By Eddie Seaward
Each year at Wimbledon we seem to get busier and busier.
Currently there are a lot of building works going on as part of the development to the Centre Court. New administration offices are being built, this has meant we have had to develop some new permanent car parking facilities on the grass areas outside.
These grassed areas have always been used for temporary parking during the Wimbledon fortnight. However, with all the new changes, we require regular car parking for over 500 cars every day. We dug out the old grass and replaced with a type 1 stone base and drains. We wanted to maintain a grass appearance so we overlaid the base with 350mm of fibre sand and then seeded.
We are also constructing two American Fast Dry courts to complement our all weather courts. We already have one, but they are becoming very popular, and do offer us greater flexibility in providing courts for play when conditions are not favourable for grass courts. These new courts will be available for play on 1st August.
In total, we will have 58 courts for play - 41 grass, 3 Fast Dry, 2 clay 5 shale, 2 acrylic and 5 indoor.
My staffing levels do change throughout the year. There is a permanent staff of 15, which increases to 25 as the season gets underway. Of these extra 10 staff, we always take three students from Myerscough College with the remainder generally coming from overseas.
5 more are recruited in late May for the duration of the Championships.
Another 160 staff are recruited specifically for operating the covers. These staff are already on site receiving the relevant training. Putting out and removing the covers efficiently and safely takes a lot of co-ordination.
Winter maintenance has been fairly straightforward this year. We kept the grass height on the courts at 14mm; we were cutting quite frequently due to the mild weather. No fertilisers dressings were applied. Our grass courts have between 21% and 22% clay content and tend to hold on to enough nutrients for winter growth.
However, a dose of autumn fertiliser was applied in early spring to keep the grass ticking over.
All 41 grass courts are maintained exactly the same. Consistency is very important.
The club members begin playing on the 15th May. We usually bring 8-10 courts into play at a time for our members to use, rotating and noting how the courts are playing. The members will be on the courts until the 17th June, which gives me plenty of time to assess their condition and allow me to adjust any regimes to ensure they are in prime condition for the Championships.
The recent weather has not been conducive for growing grass. Soil, air temperatures and light levels have all been low. We need temperatures above 180 C and brighter sunlight to facilitate optimum growing conditions.
We operate a number of sensors around the courts to monitor light levels and temperatures. We also have a weather station to monitor our local climatic conditions.
I am pleased to say we have had few problems with disease. In fact, this winter, we have not had to blanket spray the courts at all. Our good cultural practices have kept disease to a minimum.
In March we began a monthly programme of applying some wetting agents to reduce the likelihood of any dry patch forming.
Our pre-season preparations involved a programme of verticutting to clean up the sward. We do not disturb the soil profile during these operations. Any sparse or thin areas were oversown with a ryegrass mixture consisting of Aberelf and Aberimp sown at 35g/m2 using covers to assist germination.
We followed up with rolling to consolidate the courts, rolling across the line of play and then with the line of play using a one tonne power roller.
We always use wheel-to-wheel transfer line markers, they give the very bright, crisp linewe want, plus they are also simple to maintain and clean. Over 1800 litres of marking compound is used during the playing season.
Like all Groundsmen and Greenkeepers up and down the country I am praying for some favourable weather. I want to reduce the amount of times the courts are covered. As a precaution I will spray a fungicide two weeks prior to the Championships to prevent an outbreak of disease.
Leading up to the championships we regularly test the playing surfaces. We use a number of methods to measure ball bounce and hardness of the courts, along with visual tests to monitor grass cover. We measure the hardness using a Clegg Hammer, a portable hammer tool that measures the in gravities; we aim to achieve 150 gravities during the Championships.
We also enlist the help of the STRI who carry out a number inspections and record the condition of the courts, testing for nutrient levels and herbage cover, particularly noting the amount of grass species present in the sward.
Testing allows me to know the standard of the courts at any given time and, using previous records, it allows me to make any adjustments to the maintenance inputs to achieve the levels and standards desired.
Soon the eyes of the tennis world will be focussing, once again, on our courts, and our aim is to provide the best and most consistent surfaces possible, worthy of the Wimbledon Champions who will grace them.