High tec, high spec and high expectations

Laurence Gale MScin Editorial

KoroLandscape2In the last thirty years there has been a huge influx of innovative new machinery and equipment into our industry, from a broad spectrum of suppliers. The range and choice available now is staggering compared to when I started out back in the mid 1970s.

Take golf as an example. When I worked at Cocks Moors Woods Golf Club between 1975 and 1977 we only had four pedestrian mowers - two Ransomes Auto Certes to mow the greens and two Atco mowers for banks and tees. Fairways and rough were cut with Lloyds gang mowers that were towed by one old Ford tractor. We also had the 'luxury' of one Pattison spiker for the greens and tees. There were no ride-on triple mowers; unless we were gang mowing, we walked everywhere!

Compare that with what you expect to see on a golf course these days.

Today, the amount of equipment in the shed is astonishing. Clubs will generally have several greens mowers, both pedestrian and triple, and often with interchangeable cassette systems, specialist mowers for tees and approaches, semi rough rotary mowers and fairway mowers that look like something out of Star Wars.

On top of that, there is now a vast range of specialist machinery available to undertake the most challenging of jobs. The introducition of the Verti-drain deep tine, tractor mounted aerator led the revolution back in the early 1980s and, by the mid 1990s, there was a wealth of new technology and machinery available - laser guided trenching machines, new aeration technology, faster air injection tine machines and deep drill and linear decompaction practices. This prompted the development of sand grooving machines, the Graden scarifier and the development of better seeders, graders and topdressers.

However, one of the most formidable developments was the Koro Field Topmaker, a fraise mower which revolutionised the way sports pitches would be renovated. It was Richard Campey who saw the potential of this machine and introduced it into the UK market.

The success of the Koro also enabled other opportunities to develop. Big roll turf harvesters were soon to follow, along with second and third generation vertidrain type machines from a number of manufacturers.

However, the availability of such high end technology comes at a cost, with many of these machines carrying a significant price tag that not every club could afford.

Yet, there were a number of people who did invest in this new technology, setting up specialist contracting services offering complete end of season renovation packages, drainage work, new builds and reconstruction services.

By the mid to late 1980s, many of the contracting companies we use today had established themselves in our ever growing marketplace. However, it was the requirement to submit local authority services to competitive tender under the Local Government Acts of 1988 and 1992 - commonly known as Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) - that helped drive this initiative.

This demand for contractual services led to a revolution in the way we managed facilities, I myself managed several large contracts for the MOD in the late eighties, employing contractors to undertake a wide rage of services and, again, whilst working for Telford & Wrekin Council also used contractors to maintain our facilities.

There will be good and bad experiences and, even today, there are a minority who give contracting a bad name. The trick is to vet and ensure the contractor you employ has the necessary skills, machinery and experience to undertake the work required, whilst building up a relationship to ensure continuity of work standards.

This industry now has a wealth of specialist sports turf contractors who are able to take on any type of work in terms of new build, drainage, renovation and specialist maintenance operations.

The Landscape Drainage Contractors Association have over eighty member contractors who, over the years, have been responsible for looking after the needs of hundreds of sports club, golf courses and other sporting facilities.

The LDCA is a national standard setting organisation - a trade association of contractors, manufacturers and suppliers who undertake to comply with recognised standards of workmanship and materials.

The association publishes technical specifications for field drainage schemes, pipeline reinstatement and guidelines for sportsturf drainage inLDCA.jpgstallation which set out the quality of workmanship and materials to be used in drainage and water management schemes. These standards are recognised by industry bodies, and the LDCA Sportsturf Guidelines have been adopted by Sport England and the Football Foundation as the standard to which funded sportsturf drainage schemes must be carried out.

An LDCA contractor undertakes to work to these specifications and guidelines and to the requirements of the LDCA Quality Assurance Scheme, which also covers the use of British Standard materials, liability insurance, health and safety legislation and provision of a warranty with regard to workmanship and materials.

During the coming months, Pitchcare will catch up with a number of these companies to see how they came into being and what changes they have had to make to remain competitive in an ever changing and demanding marketplace.

We will begin the series by talking to Carl Pass of Premier Pitches, Paul Simpson of Worth Draining and Marcus Young. These articles will appear on the website over the next few days.

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