0 Cowdray Park Polo club has gold cup quality

Horses and riders galloping across polo fields make for exciting sport and spectacle but away from the glamour is the challenging task of providing top class playing surfaces.

That responsibility is certainly keenly felt at Cowdray Park, the home of British polo, which hosts more than 500 matches a year including the prestigious Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup, one of the world's top tournaments.The standard of pitches here is rightly held in high regard in the sport.

Grounds manager Julian Russell-Hayes is charged with keeping the 12 pitches in pristine condition at the club in West Sussex.

For the last four/five years he has been using a bespoke three-way ryeblend from British Seed Houses to ensure the polo fields meet the demands of horse and rider and look good to spectators too.

Julian said: "We are the biggest polo club in Europe with over 500 games a year played here so the pitches are put under an awful lot of pressure.

I have worked with Sandy Pentecost of British Seed Houses to select three of the best ryegrass cultivars which provide that balance of quality and value for money.

"The mixture that British Seed Houses put together has done an excellent job to ensure our pitches are durable and hardwearing. We are very pleased with the seed and the service."

Polo has been played at Viscount Cowdray's 16,500 acre estate for 100 years, with the first competitive tournaments being recorded in 1910.

Today the highlight of the season is the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup which is contested each July for the British Open Championships.

The polo season starts at the beginning of April and runs until the end of September.

For Julian and his team of three full-time groundsmen, renovation work, repairs, overseeding, aerating, vertidraining and summer irrigation are part of a busy calendar as they look after 190 acres in total.

There are two sets of grounds. The Lawns and River grounds are very near to Midhurst and the Ambersham and Brookfields grounds are located halfway between Petworth and Midhurst.

Julian explained: "People come to Cowdray because of the standard of the fields which is something we pride ourselves on.

Rather like a racecourse we always have to maintain a good footing for the horses. We do not want it to be too soft because the ground will cut up badly and will be slow, but we do not want it too firm either, because horses can slip and damage joints and it could become dangerous.

"I speak to the polo manager every morning, he is my contact with the players, and I get a lot of useful feedback.

We set ourselves very high standards. Indeed the standards demanded of us increase each year but we are up to t he challenge."

Sandy Pentecost, area technical sales representative from British Seed Houses, said: "I meet Julian every autumn to discuss his requirements and formulate the best seed mixtures.

Polo is a demanding game on the playing fields so he needs a mixture which is up to the job and which germinates evenly and establishes fast.

"We provide a bespoke three-way ryeblend similar to our A30 mixture to provide the high performance, hard wearing results required.

The polo fields at Cowdray Park are evidence of how well it works."

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