Anyone for Tennis?
It is unusually dry this year for the Boys and Girls at Wimbledon. Normally they are running to put the covers over the courts. Having said that there are a few rain showers forecast for today and tonight. The weather is good, the fact that we are struggling to keep any British Tennis Players in the tournament never seems to change from year to year. One important aspect that never changes is the dedication of the Groundstaff.....
The Groundstaff at Wimbledon are the real champions. They have spent 52 weeks preparing the courts for this years tournament. Their head honcho is a friend of mine, Eddie Seaward F.inst.G(Dip) who over the years has worked his way up through the ranks from humble trainee groundsman to be where is now - on the centre stage with his work on show across the globe.
Grass renovation to the Centre and No.1 Courts starts immediately after The Championships and on the other courts during August and September. The Centre Court and No.1 Court are re-sown each year, where necessary, as soon as possible after The Championships. Contrary to popular belief they are not re-turfed. The outside courts, although used considerably more throughout the year, are also oversown.
So how does an individual become a specialist in grass and in particular tennis courts? Eddie Seaward has held the post of Grounds Manager for the past 15 years and is only the seventh individual to hold the position since the All England Lawn Tennis Club was conceived. An interview from www.icons.org.uk with Eddie Seaward can be listened to here.
There are 46 Groundstaff and Maintenance Staff at Wimbledon. Together as a close knit team, they are trying to adhere to strict but necessary guidelines and standards of the playing surface. The Groundstaff like Eddie would be members of The Institute of Groundsmanship - they are a membership organisation looking after all those individuals involved in the Professional Sports Turf Industry. The provide the Trade Exhibitions, Examinations, Conferences, Training Courses and Support and Member Benefits to over 8,000 members. The highest level of acheivement from the IOG is the NDT - the National Diploma in the Science and Practice of Turf Culture which permitts the letters F.Inst.(G)Dip after ones name and the respect from becoming a Fellow Member of The Institute.
There are currently only around 50 individuals who can lay claim to having reached their waterloo and become a Fellow Member of The IOG. I am one of them too and I can tell you that after many years of part time study, Intermediate Diplomas and a lot of weekend courses on technical and practical subjects, the final 21 hours of exams were a killer as they were the old style 'test of memory' rather than the more recent course work and continuous assessment. To be told and to hear that 'it is just grass' enfuriates me. There are too many 'lawn experts' out there. I call a Turf or Lawn Expert one with the letters NDT after their name.
Eddie is an active IOG Member, supporting those in the turf care industry who like himself all those years ago, are working their way up through the ranks. They are all professionals in a professional industry with Degrees and Diplomas to be acheived and salary levels to match. The cloth cap image has gone of a chap pushing a white line machine or simply 'mowing the grass'. IOG Fellow Members and of course non Fellow Members give their time freely to support the Institute's Members and promote the aims of their Institute that they are proud to be a part of. They have a real hands on skill supported by hours of technical study and gained practical knowledge. So next time you pass a member of the Groundstaff at your local Bowls, Cricket, Tennis, Football, Rugby, Croquet, Hockey, Race Course, Golf Course, Sports Club - the list is endless, spare a thought for the professionalism of the individual and most of all their dedication shown in preparing the sports surface in readiness of the next match or game - often in all weathers. the match is played, then the poor buggers have to start again for the next game....
Now some information on the courts at Wimbledon -
Aim - The courts are prepared in a similar manner each year to produce the highest quality playing surface for the world’s best players in the modern game to display their full range of skills.
That means the courts must have even and consistent bounce, as well as the ability to withstand prolonged wear and tear for a minimum of 13 days.
Court Durability - The courts are sown with 100% Perennial Ryegrass (since 2001) to improve durability and strengthen the sward so that it can better withstand the increasing wear of the modern game,
Independent expert research from The Sports Turf Research Institute in Yorkshire, UK, proved that changing the grass seed mix to 100% Perennial Ryegrass (previously 70% Rye/30% Creeping Red Fescue) would be the best way forward to combat wear and enhance court presentation and performance without affecting the perceived speed of the court.
Speed of Courts - There has been no intention either this year or in previous years to produce slower courts or ones suited for a particular type of game.
Bounce - The amount a ball bounces is largely determined by the soil, not the grass. The soil must be hard and dry to allow 13 days of play without damage to the court sub-surface.
To achieve the required surface of even consistency and hardness, the courts are rolled and covered to keep them dry and firm. Regular measurements are taken to monitor this.
If the court is too soft, when the players run, jump and slide, the pimples on their shoes will damage the surface and increase the chance of an irregular bounce.
The Grass - The grass plant itself has to survive in this dry soil. Expert research has again shown that a cut height of 8mm is the optimum for present day play and survival.
The height of cut has been at 8mm for the past 12 years.
The Effects of Atmospheric Conditions - Unlike other surfaces grass is a living plant in an outdoor environment when weather varies throughout the year. Weather conditions in the run up to The Championships will have some effect on the way the courts ultimately play.
The atmosphere can also have an effect on the ball which will seem heavier and slower on a cold damp day and conversely lighter and faster on a warm dry day.
The last time the specification of the ball was changed was in 1995, which was a minimal alteration in compression.
Tim Phillips, Chairman of the All England Club and The Championships says: "Wimbledon has always striven to provide the players with the best possible grass courts on which to display their considerable talents. Just as the game of tennis does not stand still, neither do we and we continue to prepare our courts using all our experience and the latest technology. Ultimately, we aim to produce the best possible playing surface.”