Leading establishments, such as Eton, Harrow and Charterhouse have, for generations, prided themselves on their rich history of sporting prowess - breeding grounds for countless number of top professionals, in sports ranging from the headline ones of cricket and rugby to the more specialist pursuits of hockey and rowing.
With such high performance standards to maintain, from generation to generation, and parental outlay in the stratosphere of schooling fees, little wonder that the delivery of the finest playing surfaces is a given. Parent power must be formidable indeed in these educational circles.
Nestling deep in greenest Surrey is Cranleigh School - a co-educational independent boarding school, blessed with a stunning rural location between Hascombe Down and Winterfold, on the south-western edge of the Surrey Hills - officially acclaimed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Set in 240 acres of farmland close to the West Sussex border, and taking its name from what is commonly billed as 'the largest village in England', Cranleigh School ranks high in the league table of public schools and is one that is keenly sought out by parents.
The Good Schools Guide reportedly described it as a "hugely popular school with loads on offer, improving academia and mega street cred. Ideal for the sporty, energetic, sociable, and independent child."
Cranleigh was established in 1865, the result of the combined efforts of two men from the village, its rector - Reverend Henry Sapte, and its squire, Sir George Cubitt VC DSO.
It was Sir George who donated most of the land and, with the generous support of many other local families, especially that of Sir Henry Peek, the design and construction of the imposing buildings followed.
The commanding design presents the impression of a building far older, of Elizabethan bearing, and an air of 'Oxbridge' about the halls and courtyards of the main building.
The grounds make the school, as a whole, one of the most extensive of its kind. A large slice of them are taken up with a myriad of sport pitches, including, on the senior school, ten rugby, four senior cricket squares and one synthetic match strip, two lacrosse pitches and three synthetic pitches used for tennis, hockey and netball and a nine hole golf course. The preparatory school boasts five football pitches, three small-sided pitches, a five-a-side training pitch, three cricket squares, a synthetic match strip and one full sized synthetic hockey pitch.
Extensive landscaping, a huge catalogue of mature woodland trees and the rolling hillsides give those facilities a pleasantly secluded setting, rather than an expanse of sports turf as far as the eye can see.
Grounds Manager, Denis Bloomfield, is the man charged with the task of maintaining a coherent strategy for this array of playing surfaces - now in his eighth year at the school and head of a team responsible for maintenance of grounds, gardens, estate maintenance, waste and recycling services.
Denis has spent his whole career working in private schools, previously keeping the head groundsman's post at nearby Duke of Kent's Preparatory School for over twenty years.
He speaks candidly about his first contact with Cranleigh. "I saw the post advertised and was keen to move on to a more prestigious school, so applied and was subsequently interviewed for the position," he recalls.
"After the first round of interviews, I came a close second to a groundsman who had been at a school of similar standing to Cranleigh but, at the eleventh hour, he got cold feet, so they offered me the job, but I turned them down, having already made further commitments to my existing school."
Cranleigh proved persistent, however, and the head groundsman in the post before Denis introduced him to the head of cricket and other staff members, who showed him the scope and scale of the site. This proved the turning point, persuading him to reconsider the offer.
"I was really excited once I saw the developments that were in the pipeline," Denis recalls. "The money the school was planning to invest into the sports facilities would create something that I just had to be a part of."
That investment included the start of, what's been, a continuing commitment to installing synthetic surfaces over two decades and, it's fair to say, Cranleigh is one of few sites nationally where the history of this technology can be seen to unroll in one fell swoop. Charmingly, each pitch is named after former members of staff - from bursars to heads of departments - adding a touch of character to this aspect of provision.
Not shy of innovation, Denis has set in force a long-term programme of development that will not only see the school further extend its sports facilities, but will also introduce a maintenance service that will allow him to quantify the performance criteria of the synthetic surfaces, by utilising a measuring device that has the potential to transform the way synthetics pitches are constructed and managed.
Denis works closely with Replay pitch maintenance specialists and turfcare scientist, David Rhodes, on all its non-natural surfaces. David has worked as a consultant to the school for seven years and was well known to Denis from his time as a lecturer at Merrist Wood College.
Cranleigh has established a strong three-way relationship, with Replay, which undertakes those aspects of synthetic pitch maintenance that the school cannot do in house. "As a rule, we try to avoid outsourcing as much as possible, so we do all the routine brushing ourselves," explains Denis. "Yet, we don't have the specialist equipment to carry out the deeper cleaning, so this is where Replay and David come in."
Despite the all too widespread belief that synthetic surfaces require little or no maintenance, there are key aspects of work that should form part and parcel of the yearly routine, says Denis. First, routine brushing/matting, combined with routine litter collection and the treatment of weeds/moss, second, recycle brushing using rotating brush heads, which penetrate deeper into the carpet to remove and filter debris out of the turf carpet.
Rejuvenation, which removes the infill, replacing it with fresh sand or rubber crumb, if applicable is a process that can be carried out on synthetic pitches when there are concerns that the pitch is not performing well in terms of impeded drainage. The requirement for this process is largely dependent on the age of the playing surface, its levels of use and the presence and effectiveness of existing routine maintenance. The rejuvenation process requires specialist and costly machinery, so many sites will usually contract in, as did Cranleigh, when it became noticeable that two of their older sand filled pitches were suffering with standing water on the playing surface following rainfall.
A key part of the service is David Rhodes, a scientist at the forefront of long-term care of synthetic sports surfaces, who has written extensively about the real requirements of maintaining such pitches in optimum condition.
"One of the persistent problems with the synthetics industry," David explains, "is that there has been little solid evidence to back up the need to either update or regularly maintain pitches."
"Suppliers and installers will come and tell you what surface you need and how often you should maintain it, yet there has been a real lack of clarity of evidence as to why clubs and schools need to."
David has held this belief for some time, and has persuaded Replay that there is a clear need to differentiate maintenance practices, so that sites such as Cranleigh know whether what they're doing is helping to prolong the life of their synthetic surfaces, or even whether the pitches are fit for purpose.
The school's provision charts much of the history of the technology of synthetic surfaces. Installed at the senior school are a sand-filled pitch on a dynamic base, dating back to 1986, another sand filled on an engineered base built in 1996 and a sand dressed pitch on an engineered base constructed 2005. In addition to these pitches at the Prep School are a five-a-side pitch with a 3G surface laid in 2002 on a dynamic base and a sand filled hockey pitch on an engineered base, opened in 2009. Together, they make up the ideal cross-sectional case study of playing surfaces on which to test a new piece of monitoring kit that is set to prove invaluable to end-users across sport.
"This is one of only two in the UK," reveals David, as he takes a four-foot long silver metal tube out of his boot. He stands it on its end on Cranleigh's oldest synthetic pitch, presses a button and the sound of an object travelling down the tube follows, to end in a dull thud as it hits the surface. Numbers spring up on the display, ready for interpretation.
The Fieldman is a testing device developed in Finland that could end, what David says is, the long search for quantifiable research into how best to maintain synthetic pitches.
"I discovered the device after learning of its application in the mining industry," David says, "then went to Replay eighteen months ago and said they needed to start proving the effects of what they were doing. Clients needed to have feedback."
The Fieldman is a form of testing that complements existing methods, David explains, - notably the Head Impact Characteristics (HIC) and California Bearing Ratio (CBR) tests for sports surface development. The device, a lightweight aluminium tube with a ball 'hammer' inside, combines these tests into a single operation to, most importantly, give a reading instantly.
Once the weight hits the surface, it delivers an instant force reduction ratio, deformation reading and energy restitution reading, David explains, which can then be replicated across the pitch to provide an overall firmness ratio that, for the first time, will allow turfcare staff to monitor how efficiently their maintenance practices are, and whether pitches need to be rejuvenated.
"The beauty of this machine is that you can do a hundred tests in fifteen minutes whereas, before, the equipment to carry out the tests was time consuming and cumbersome," David states. "Sites like Cranleigh can now carry out a test, before and after cleaning, that tells them straight away how effective their current maintenance is."
David speaks excitedly about the significant scope of the monitor to develop further, and believes it is, potentially, one of the most influential devices of its kind to emerge.
"This method of testing has been a long time in coming, and I'm convinced that it will be snapped up by other industries once its success becomes more widely known," he predicts.
At present, there are only two machines in the UK, and Replay has the sole rights for their use here, so the combination of their maintenance services, alongside the Fieldman, has started the ball rolling on furthering knowledge of the benefits of good synthetic turf care.
Cranleigh School is helping to pioneer new thinking on synthetic pitch maintenance, centred around the understanding that as much care and attention is needed to prolong the life of a synthetic pitch as that in maintaining grass surfaces.
"Contemporary groundsmanship is about understanding not only the practice, but also the science," believes David. "Essentially, it is a practical science," he insists. This mix of sound knowledge, scientific approach and a willingness to outsource and use specialists when required, is the reason why David views Denis and his team as part of a growing breed of modern turfcare professionals who are shaping a new approach to the industry.
"One of the key aspects of synthetics is good husbandry," Denis adds. "Using the right footwear, making sure shoes are clean, and regular sweeping are just basics that many groundsmen simply overlook. We suffer the biggest problem on the synthetics when we host tournaments, because pupils and players from other schools and clubs don't always have the same respect for the facilities as ours do."
Since working at Cranleigh, Denis has successfully instilled a culture of pride and respect among his team and built up a good rapport with the heads of sport, which now means that pupils know what Denis needs from them to help keep the pitches in top condition.
"It's all about building good relationships. If staff and pupils know how to treat the pitches well, whether that be avoiding training on the pitch before a game, or not coming on to a synthetic surface with muddy shoes, then life becomes much easier for all of us."
The scope of investment at Cranleigh doesn't stop with pitch development - the grounds care department has been well backed with machinery purchases since Denis took over eight years ago.
"The fleet was in a sorry state, when I joined," he reveals, "so, I had to put a programme of required purchases to the school. The old team were still mowing with gangs - fine for general work, but not for more tailored maintenance, so I had a strong case for pushing for ride-ons." The school had also employed a designated driver, which also meant work patterns were inflexible. "Our fleet of ride-ons has freed up how we work. We can train all the guys on the machines and now the team is being much more efficiently employed."
Denis is a firm believer that a contented, well-respected staff base is the breeding ground for excelling at the job. Once in post, he introduced new corporate workwear and expanded the responsibilities of his staff, so everyone would be skilled in a particular area as well as a generalist in all aspects of the job.
"We're often the first port of call when people visit the school, so we felt it was crucial that we all look part of the Cranleigh team. That gives a better image and helps to raise the professionalism of our industry in general."
Salary scales in groundsmanship often form one of the biggest bones of contention in the industry, and many accept that for the hours and work involved, staff are poorly paid. At Cranleigh, both Denis and the school bursar believe the team should be rewarded for its good work in order to attract and retain quality members of staff.
"The feeling that people, who are well looked after, will prove more productive and loyal is strong among school staff and, if I believe someone is excelling at their job or taking on more responsibility, it's my duty to argue their case to the school who are, in most cases, accommodating," Denis explains.
Further sporting investment is already well underway, with the development of two new rugby pitches and a new cricket square at the senior school, which will sit on farmland next to the existing synthetic pitches.
Although earth is all that can be seen at the moment, the scale of the undertaking is clearly massive, as many thousands of tonnes of clay hillside are excavated to create the terrace needed to house the new provision.
Having seen the development of the new £36m Surrey Sports Park, Guildford, Denis is already considering his choice of grass species. "I've been really interested in the virtues of tall fescues for soil like ours," Denis says. "They have been shown to work really well in heavy soil, have good drought resistance and effective rooting. The only problem we have now is that, by the time we're ready to sow, it'll be too late in the season, so we'll have to go with a ryegrass mixture until next year, when we'll consider introducing the tall fescue."
The scope of work for Denis and the team goes beyond just the maintenance of the sports pitches at the school. As part of the growing demand for private schools to take an active role within their communities, the staff also help provide and maintain facilities for Cranleigh Cricket Club, Glebelands, the village's secondary comprehensive school, and St Joseph's, a local special needs school.
Cranleigh's facilities are also used more widely by the community, with the synthetic pitches often utilised by local hockey and football teams for practice and matches, with indoor and outdoor cricket nets being extensively used by local cricket clubs. "The emphasis on schools like us helping more in the wider community is something that will continue to grow," predicts Denis. "We are privileged to have such excellent sports facilities, something other local schools are not as fortunate to have, so we are happy to allow them access to our facilities or where possible help to improve the quality of other facilities in the area."