we all should follow their guidelines and do our bit to limit the spread of this terrible virus.

Please stay safe and remain positive for us all.

To golfers and the operators of golf clubs
Advice for golfers and golf course operators

This week's WEB ONLY story is BIGGA, the PGA and GCMA have issued further advice for golf as a game to be enjoyed 'sensibly and safely' during the Coronavirus outbreak.


To vote on a Special Resolution for name change
IOG EGM changes venue

Institute now asking members to consider voting by post rather than by attending in person.


Due to the impact of Coronavirus the IOG have announced a change in venue for the Extraordinary General Meeting that has been called to vote on a Special Resolution to change their name from ‘Institute of Groundsmanship’ to ‘Grounds Management Association Limited’ (trading as Grounds Management Association).


This meeting will now be held at the IOG Head Office, 28 Stratford Office Village, Walker Avenue, Milton Keynes, MK12 5TW on Thursday 2nd April 2020 starting at 12:00 noon.



All members of the Institute of Groundsmanship are entitled to attend, however, following current Government advice the IOG say they place the safety and well-being of their members and their staff as their highest priority, therefore they are asking that members consider now voting by post rather than by attending in person.


Should members wish still to attend they are asked to confirm ahead of time. Should in the days leading up to the EGM members or members of their family fall ill due to Covid 19 the IOG respectfully ask people to consider the risk of attending to yourself and to others.


Letters and emails are being sent to members with the appropriate voting forms. All forms must be signed and, due to the current circumstances with the potential for delayed post, the IOG say they would accept a scanned copy of the completed voting form, sent to iog@iog.org, to be received by no later than 3:00pm on Tuesday 31st March 2020, with the original being posted to the following address:


The Institute of Groundsmanship, 28 Stratford Office Village, Walker Avenue, Milton Keynes, MK12 5TW.


For further clarification, the IOG say should the government advice change as regards movement of people, this will not prevent the vote from proceeding, so they strongly recommend that members submit a Proxy Voting form if they wish to record their view on this Special Resolution.


The IOG have also issued a general statement on the coronavirus outbreak which can be read here.

By The UK Golf Federation
A petition to keep golf open has been launched

The UK Golf Federation say they want the government's support to keep golf courses open through the term of COVID-19.


The UK Golf Federation say they want the government's support to keep golf courses open through the term of COVID-19.



To this end they have launched an online petition which they hope can reach the UK's 2 million golfers through every channel possible to get their message across to the government.


Doug Poole, CEO of the UK Golf Federation said, "We believe golf is one of the safest places in our current environment as it requires no person to person contact. You have the ability to change in the car park, there is no reason to take the flag out these days and likely you can always remain two metres apart from your playing partners.


"We hope this petition will be the catalyst in helping members, golfers, golf club employees, managers, and all those in our industry share our message to the government and the country to #KeepGolfOpen and emerge stronger."


The petition, which as of the morning of Monday 23rd March had received 19,450 signatures, can be found here.

Territory expansion also
F. R. Sharrock Limited have acquired the assets of Jacobsen Direct UK

F. R. Sharrock Limited have acquired the assets of Jacobsen Direct UK in a deal which will also see responsibility for the distribution Jacobsen in the Staffordshire, Shropshire & Derbyshire areas transfer to them.


F. R. Sharrock Limited, have acquired the assets of Jacobsen Direct UK in a deal which will also see responsibility for the distribution of Jacobsen machines and products in the Staffordshire, Shropshire & Derbyshire areas transfer to them with immediate effect.



Commenting on the deal, James Sharrock, managing director of F. R. Sharrock Limited said, “Jacobsen Direct UK have done an outstanding job in building direct relationships with customers, including several of them in the design and testing phases of the new Jacobsen products being released to the UK market.


"These new machines, incorporating knowledge gained in the Utility sector with Ransomes, has produced some of the most innovatively engineered, well-built and robust machines I have seen in my 30 years in the industry. Having the design and manufacture based here in the UK is critical in the current climate and after seeing the factory’s vision for the future with TR, HR, HM & AR series it became a priority to align our distribution with that.”


Speaking after the signing of the agreement, Will Carr, sales director for Ransomes Jacobsen said, “In 2014 we appointed Sharrocks as Ransomes Jacobsen dealers for Lancashire. Their commitment to outstanding customer service and unrivalled product support has seen their area of responsibility grow to cover most of the North & Midlands. This deal is a logical step with Sharrocks well positioned to cover customers from their existing outlets.


"In 2017 they were awarded Ransomes Dealer of the Year, in 2018 were nominated in the Service Dealer awards and in 2019 were a finalist in Service Dealer’s Professional Turfcare Dealer of the Year award. This continual investment into infrastructure and staff to meet customers’ increasing demands is a sure sign of continued success.”


Sales director of F. R. Sharrock Limited, Steven Hanlon, added, “This is an exciting development. Re-uniting the Ransomes and Jacobsen brands across the area will only increase the service levels to both brand customers. Having machinery that is not only designed specifically for the UK but also manufactured here at the superb facility in Ipswich is a massive advantage in the sector. I am personally overseeing the re-integration across the area, with support from our internal teams and that of Bruce Alexander at the factory.”

As an exclusive distributor for Ireland
Kress open day at Cyril Johnston

Recent open day saw many dealers sign up to offer the Kress robotic lawnmowers in Ireland.


Kress UK have announced that they have appointed Cyril Johnston as an exclusive distributor for Ireland.


Kress open day at Cyril Johnston


Tony Macer, Kress UK national account manager said, "The Cyril Johnston team are a forward looking company and are the perfect partner for us to develop the Kress brand alongside in us in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The recent open day proved to be a great success, with many dealers signing up on the day. We are looking forward to growing together with Cyril Johnston, providing dealers and their customers with a robotic mower rich in features unique in the market."

Tom Black, general manager of Cyril Johnston said, "We are proud to partner with Positec UK to be able to offer their innovative selection of Kress robotic lawnmowers in Ireland. This exciting range of products offers us and our customers the opportunity to enter into a growing sector of the market with a strong proposition.

"Our approach to the market will be a comprehensive one, with the establishment of a Kress network across the country. All customers joining us on this journey will be offered extensive product and installation training, point-of-sale material for their showrooms and a real opportunity to generate profit."


A recent open day at Cyril Johnston;s on Friday 6th March, saw over one hundred invited dealers from around the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland attend, with some gathering at the Stormont hotel for an evening meal and entertainment the night before.

To enter the grounds maintenance industry
Winning youngsters at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with Darren Baldwin

A visit to last year’s WorldSkills UK LIVE exhibition culminated in a young Spurs fan winning a tour of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, spurring on thoughts of him and a fellow student entering industry apprenticeships.


Little did Spurs fan Harley Coplen know that his visit to last year’s WorldSkills UK LIVE exhibition would culminate in him winning a tour of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the club’s training ground - and spur thoughts of him and a fellow student entering industry apprenticeships.


Entering the prize draw on the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) Young Board’s ‘careers in grounds management’ stand at the Birmingham NEC event in November with tutors and fellow students from the Robert Clack School of Science in Dagenham, Essex, Harley won the trip for him and a group of peers from more than 200 entries.


At the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with Darren Baldwin (fourth from right), from left: Sam Cain, IOG Young Board director; students Harley Coplen, Kyle Moran and Victor Ndungu; tutors Dean Johnson and Jane Meaden; Larry Pearman, regional sales manager, Reesink Turfcare UK (Reesink Toro are sponsors of the IOG Young Board); and student Jack Turner


"I am proud to say that I am a Spurs fan,” says Harley, “and the stadium is phenomenal. I was taken aback by just how big it is and especially by how much work goes into the pitch to make it look so good for the spectators and for it to accommodate the players’ needs. I have learned a lot about becoming a groundsman and the hard work involved, and I have decided that I would like to pursue an apprenticeship in the industry.


“I would like to say a massive thank you to the IOG and everyone at the stadium and training ground for the experience, and for ensuring we got the most out of our trip."


Jane Meaden, one of the tutors who accompanied the group, added: "A big thank you to the Spurs grounds staff who gave us an incredible tour and insight into the workings of the training ground and the stadium - where we saw how things worked pitch-side as well as ‘underground’ where the sliding pitch is stored.


“We all had a great time and we now have a couple of future groundsmen in the making. A special thank you to Darren Baldwin, head of playing surfaces and estates at Tottenham Hotspur FC, for making the day so entertaining."

With Toro
Course manager Graeme Beatt, centre left, with Reesink’s Doug Reid, pictured with some of the Toro fleet at Royal Portrush last year

Royal Portrush Golf Club has signed another five-year agreement with Toro, bringing the relationship between the historic club and the brand to 30 years.


Fresh off the success of the 2019 Open Championship it hosted, Royal Portrush Golf Club has signed another five-year agreement with Toro, bringing the relationship between the historic club and the brand to 30 years.


Course manager Graeme Beatt, centre left, with Reesink’s Doug Reid, pictured with some of the Toro fleet at Royal Portrush last year


Course manager Graeme Beatt, looking back on The Open says, “In the four years running up to the competition we made some big changes. This included adding seven new holes, 34 tees and 22 bunkers across both our courses. And the Dunluce links course, which held The Open, had added five new greens, 19 tees and 18 bunkers, plus changes to every hole of some kind. Additionally, two miles of road and 18 miles of pipe and ducting were installed to accommodate new infrastructure for spectators of The Open. Toro machinery and irrigation were integral to our prep, the course maintenance throughout the event and the aftercare. And the whole time we saw excellent results which, with 25 years of experience with Toro at the club, was nothing less than expected!”


It’s this long history that saw the club sign a further five-year agreement at the conclusion of last year, continues Graeme. “I’ve been using Toro for the majority of my career and during that time the machines have proved themselves to be reliable and robust. The finish they provide is second to none. Combined with the excellent service from Reesink Turfcare, there really was no question who we would turn to for our next renewal, especially after the huge success of The Open, which was a real team effort.


“Reesink loaned us 25 Toro machines, joining our 50-strong existing fleet, and we simply wouldn’t have been able to make such a success of hosting the event without that help. With many of the players staying late to get extra practice, we had to get the course – all 7,300 yards of it – ready within a very short time period each morning. And it wasn’t just the increased number of machines that allowed us to do this, but the efficiency and quality of those machines.”


After the conclusion of the competition, with so many spectators, Toro was needed to help with the recovery of the links course.


“The course was generally in great condition when the competition ended as the maintenance throughout was to such a high standard, from both the machinery and irrigation,” says Graeme. “However the spectator areas had seen a lot of stress, so it was important to have high-quality machinery to aid the turf’s recovery.”


With the course back up to standard and a new agreement in place, Graeme’s thoughts turned to the next five years and he has big plans: “We’re looking at bringing in Infinity sprinklers across the whole course after seeing them in action on the new holes. They perform so well, particularly in windy conditions which we have a lot of here! We’re also considering introducing hybrid mowers to the fleet. Not only are they better for the environment and eliminate any possibility of an oil leak, but they are now tried and tested machines.”


But ultimately, what this latest deal does is “continue to provide golfers with a championship standard experience,” says Graeme.

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Catch up with Laurence Gale's recent blogs
TurfPro editor, Laurence Gale

Want to catch up with one of editor Laurence Gale's blogs? Here is the place to do so.


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View all of 2019's blogs here


View all of 2018's blogs here

Find our previous features here
TurfPro Feature Archive

If you want to catch up with any of TurfPro's previous features, here is the place to do so.

An urgent problem


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Opportunity to embrace new methods


Major investments taking place


A great success


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At Gleneagles


Behind the scenes at the Solheim Cup


2006 - present


Boorish media comments about pitch quality are wide of the mark


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Dry weather conditions continue to keep turf managers focused on moisture management


Death of Wimbledon’s influential grounds manager


At Top 100 classic Berkhamsted Golf Club


Investment paying off at Kenilworth Road


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. . along with ‘lunch is being taken early’
by Chris Biddle, Turf Pro founder
Cricket is the sound, sight and heart of the English summer

Bat on ball in Spring. Cricket is the sound, sight and heart of the English summer, and even a rain (or snow) interrupted game would be welcome this April. Hopefully, the game will soon again raise spirits.

Nothing stirs the cricket-lover more during a long Winter than the steady advance of April. Kit dug out and bat oiled. The whirr of mower blades, the smell of newly mown grass. The anticipation of Test Matches with tickets bought long ago. Of Championship cricket, white-ball cricket, club cricket, village cricket, any old cricket.


Lyrical accounts of games coming across the airwaves, where accounts of buses and birds mix seamlessly with commentary on batting and bowling.


Groundsmen will have been gearing up for the season. Early cuts of the outfield, the square lovingly scarified, mown, fed and rolled. Many will have been more concerned with turf disease than the all-pervading current virus. Meanwhile some of their colleagues were facing problems, which just a short while ago, were described as ‘catastrophic’.



Several grounds had been submerged during the wettest February on record. Worcester had reverted to its usual boating lake status and clubs such as Stafford, Burton, Carlisle were under-water for some time. Many possibly to be out-of-action for the start of the season.


Such short-term difficulties have now paled into insignificance. Today all cricket clubs are facing a summer where little, if any cricket, will be played. In normal circumstances, clubs would be able to at least open their bars and facilities to generate income, but that is off the agenda for the foreseeable future.


But the prep work will go on for most. Writing to members over the weekend MCC chief executive Guy Lavender said “Our Lords’ ground staff, led by Head Groundsman Karl McDermott, are continuing their year-round work to maintain the square and outfield, to ensure that we are ready to go just as soon as cricket resume.”


It will be the same story up and down the land. Now there will surely be a wider community role for cricket clubs. Many will have machinery and volunteers to help keep gardens and grassed areas in their locality looking good as we get into the growing season. Subject, of course, to ever-changing health guidelines.


Personally, I will miss the buzz of the cricket season enormously. There are only so many times when you can re-watch the World Cup Final at Lords (perhaps not!). I’ve been an MCC member since 1963, but in the Summer had a knee operation, and never made it to HQ at all during the year. Hence my added anticipation of the 2020 season.


However, a day at the cricket last year still burns brightly in the memory. In May, I made it to the charming Newclose Ground in the Isle of Wight where Hampshire were playing Notts in a four-day Championship game. What a splendid occasion, a charming ground, teams packed with International players, local students preparing the food, the surrounding grass banks filled with schoolchildren.


Hampshire play Notts at Newclose


Head groundsman Andy Butler (working in tandem with HCCCs Nigel Gray) had prepared a terrific wicket. The game produced more than 1,100 runs over four innings, Indian test batsman Anjinkya Rahane and Sam Northeast scored centuries and the game finished at teatime on the fourth day with a Hampshire win. Inferior pitches? Humbug!


Cricket is bound to be in short supply this year, so if memories is all we have, that one day encapsulates for me. Stadiums are fine, but the spirit of the game lies deep in the community. Where the unsung can step up the plate – and put on a show to match anything at the top of the game.


What shape the professional game will be in when normality returns, goodness only knows. The recreational game should be fine and able to pick up the pieces quickly.


For now, it will only be played in the head. Oh, what I would give for a simple Rain Stopped Play this Spring. Never would I have been so pleased to hear an announcement that lunch would be taken early! I fear it’s going to be a long ‘lunch’.


Chris Biddle founded Turf Pro in 1998. He says his best cricketing memory was only conceding five runs an over bowling to Viv Richards (who was qualifying for Somerset) in a club game in Bath!