Captains fantastic!

Jake Barrowin Cricket

It is said that it was at the University of Cambridge's cricket ground Fenner's that the very first 'striping of grass' was publicly conducted, making Lee De-Grammont's workplace a very special surface. The ground, named after original leaseholder Francis Fenner, has hosted some of the country's elite cricketers, as well as many members of its upper classes.

In this article, we learn about the work of the groundsman (groundskeeper) at Fenner's cricket ground, the home of Cambridge University Cricket Club. This iconic venue has kickstarted the careers of many a professional cricketer, including former England captains Peter May, Ted Dexter, Mike Brearley and Michael Atherton.

Lee De-Grammont has been Head Groundskeeper at Fenner's Cricket and Tennis Ground for the past two years. Previously a carpenter, joiner and landscape gardener, he became a groundskeeper at Trinity Hall College, University of Cambridge, where he worked for seven years.

For the past four-and-a-half years, Lee has also worked at Wembley Stadium as part of the match day staff.

In this question and answer session, Lee gives us an insight into his role at this iconic university facility.

Pitchcare: What training and education did you undertake?

Lee De-Grammont: I attended various training courses, completed level 2 in sports turf and Horticulture and level 3 diploma in Sports Turf and Horticulture, IOSH Health and Safety, PA1 and PA6 Spraying, and am currently completing an ILM level 3 course in Leadership and Management.

Was there one person who inspired you?

David Hale, the Head Groundskeeper at Churchill College, Cambridge University. I worked with him for two weeks on work experience when I was fifteen years old, and this gave me the drive to become a groundskeeper as I enjoyed working outdoors and love sport.

Are you responsible for budgets or do you report to someone else?

I report to my line manager, but have input in expenditure.

What additional staff do you have?

Just the two; Luke Haynes, Deputy Head Groundskeeper, has been working here for one year; and Robert Brown, Assistant Groundskeeper, who has been here for nine years. James Tucker, who is based at the Cambridge University Athletics Club, helps out at Fenner's during busy periods, and contractors are used to carry out works on the ground and facilities as required.

How would you describe the soil profile?

The cricket square is a clay loam and the tennis courts are a sandy loam. We undertake various aeration: solid-tine on the cricket squares and tennis courts, deep-drill on squares, plus slitting and verti-draining on the outfield.

Do you have any additional equipment/systems at your disposal?

Mobile covers and flat sheets for the squares, herringbone and land drains on the outfield. I've just invested in a moisture meter to monitor moisture levels.

Are your pitches used by the community or hired out to outside agencies?

They are used by the university students and hired out to external users and community.

What is the total acreage and how is this split up?

Ten acres: the tennis courts are two acres and cricket field seven, with one acre for car park and woodland area.

Does the facility suffer from any regular natural occurrences such as flooding, high winds, excessive snowfall/frosts etc.?

The site is exposed to high winds, due to it being open. Flooding only occurs during flash floods/heavy downpours. Heavy frosts occur during winter months. When this happens, we anchor down equipment such as sight screens and cages, to prevent them moving/falling over in the wind, and use covers to keep frost off squares.

Are there any other facilities available?

Nine grass tennis courts, three macadam hard tennis courts and one football pitch.

Tell us about your weekly/monthly maintenance regimes - cutting heights, aeration, scarifying, weed and pest control, overseeding, marking out etc. Please also tell us which machinery and products you use for each task.

  • Jan-March: monitor for disease, repair outfield from winter use (aerating, overseeding, application of liquid iron and seaweed, fungicide, verti-cutting), cut grass to height of 18mm-25mm using Allett ride on cylinder mowers, John Deere triple mower or John Deere rotary ride on mower. General upkeep of facilities and buildings (fire checks, legionnaires testing of water, update risk assessments)
  • March-August: Cricket and tennis season. Cutting using cylinder mowers - 12mm squares, 16mm outfield, 12mm tennis courts, irrigation using sprinklers and hand lance, apply liquid and granular fertilisers, weed killing, linemarking, wicket prep, general upkeep of facilities and buildings (fire checks, legionnaires testing of water)
  • September-December: end of season renovations to squares, tennis courts and outfield, including scarification (Vemo scarifier), topdressing (Sisis topdresser or by hand), aeration (deep-drill, verti-drain, slitting), football pitch preparation and repair (divotting), applying winter fertiliser, iron and seaweed to tennis and cricket surfaces, algaecide to hard courts and car park to remove algae, and clearing leaves

Do you have specific tasks for specific staff or is it an 'all hands to the pump' approach?

We all carry out the same jobs, so we never have only one person who can only do a certain job. All are trained to perform all tasks.

Where does presentation rank?

High, as you might expect of a University of Cambridge facility.

What end of season renovations do you undertake?

Repair of the main square's 16 wickets, practice square's ten wickets, tennis courts and outfield. Deep scarification, seeding, top dressing, next year fraise mowing or Koro of the squares/courts may be an option.

How have changing weather patterns affect what you do?

We must now keep a constant check on the forecast, to plan and not get caught out.

Do you take regular soil samples to ascertain what work is required?

Yes - and core samples to see what lies beneath the grass.

Artificial surfaces: what ongoing maintenance/refurbishment is carried out?

Deep cleaning to the hard courts via external companies, over marking/painting, apply MMC Pro to reduce algae and prevent the surface from becoming slippery, and using the blower to remove debris.

How do you purchase machinery - e.g. outright, five-year replacement deal, second-hand etc.?

We have a machinery and equipment conditions form and review yearly. We purchase these outright. We use either Ben Burgess & Co in Newmarket or a local supplier.

Depending on complexity, servicing is done in-house, by a local mechanic and/or Ben Burgess.

My wish list includes two new cylinder mowers for the tennis courts and an irrigation system for the cricket pitch and tennis courts.

Are there any new pieces of kit that have significantly helped to improve your playing surfaces?

The John Deere triple mower gives a perfect cut.

Do you hire in any machinery (inc. operator if required) for specific tasks?

Deep-drill for the cricket square.

How do you go about pest disease and weed control?

We monitor and only treat as necessary. We do get the occasional outbreak of red thread.

We suffer worm casts on occasion and, especially now carbendazim is not available, leatherjackets. Regular dragmatting and boxing off grass seems to help.

How important do you consider the local flora and fauna?

Wildlife is very important, and we promote it by not hedge-cutting through winter months, so birds can nest in the spring, and we never spray chemicals when bees are active. We have wildflowers planted around the ground to promote wildlife.

Are there any special projects you are undertaking or considering - for example wild flower planting, bird boxes, rainwater harvesting etc?

We intend to plant more trees to help the environment and add to the aesthetics of the ground.

What would you consider to be the state of our industry?

I believe that more young people are working and interested in the industry, which is great to see. The quality of the presentation of the pitches that you see on TV are inspiring groundsmen all over the world to replicate this to grassroots pitches.

Are we undervalued? As a groundskeeper, I believe that it is my responsibility to provide the best standard of surface to allow sportsmen/women to compete to the best of their abilities. So, I think we are an essential part in allowing them to achieve their goals.

How would you raise the industry profile?

Like Gardeners' World, perhaps we could have a Groundsmen's World.

What's in the shed?

John Deere triple mower
John Deere ride on rotary mower
Allett cylinder mowers x 2
Dennis cylinder mowers x 2
Allet Tournament cylinder mower
Hayterette rotary mower
Stihl Combi long reach hedgecutter, strimmer, backpack leaf blower
Sisis Veemo scarifier
Sisis topdresser
Sisis variseeder
SCH slitter
Wessex sweeper

Want the latest news, ideas and exclusive offers direct to your inbox?
Then sign up to our weekly newsletter today.