North Petherton Bowls Club welcomed over forty-five bowls greenkeepers from Somerset and surrounding area to a seminar organised by Dennis Mowers and hosted by Devon Garden Machinery (DGM) who, this year, celebrate their 25th Anniversary.
I had been told that North Petherton was a 'pretty village' but, in truth, it is a suburb of the larger town of Bridgwater. Delegates were greeted with a foggy start that promised to 'burn away', and so it proved as the weather turned out to be glorious.
This was the last leg of three on Dennis' south west tour, the previous two being Wadebridge in Cornwall and Torquay in Devon; both had attracted an equally good turnout.
Bowls is a sport that relies heavily on volunteers and most of those in attendance fitted into that category (and the 'over 60s') along with a smattering of professional contractors, all eager to pick up tips on greens maintenance.
The day kicked off with an introduction by Robert Jack, the company's southern area representative, who outlined the format for the day.
First up, after a quick plug for Pitchcare by yours truly, was Martin Samuel of Sherriff Amenity. He gave a brief overview of the company's products as well as talking about the available certification for spraying, the latest pesticide directives and how they will affect greenkeepers. It was widely acknowledged that a qualified contract sprayer was the best way forward.
Martin warned that many products that are now illegal for use are still stored in greenkeepers' sheds and it should be a priority to ensure that these are disposed of legally at the earliest opportunity.
Next up was Dave Bracey, inventor of the Bray Seed Slotter (now marketed by Dennis) and recently retired Head Groundsman at the Metropolitan Police Sports Club in London. Dave is an excellent speaker who, even if a bit 'traditional', is able to captivate an audience with his presentation. He has the ability to mix fact, humour and wuddled mords - a strange mix of Tom O'Connor and Stanley Unwin! His explanation of scarifying, using a comb from his back pocket (when he eventually found it) was a joy.
STRI 'new boy' Charles Henderson gave an instructive talk about 'modern' bowling green techniques and, whilst some of the content was in direct contrast to Dave Bracey's view, Dave could be seen nodding in agreement to much of the presentation. Particular emphasis was placed on how, why and when to aerate and scarify, and the benefits of both. Interjection was supplied by the STRI's Steve Gingell.
Charles also explained about standing up the grass prior to cutting to achieve the optimum playing surface.
DGM's Dennis Lumley gave a brief overview of the company's product portfolio and talked about the importance of servicing machinery to keep it in prime condition.
The final speaker of the morning was Richard Pryor, from First Independent Finance, who explained that, because of the low interest rates, now was probably the best time ever to arrange finance. Some visibly winced at the figures being bandied around but Richard offered some interesting suggestions for 'financing the finance' such as including a 'one arm bandit' in the package which could, in effect, cover the monthly outlay.
Whilst some might not like the idea of a machine clicking and flashing away in the corner of the clubhouse, it is certainly an option worth considering for cash strapped clubs.
Following lunch, provided by the host club, delegates then went outside for on green demonstrations.
Dave Bracey showed, with the aid of a very effective, yet slightly 'Heath Robinson' contraption, how a bowling green is constructed and why it is important to understand what is actually under the surface.
Next, Robert Jack explained the renowned Dennis cassette system and their various uses. The benefits of hand and powered slotters and spikers were also discussed as were the benefits of groomers. All were ably demonstrated on the green by Robert and Dave
The final presentation of the day was entitled 'Performance Measurement of Bowling Greens' and was presented by Alison (Ali) Downes, with interjection from Charles and Steve.
This is a new STRI initiative that aims to set individual parameters to overall performance of a green. It is divided into three distinct areas - benchmarking, organic matter testing and level surveying.
As Ali explained, benchmarking the green relates directly to the performance of the surface - perhaps the biggest 'bug bear' amongst members, and one that they give their greenkeeper the most ear ache about! The benchmarking criteria includes:
• Green speed - with the 'ideal' set at between 10-13 seconds for a bowl to travel 30 yards
• Grass species - sward count using an optical point quadrant
• Firmness - measured by clegg hammer impact
• Organic matter - analysed at four different depths
• Smoothness and trueness - a new measuring device, which is in its final prototype, able to measure in real time across a green
• Infiltration - double ring test to measure drainage rate
Steve and Ali then gave a demo of the laser levelling survey which is accurate to +/- 2mm and is carried out with readings taken at two metre centres across the green. There will be a more in-depth article on this subject in future issues.
And then it was back inside for questions and answers. A few grey areas were 'lightened' and the session also offered a further opportunity for Dave Bracey and the STRI to give slightly opposing views.
The subject of younger greenkeepers coming into the sport was raised. Most felt that bowls was unlikely to ever appeal to younger people but should be looking to attract sportsmen and women of forty-five plus, leaving cricket, football and hockey. It was felt that ongoing training was important and that days such as these were invaluable but, as one wag said, "training for bowls greenkeepers needs to stay just ahead of the death rate!".
And, on that rather humourous note, the day came to a close.
All the delegates I spoke to had thoroughly enjoyed the day and found it very worthwhile.
Dennis are to be applauded for providing these seminars, something they have regularly being doing around the country for a number of years. Of course, they will have benefitted from showing their wares to a captive audience, as will Sherriff, DGM, the STRI and First Independent, but the lack of 'sales jargon' was very refreshing indeed. As they say in Zummerset, "a proper job".