Growing pressures of turfcare

James Kimmingsin Cricket

Head of Grounds and Gardens, Neil Harvey, from The Hurlingham Club speaks about the growing pressures for turfcare professionals to continually produce high quality playing surfaces.

Neil started by highlighting the added pressures under increasingly difficult conditions: “Pressure on those working in turfcare is at an all-time high. Many cricket clubs now have adult teams, youth teams and junior teams. Likewise, with football and golf, people want to be playing all year round and, sometimes, that isn’t possible. Factors like the recent extreme weather can add a lot of difficulty.”

“The level of media presence at sporting venues also adds to the pressure. Golfers will see prestigious courses on television and then expect their local clubs to look like The Open Championship. It isn’t a realistic expectation as every club has different budgets and resources. Other pressures include media scrutiny and finger pointing at the grounds team when a team loses – which isn’t fair.”

When asked about the pressures he found during the 2023 Association Croquet World Championships, Neil said: “Personal pride is a huge part of it when the World Championships come around. We always want to achieve a high standard here at The Hurlingham Club in everything we do, however, an event like the World Championships will always increase the pressure; the media descend, there are larger audiences and, of course, players from all over the world – who will all offer their feedback about the playing surfaces. You want to showcase the Club in its best possible light and sometimes that adds pressure to, not just myself, but also the team. We received good comments from the tournament and, when the feedback is positive, it means a lot.”

He went on to discuss how his team reacted to hosting a World Championships and what support he offered to motivate them: “I think the team certainly felt the stress. I worked closely with the Croquet Supervisor and my deputy to ensure that everyone was okay, and everyone knew what they were doing. Preparations for the event started eighteen months beforehand, but things can always go wrong. The weather can play a massive role which could make or break an event, but thankfully, it was on our side this time. To blow our own trumpet, some of the players mentioned our lawns were THE best they had ever played on, which was fantastic feedback. That makes all of the hard work worthwhile, and I was super proud of the team.”

Neil stepped away from the pressures of sport, as he discussed the increase in events: “These days, stadiums host live music events and concerts at the end of the season. It seems like these events have increased hugely in the last few years and the planning, renovations and pitch preparation before the new season starts must be a crazy new pressure for grounds staff.”

He went on to highlight the importance of teamwork within turfcare: “It is one of the essentials to managing in this industry. It doesn’t matter if your team is built up of two or 22, you all have to work together. It is super important that people get on and want to help each other, because sometimes it can be a tough environment to work in. If the weather is awful for days on end, staff morale is really important. We’ve got 26 full-time workers and then 29 in the summer with seasonal workers. It’s a big team, but I try and encourage everyone to get on with each other.”

With over forty years of experience under his belt, Neil nods to his self-development and job experiences when discussing what has helped him deal with the pressures that come with the role: “It probably goes to that phrase – ‘been there, seen it, done it’ sort of thing. You like to think that you have picked up a thing or two throughout such a long career.”

“I started at Reading Boys School, where we had high level cricket teams coming to play at the school, and then Radley College where some of the countries best young cricketers and rugby players trained. When you are seeing some great sportspeople come through the ranks, I suppose that’s part of the motivation and you feel like you are playing a part in their development. Of course, being at The Hurlingham Club in my position has certain pressures behind it. It has given me experience in managing teams, but I certainly think my previous roles helped drive me to where I am today.”

Neil concluded by looking at the bigger picture within the grassroots sport as he highlights the importance of those working in turfcare for student sport development: “Through The Hurlingham Club Foundation, the Club has reached out into the local community in various ways by inviting a number of schools to use the facilities over the past few years. Schools don’t always have the resources and space to provide areas for children so it’s a good way to help. We need to keep children active and, if I can play a part in that by supplying somewhere for them to go and have a kick about, then that’s perfect.”