4 Interview with Peter Craig

Peter Craig 'Live'- (well he was last night)

By Editor

Editor: Good evening and welcome to tonight's chat forum with Peter Craig
Peter Craig: Good evening David and all
Editor: Peter, you are now the Grounds Manager at The Hurlingham Club in Putney, London, where were you working before?
Peter Craig: I started with an apprenticeship at Lancashire County C.C , then had two years at a small sports club in Lancashire, 5 years in Manchester at a large multi-sports facility, 4 years at Ealing CC in London and 9 years at Lensbury Club in Teddington prior to moving here.
Editor: How much of a change have you found working now at The Hurlingham Club from your previous places of work?
Peter Craig: My responsibilities are mostly delegation and management now. The advancement in machinery has made the job much more efficient , the down side is the loss of a lot of tactile skills as a result.
Editor: Is that such a bad thing, after all the job used to be so back breaking?
Peter Craig: Yes. The art of groundsmanship is far more than driving a machine.
Editor: Can you explain that a little further please Peter.
Peter Craig: For example the skills of repairing a cricket pitch after play which cannot be done by machine. If these skills are not passed down they will disappear. Where will that leave us?
Editor: True enough, I would agree that top dressing is seldom done entirely by hand.
A member asks: Did this season's long dry spell affect your fine surfaces?
Peter Craig: Yes it did. We have had a big dry patch problem on the croquet lawns, the affects of which we are still tackling. More use of wetting agents next season is my plan.
Editor: You do have irrigation Peter, could the system not cope with the long dry days?
Peter Craig: Our irrigation system is very new and very good. The main problem we had this year was algae from the lake blocking the sprinklers of which we have over 200. Also three of the sprinklers were not rotating properly and by the time we found out damage had already been done.
Editor: I know the feeling, it's impossible to stand over all of them, particularly if the main watering is done through the night
Editor: How do you think you could overcome this problem for the future?
Peter Craig: Sensors on the sprinklers to detect rotation as well as water flow would help.
Editor: Moving on, you have 27 grass tennis courts, you have long finished renovations so what work are you carrying out on these areas at the moment?
Peter Craig: We have had good germination and establishment on the courts we renovated first but the poor Autumn conditions have left some courts with less grass cover than ideal. We are still sowing ryegrass even now and the seed we put down a fortnight ago has just chitted with the aid of germination sheets. A sign of how mild the weather is. Germination in December!!
Editor: Can you describe what poor autumn conditions you have suffered?
Peter Craig: Yes, very dry weather coupled with cool temperatures.
A member asks: Our club is looking to have automatic watering on our bowls green after ten years of using a sprinkler in set positions. We have suffered badly with dry patch and applied wetting agent granules in March, any thoughts on automatic systems for bowls/croquet?
Peter Craig: Automatic systems are a godsend if used correctly, but can cause more problems than they solve if over used. Make sure you use a reputable irrigation consultant and installer and be very specific about your requirements. Do not over water!!
Editor: So what other work are you carrying out on the courts at the moment?
Peter Craig: We have aerated all the courts twice to a depth of 7 inches using a Sisis soil reliever. We have fed them all with a 6:5:10 feed and we are applying a liquid seaweed formula monthly throughout the winter.
Editor: Can I ask how often you're cutting and to what height?
Peter Craig: The courts are being cut as and when necessary to maintain a winter height of 14mm.
Editor: Is that once or twice a week?
Peter Craig: At least once a week but I don't want to remove more than a couple of millimetres from the plant when cut so it requires close monitoring to get it right.
A member asks: Do you have regular soil samples taken?
Peter Craig: Yes. Once in the spring and once in the Autumn. If I am not happy with the colour/vigour of the sward I might send a sample away at any time to see what, if anything, is amiss.
Editor: Do you have a bad court, a real problem court that gives you headaches?
Peter Craig: Yes we have more "bad" courts than good at the moment. We are carrying out a programme of Koroing all the courts. The 13 we have done so far are free of thatch, firm and playing/looking great. The others not so. Having said that the members are not complaining.
Editor: What makes them bad to start with Peter?
Peter Craig: The courts are built on indigenous soil that has little binding qualities- clay content is only 6%.
Editor: Only 6%, doesn't make for a good bounce, how do you address that?
Peter Craig: We are adding a 18% clay content soil gradually through hollow tining and more recently using the Graden machine.
Editor: Is clay content or lack of it, you're main problem?
Peter Craig: No, thatch is the biggest problem. We removed nearly 50 mm of thatch from courts c and d with the Koro this Autumn
Editor:Don't you ask yourself how on earth were they allowed to get so bad?
Peter Craig: The courts are 100 years old and the previous management regime did not have scarification high on their maintenance agenda!
A member asks: Do you use the same supplier for dressing?
Peter Craig: Yes I use Surrey loams Ltd (GOSTD).
Editor: Do you have problems with trees over the courts?
Peter Craig: We have a major headache with our largest block of courts, the south end of which is under the shade of five London planes.
Editor: What differences do you notice between the tree affected courts and the open courts?
Peter Craig: The shaded area obviously dries out much slower than the non shaded. The new irrigation system has helped to overcome this.
(A member says: we have a Leylandii hedge , surrounding our bowls green that was planted when the green was constructed and is pruned once a year by contractors. It must be approx 15 feet high, I would like to grub it out, but members like it for screening!)
Editor: Do you end up with algae on these courts in the worst affected areas?
Peter Craig: Yes. It's quite bad at the moment. I will not treat it chemically unless absolutely necessary as a dry spell will put paid to it as a rule.
Editor: Going back to the thatch problem, 50mm is obviously quite serious, it must have been a major operation to remove it all?
Peter Craig: 50mm was in the worst areas. We did two passes with the Koro set low before we found the soil underneath. It is a major task but the results are very satisfying.
Editor: You have other sports at the club, croquet is probably the next biggest participating sport-are the members still using these lawns now?
Peter Craig: Not the main six lawns which closed late September. We have four winter lawns on the cricket outfield.
Editor: What work are you carrying out on the lawns in use?
Peter Craig: The cricket outfield was used for car parking on several occasions this summer and caused immense damage. We hollow tined, seeded and top-dressed about a month ago and things are looking good. We cannot aerate mechanically below 2 inches (50mm) due to rubble beneath the surface. This causes us major compaction problems.
Anthony Asquith asks: Hi Peter, what do you think about the Graden machine, as I am currently considering buying one?
Peter Craig: Hi Anthony. Excellent if used appropriately. Be careful as it is a powerful beast. Buy it!
A member asks: Do you hire in the specialist machines or are they all in your machine shed?
Peter Craig: We are very fortunate to have a good budget that allows us to buy most machinery. I hire the Koro as it is used for a one off operation.
Editor: Going back Peter, do you have any plans to remedy the problems of the cricket outfield?
Peter Craig: I know what I would like to do, which is a Lords type of reconstruction and replace the top four inches of topsoil and install irrigation but even we can't afford that. We just aerate as deep as we can as often as we can.
Editor: What's your daily routine on the croquet lawns in play?
Peter Craig: Every lawn, court and green is switched every morning. On the cricket croquet we cut once a week to maintain a true surface and reset the hoops at the same time. We will feed next week with a 7:7:7 formula and aerate with the sarrel spiker.
Editor: How did the cricket renovations and seed take on the square go?
Peter Craig: The cricket square is in excellent nick. We over-seeded using the cluster tines on the Groundsman spiker and brushed in the seed using besoms. Brilliant results this year. We have also aerated to 7 inches with the soil reliever.
Editor: Moving on to the bowls greens, did you experience similar problems with the hot weather this year as you found on the tennis courts?
Peter Craig: Yes. We found out in June that the wrong nozzles had been fitted to the sprinklers and the middle was not getting any water. We just about got to it in time but dry patch was a problem on ALL surfaces this year. We have two bowling greens which is a bit of a luxury as we have a very small bowls section
Editor: Have you experienced any other diseases this year?
Peter Craig: We have just suffered a very severe fusarium attack which has resulted in some scarring despite prompt spraying with Rovral. The attack flared up during a very wet spell and a lot of the chemical was washed off the leaf before it had time to work.
Editor: Do you have a big budget for chemicals?
Peter Craig: I budgeted for £4000 this year and this recent fusarium attack has cost us about £1000! A quarter of my budget in one fell swoop.
A member asks: What is your opinion on nematodes?
Peter Craig: I have never had the problem thank goodness. I witnessed a very interesting presentation by Dr Roger Cook at the recent NTF Conference. They have always been there and it seems they have only recently been seen as a problem. But no one seems to know why. The vast majority are good nematodes. I hope I remain a bad Nematode free zone!!
Editor: Are you doing any major work on your bowling greens?
Peter Craig: We are replacing all the ditch channels on bowls 2 and reducing its size to allow a path to be established along the North edge and further landscaping to be done on the East edge. It's a big job!
Editor: There is a lot of building work going on at the club as well this year-will you get involved with the re-instatement of landscape areas?
Peter Craig: The final phase of a £20,000,000 rebuild of the East Wing of the club is underway. We have an enormous amount of mainly soft landscaping to complete before it is opened by a VIP in April.
Editor: Has it affected any of the playing areas?
Peter Craig: The already small cricket outfield will be even smaller to the delight of the batsmen! The front lawn which is purely ornamental but very important has been badly damaged. Otherwise no real intrusion.
Editor: You also have a small golf course, which is presumably in use at the moment, how much time and effort do you spend on the greens, tees and fairways?
Peter Craig: The course opens in November and closes in March as all the holes are fitted in around and over the croquet, bowls and tennis surfaces. We have worked very hard to improve the greens with some success and we have prettified the course with new elevated tee mats and flags with the club motif on them. We are too busy with renovation on the other surfaces to give it as much attention as we would like but the members enjoy the facility.
Editor: Moving on, what winter work do you have planned outside of the playing surfaces?
Peter Craig: We have an enormous amount of work planned over the next year. A lot of work will be on the gardening side which is just as important if not more so than the sports areas. All my 20 strong team will be kept busy that's for sure.
Anthony Asquith asks: Do you prefer maintaining the golf course or the tennis surfaces, as I know you're a keen golfer?
Peter Craig: The tennis has priority of course. I don't do any of the actual work on the surfaces but the lads enjoy working on the golf at the moment as it is actually being used whereas the courts are not. I am a keen golfer but a very poor one.!!!!
Editor: Generally do you have preferences for the machines that you use?
Peter Craig: I do now have lot of John Deere equipment simply because I get a good deal and it is quality gear. We also have an Antonio Carraro tractor, some Sisis equipment and a couple of Techneat sprayers.
Editor: You have a large lake that we've talked about in previous articles, but you recently embarked on a new purification system, how is that working?
Peter Craig: The lake is not sealed and has a very thick layer of rotting organic matter in the bottom. Our irrigation system is fed from the lake and the pong is sometimes unbearable! I have been trying out the Biodyozone system this summer with mixed results. One thing it did do was clean the irrigation system up in double quick time but unfortunately, as the song goes "the pong remains the same"!!
A member asks: Always wondered. Croquet (rinks?), are they prepared like a tennis court, cricket wicket? Can't think you want bounce!
Peter Craig: A bowling green with hoops is the best way of describing it. The players like a fast surface and we use a Stimp meter to gauge the speed.
Editor: Going back to the Biodyozone system, are there ways of improving its performance?
Peter Craig: The lake is long and narrow and the problem is getting the Biodyozone to the entire length. I am looking at ways of achieving this by installing underwater aeration pumps.
A member asks: Are leaves a problem for you?
Peter Craig: 700 trees!! Leaves are a major headache at this time of the year. We collect and compost all our leaves and process them back in to mulch which we then apply to the gardens.
Editor: You do quite a lot or recycling, is it a pet hobby for you Peter?
Peter Craig: Not a pet hobby, more a money saving exercise which happens to be ecologically friendly. To cart them off in skips would cost a fortune.
Editor: Do you use anything special to convert your waste into compost?
Peter Craig: We turn the compost regularly and add Garotta to aid decomposition. We then hire an industrial size shredder and put the compost through twice to really mash it up. We do this twice a year.
Editor: Peter, I think we'll draw this to a close now, because it's gone 9pm, it has been a pleasure to chat to you and I thank you for your time this evening and thank you to all of you who have watched and asked questions.
Peter Craig: Its been a fun experience and one I would do again. Thanks for giving me the opportunity and I hope those who have taken part or observed found something of interest. I am now going to put my typing finger in a bowl of warm water. Tara!
Editor: Hehehe, thanks again Peter and Goodnight

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