Still a young man, David Procter has followed an interesting career path thus far. His current position at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club has seen him move from Greenkeeping to Groundsmanship. Via Westchester to Wimbledon it has been a long ride with many twists and turns along the way.
My career in turf started over ten years ago when I was required to complete a week's unpaid work experience whilst at school in Clitheroe, Lancashire.
Mytton Fold Golf Club was the place and my life in turf had begun. I spent my unpaid week away from school raking bunkers, strimming and many hours on the Flymo but, along with that, I was allowed to mow greens and tees - well, half a green and one tee to be precise. It was this work experience that gave me the bug and, the following summer, I spent my entire holiday working at Mytton Fold, although this time I was paid! At the age of fourteen I had found something that I really enjoyed and, with that in mind, set about finding a place of education.
Upon leaving school with the relevant grades I began my National Diploma at Myerscough College, Preston. This was a great course with both a technical and practical aspect to it. As part of the course I was fortunate to spend two seasons at Loch Lomond Golf Club, home of the Barclays Scottish Open, under the watchful eye of Ken Siems and David Cole. I arrived on the Bonnie Banks in spring 2001 at the tender age of 17 for my first placement.
Having only been involved in the industry for a short time this was a fantastic opportunity, a daunting prospect and a huge eye opener. The standards at Loch Lomond are some of the highest I have seen and the experience was instrumental in my future career decisions.
At the end of my second spell at Loch Lomond I was fortunate to be put in touch with Mike O'Keeffe of the Ohio State University Programme as I had expressed an interest in working abroad, with America high on the list.
I spent the winter of 2002 filling out my OSU applications and securing my visa documentation. This, at the time, seemed like such a big step - I was still below the legal US drinking age of 21! But, in all seriousness, the process was very straightforward and the programme is a great opportunity for aspiring young Greenkeepers.
My first position was at Sand Ridge Golf Club just outside Cleveland, Ohio, during the spring and summer of 2003. Here I was involved in every aspect of course maintenance and even some construction. During my time at the Ridge I was also fortunate to be sent for a fortnight to Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania for the US Amateur tournament; the club has currently hosted more majors than any other in the USA.
Whilst working on the Amateur, and through Mike, I was fortunate to meet my next employer. I spent the autumn and winter working in Florida at a private club and living in luxury. Following, what was, a winter break compared to my previous season, I requested a tournament course and something a little more challenging. So, I moved up to New York to work at Westchester Country Club, home to the Barclays Classic, to complete my final six months.
During my time in the USA it became clear to me the difference between our industry and theirs, and this served to make me even hungrier for education and experience. I returned to the UK in September 2004 to begin my BSc (Hons) in Turfgrass Science.
I spent the next three years as a student buried in books and debt (violins please). Shortly before completing my degree a summer position at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club became available. I was instantly in contact with the club and lined up a position starting the week after my final exam. My employment at the club began at the end of May 2007.
With the commencement of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships only four weeks away everything was in tournament condition; all that was required of me was to learn how to mow the required number of lines within the markings and off we went. If only it was that simple.
The courts at Wimbledon are currently a blend of three perennial ryegrasses (Aber elf, Aber imp and Pontiac). At this time in the season (May/June) the courts are mown at 8mm on an almost daily basis. After mowing the courts are then marked out. This requires a two man team, one to assist the marker with the positioning of the strings for a perfect line, also to mop away any paint that may have been tracked by the mowers.The other operates the marker.
The Championship courts are cut using Toro 1000 series pedestrian mowers and the courts marked with a compound in a wheel to wheel line marker as they produce clean crisp white lines. Practice courts are cut using Toro 1600 series pedestrians plus 3250D triplex machines.
At this point in the season each team member is allocated a job that they will continue to perform on specific courts until the end of the Championships. Along with carrying out your given tournament tasks (mowing, line marking, string man) there are many other projects taking place. Hard courts are stripped down for the construction of hospitality marquees and temporary seating, courts are edged, canvas is positioned round the courts and any weeds are removed from paths and court surrounds.
The whole site gets a general fine-tuning in readiness for the thousands of visitors and millions of TV viewers.
Final preparation of the courts begins around two weeks before the Championships. This is the period when the rootzone is slowly dried out to achieve the required surface hardness. As Wimbledon is a members club the courts are generally in use at this time; competitors begin using the courts on the Wednesday prior to the Championship fortnight.
The drying of the rootzone is a weather dependant operation and, once the decision is made to begin court covering, the work load increases dramatically.
Before the covering occurs a preventative fungicide is applied as climatic conditions change dramatically under the covers making the courts more susceptible to disease. At this time courts are then covered at the end of each playing day, sometimes as late as 9.00pm. If, during the course of the day, it begins to rain all courts are covered and then uncovered when conditions allow. Any moisture required by the plant is added by the irrigation system, as this can be controlled accurately.
Once the tournament practice begins the buzz around the place is like nothing I have experienced at any golf event in the world. Film crews and press begin to litter the site, along with players, coaches and thousands of staff.
On the first Monday of the Championship we arrive for work at 7.30am ready to start at 8.00am once the covers have been deflated and removed by approximately 160 court covering staff. The Centre Court cover is operated solely by the groundstaff; fifteen full time and approximately ten seasonal. The seasonal staff are brought in from Myerscough College and abroad.
Having removed the covers the daily routine begins. Each person completes his-her given task on the given courts and then heads for breakfast. On mornings when the weather requires the covers to remain on, the courts can be mown and marked inside the covers whilst they are still inflated, or raised in the case of Centre, No.1 and No. 11.
During the day we are always on call in the event of rain. There is also a dedicated person for the changing or provision of towels, and in case there is any problem such as a damaged net or net post. At the end of the day's play the courts are inspected and the base lines generally cleared of any loose plant material and rootzone. This is carried out using a Billy Goat vacuum.
Once this is completed the decision is then made as to how much water to apply; if there is a possibility that the court will not be dry for when the next day's play is due to begin then none will take place. The courts are then covered, inflated and it's off to bed. Occasionally, we'll head to the bar to unwind but, as this is often after 10.00pm, we don't stay too long!
During the night a team from Stuart Canvas will be inspecting the covers to ensure there are no deflations, tears or other issues. This pattern continues for the duration of the fortnight, which is the noticeable difference between tennis and golf events. It is amazing to experience the buzz of the place 24-7 for the two weeks of the Championship and the practice week.
During the tournament we also have a team in from the STRI who test the courts and collect data for surface hardness. Using a Clegg impact soil tester, they test for vertical ball bounce which is compared to that of concrete by percentage, cracking and live grass cover. All the figures are analysed and then produced in a report to asses the performance of each individual court.
There are 41 grass courts at the club and consistency is very important. As well as the grass courts we have five indoor courts, two acrylic courts, five Har-Tru courts and one clay court.
Following the Championship it is a huge task reinstating the outdoor hard courts once all the hospitality and seating has been removed. This is done as quickly and efficiently as possible to get the courts back in play for the members. It is also at this point that the renovation programme begins.
Renovation is carried out using two slightly different techniques depending on the timescale and conditions of the courts. Work begins firstly on Centre Court. Initially, the courts are irrigated to assist the mechanical operations. The soil is aerated using a Soil Reliever to a depth of 100mm minimum. The courts are then fraise mowed using a Koro Field Topmaker; the condition of the court, poa annua content and thatch level dictates the depth of the operation.
Once the courts are stripped of vegetation a pedestrian Graden is then used to 'fluff' the soil so it can be levelled accurately. Having produced a good level seed bed the courts are then seeded at a rate of 35g/m2. A pre-seed fertiliser is applied and the courts are covered with germination sheets. This process continues until all Championship courts are complete.
However, 2007 also brought us the Davis Cup in September, so Courts 1, 18 and 19 were scarified, overseeded and maintained in the usual way until the end of that event.
Once the courts have germinated, been uncovered and mown at around 12-15mm they are then topdressed. This is carried out using compatible rootzone containing 21% clay, 15% silt, 10% coarse silt, 29% very fine/fine sand and the remaining 25% spread between medium to coarse sand. The topdressing is dragged across the court to ensure any minor dips or hollows are levelled out.
At the same time as the renovation process is taking place we also have 22 practice courts in play at various times for member play and other tournament events. Once the season begins to slow down these courts are then renovated whilst keeping some courts in play until it becomes their turn for renovation.
The second renovation technique is often used on these courts due to the time of year. It is basically the same as the original operation, however, the fraise mowing is replaced by heavy scarification. These courts are generally fraise mowed in rotation on a three year cycle to ensure minimum poa annua content and thatch build up. It also ensures that all courts are the correct level. By the time the courts are all topdressed and ready for winter we are well into November.
The winter at Wimbledon involves a varying degree of projects. The amount of construction taking place, with the instalment of the retractable roof on Centre Court and a new stadium for Court No. 2, throws up many different challenges. The time was spent rebuilding court edges where they had realigned four of the championship courts as part of the construction work on No. 2.
Also, on these courts, the post sockets had to be moved to ensure they remained central. Each socket had to be removed from its concrete base, repositioned, and then set in fresh concrete before we could fill in the holes we had made.
The Centre Court roof project saw us trial a set of grow lights to improve the quality of the turf on the south end affected by the shade produced by the construction team. In-house irrigation projects were carried out by the team including the instalment of new pipe and heads to four of the practice courts, along with the four realigned Championship courts. Also, by the time this reaches your coffee tables, we will have been handed the new No. 2 stadium in order to construct the court and install the irrigation.
Along with the work on site I was also fortunate to gain my PA1, 2 and 6 thanks to Eddie Seaward and the club.
The transition from golf to tennis has been quite smooth on the whole and it has definitely seen me appreciate what is required to prepare these world class surfaces. I am somebody who feels that whether it be tennis, golf, football or cricket the turf industry is one industry and each surface as its own varying challenges.
My passion is for turf and sport, so who knows where the next challenge lies? How will I top Wimbledon? Where will I go? For now though, I am very happy working at this world class venue, for a world class manager with world class colleagues. I would love to tell you more but I have a word limit - and I think I passed that just before you all fell asleep! Good luck to you all with your relative seasons and I look forward to talking to you in the future.
David can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org