Thirteen months on from my appointment as Head Groundsman at Rugby School I could not have asked for a better year in grounds maintenance terms. The weather, commitment of the staff and the support of the governing bodies at Rugby School have been excellent.
We have achieved a great deal in maintenance terms in such a short period of time. I am a great believer in the art of Groundmanship principles and practices. Always striving to ensure that we are able to access the best equipment, labour, products and services to maximise the potential of the sports grounds and gardens.
Arriving in September allowed me the opportunity to get stuck into some serious autumn renovations on most of the facilities at the school. Beginning with the cricket tables and outfields.
We used a combination of techniques. Some squares we Koroed off, removing the top 20mm of surface vegetation, imported some new loam and re-levelled. Others were heavily scarified using the Graden, getting it to go as deep as we could without causing too much disruption.
The squares were top dressed with Banbury loam and overseeded with Rigby Taylor Mascot R9 rye grass mixtures.
We increased the frequency of aeration on the cricket tables getting plenty of air movement in the soil profile during the early part of the winter months.
We also implemented a renovation programme on the main campus rugby pitches which includes the William Webb Ellis rugby pitch. Again, we wanted to remove as much weak and straggly growth from the sward, this time using an Amazone. We then top dressed using a 70/30 rootzone mix, then over seeded with Rigby Taylor's R14.
We continued to oversow all pitches while temperatures remained favourable for seed germination. My aim was to encourage plenty of new growth to infill the bare areas I had inherited.
We also instigated a programme of aeration using a newly purchased soil reliever and tractor unit aerating on a 2-3 week basis throughout the winter months.
In total we look after 17 rugby pitches at the school. Of these pitches, 13 are situated in an area surrounded by beautiful farmland owned by the school, away from the main campus. The rugby term starts in September and goes on to January. After Christmas we change over to football maintaining 12 full size pitches.
However, the two main, first team, rugby pitches on the main campus remain set up for rugby matches for the whole winter period. This is because Rugby school gave its name to the sport back in the early 1800's when, during his time at the school (1816-1825), William Webb Ellis picked up a football and ran with it.
With so many visitors coming to see this hallowed ground we have to ensure it always looks its best. This is made more challenging because the pitches are being played on twice a week and are used for first XV training throughout the rugby season.
As for marking out we use the Fleet Kombi spray jet line marker using pitch marker C paint. Pitches are marked for every game or at least on a weekly basis.
As soon as spring arrived (2006) we started the whole process again. Spring renovations began in earnest in mid March, with a further programme of aeration, scarification, top dressing and over seeding, coupled with some applications of spring and summer fertiliser products.
We now compost all our grass clippings and garden waste. It used to go to the tip for disposal, but we now send it down to a recycling plant that puts it through a series of shredders and mixers; it is returned to us thirteen weeks later as reusable compost. We then mix it with sand and use it to top dress our outfields, sports pitches and lawn areas; the results have been fantastic.
Once the warm weather kicked in we began to see the benefits of the work we had implemented. Grass growth was vigorous and healthy. We increased the mowing frequencies, cutting up to 4-5 times per week. We also invested in some new mowing machinery. With presentation and quality being our key aims and objectives we wanted to maximise the efficiency and cutting quality of our mowing fleet.
This led to us buying a range of Toro equipment which included two Workmans, a Pro-core pedestrian aerator, a triple cylinder Sidewinder, and the Groundmaster 4500D five unit rotary ride on mower, a beast of a machine that gives us increased efficiency, by reducing the time it takes to cut our pitches without downgrading the quality of cut. The rotary blades are re-sharpened every week.
We have reduced our cutting time by nearly 40%. This has been achieved by the mere fact there is less time taken to check heights of cut and setting blade sharpness compared to cylinder mowers, and the fact that we have a greater cutting width setting.
The rugby pitches are maintained at a height of 32mm and football 25mm. However, we still use our cylinder triple mowers to cut all cricket outfields at 13mm.
All this work has only been achievable because of the commitment of my staff. There are eighteen full time staff, of which seven are dedicated sports turf groundsmen. It has been their ability to change and take on new responsibilities that has been so helpful, coupled with the fact that they are keen to learn new skills and, above all, understand why they are doing these tasks that has made the difference.
They are no longer grass cutters. They are skilled groundsmen who now have a better understanding of the principles and practices of groundsmanship.
By the mere fact that I have brought a new culture to the school we are now beginning to see the fruits of our labour. The presentation of all the facilities, including the artificial surfaces, is now well received by pupils and teaching staff alike.
We shall continue to raise the standards of the school in the coming years. I am currently planning further improvements to the working conditions at the school. We are looking to build a brand new mess room and teaching facility that will encompass new storage facilities for machinery, thus improving the working conditions for my staff. Without dedicated, motivated, staff you have nothing.
I am sure we will face a lot of new challenges in the coming years. The standards will continue to rise while the school continues to support me and my staff with the right resources and budgets. To achieve these new goals and objectives we cannot afford to stand still. Time waits for no one.