5 A perfect ten?

DaveSaltman-Aug09.jpgAt the end of August, Pitchcare celebrated its tenth anniversary. You can read more about how we got to where we are in a forthcoming article. But, here, I do not wish to dwell on our successes. What I would like to do is use the past ten years as a time frame to look at where our industry has progressed to in that period.

Possibly the biggest influence on our industry has been the demands placed on turfcare professionals by EU pesticide legislation, with many products having been withdrawn without a suitable alternative being made available. This has resulted in greenkeepers and groundsmen having to review their cultural practices and become more environmentally friendly - no bad thing in the scheme of things, I guess, but it has required considerable time and effort to keep abreast of all the new regulations and, with many more in the pipeline, further extra curricular activity seems likely!

Of course, our employers rarely see this extra effort, or understand the implications to our cultural practices. They just need the grass cut.

We have seen many new stadia; the Millennium Stadium, where I was fortune to work for a few years as consultant groundsman, introduced a brand new (to the UK) palletised pitch that required completely different groundsmanship skills; Wembley, built hugely over budget, had initial issues with the pitch which, thankfully, now appear to have been resolved; Arsenal's Emirates stadium, which is widely recognised as the best playing surface in the UK; the Rose Bowl, England's newest Test venue; and, of course, the Olympic stadium and allied facilities that will be completed under budget and ahead of schedule.

We have some of the most iconic sports stadiums in the world. As well as those mentioned above, Lord's, Wimbledon, Twickenham, Murrayfield, and the various Open golf courses are regularly put under the media spotlight, receiving intense scrutiny from TV presenters prodding and poking the surface, often with little or no knowledge of how it has been prepared.

The last ten years has also seen huge advances in the machinery available to turfcare professionals. Top of the list must go to the Koro Field Topmaker, the Graden and Blec Sandmaster, all of which have helped to improve the surfaces we work with.

And then there's the increased amount of sport being played. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in cricket, where the inaugural, thrash about Twenty20 tournament of 2003 has, eight years later, become a worldwide phenomenon. Golf and Polo are the latest sports to attempt a T20 makeover with PowerPlay Golf and Polo in the Park respectively.

But, what of the groundsmen and greenkeepers - has their lot been improved by these new innovations? At the highest level, and in respect of tending the grass, the answer is probably yes. At the lower levels, where budgets are stretched to the limit, or even non-existent, clearly the answer is no.

What is apparent, especially from comments posted on our message board and in the recent Viewpoint articles in this magazine, is that groundsmen and greenkeepers often feel undervalued. Ever longer hours, the facilities being used for events other than sport - concerts, conferences and the like, additional fixtures, dwindling budgets, no liaison with management, and frozen (often at an already poor level) wages are the main gripes.

It seem incongruous that, in this day and age, with televised sport at an all time high, turfcare professionals are still the poor relation in the workforce, yet are subjected to such extreme pressures when, for whatever reason, the surface misbehaves.

It is time that some of the money spent on improving corporate facilities, or acquiring the latest prima donna to strengthen the team, filtered down to where it really matters - the playing surface for, without that, no team or individual can perform to their best. It is time that groundsmen and greenkeepers were paid an honest wage for a very honest day's (and night's) work.

Oh, and I shall resist the temptation to dwell on the fact that it is ten years since the 'big boys' went biennial in an effort to force the hand of the industry's exhibition organisers!

Cheers
Dave Saltman

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