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Wimbledon groundsman's diary - September

The ground staff renovate the southern courts at Wimbledon
by William Brierley
Tuesday 18 September 2012

A member of the All England Club groundstaff will be writing regular blogs about the development of the courts throughout the year at Wimbledon...

As of Thursday 13th September all remaining signs of the Olympics were taken down with us removing the canvas on courts 5, 6 and 7. We are currently on the last of these courts renovating and that will be us almost done with the Championship courts renovation for the year. Already Centre, No.1, No.2, No.3, Court 4, Court 8, Court 9, Court 12,Court 14, Court 15, Court 16, Court 17, Court 18 and Court 19 are completed and in the case of a couple we’ve been able to get on and start mowing them again. We have been extremely lucky with the weather and I don’t remember a rained off day since the Olympics finished. This has really helped us to catch up the month that we had lost in renovation time and we are back on track.

So what have we done? Well as I mentioned in last month's blog we strip off the top layer of the court, scarify in two directions then seed, feed and cover, in this weather it has been a maximum of 5 days. Once the grass has germinated under the cover it is removed and the court is left to grow and establish for a few days more. After that time if the court looks healthy and full then we will start to mow it. For the first couple of times it will be mown with a rotary mower just to take the top off the plant without pulling at it as a cylinder mower would. Then when the sward is a bit thicker we will start to mow with the cylinder mowers at a height of 15mm.

Over the next couple of weeks the height will slowly come down from 15mm to 13mm to 11mm and then finally it will be cut at 10mm. When the court has been mown at 10mm a couple of times we will assess to see if it is ready to be top-dressed. Once we are happy that the court is suitable we will mow the court one last time at 10mm and that will be followed up with the sarrell roller seeder, this is a petrol engine seeder which has a roller with small spikes to create little hole for the seed to go into and for a bit of surface aeration. Then the top dressing will be applied, on a normal Championship court it is about 4 tons but Centre and Number One use about 6. We allow the top dressing to dry a little, usually over the hour of our lunch break, before it is ‘dragged in’.

This is a process whereby we use a level with two handles and drag the soil across the court, this removes excess soil from high spots and drops it into the low spots. That is then followed up with a drag mat, which is lighter but in essence does the same job, to tidy it up a little more and leave a pristine finish. The court is then left open to the elements until the top dressing has keyed in with the court and it is fit to mow again. So as you can tell this is not a particularly short process and to do the 19 Championship courts takes at least two months, weather depending of course.

It’s safe to say that the period after the Olympics this year has been the most intense and busy renovation period in the seven years I have been at the club, but we have a great team and with everybody chipping in it has also been one of the best renovation seasons I think we’ve had.

As I mentioned last month our former head groundsman Eddie Seaward MBE was retiring, well now he has gone and he will be missed greatly by all the groundstaff and other members of staff at the club. After 23 years as head groundsman having the Olympics as a swansong will surely be a memory he’ll keep forever. So I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge Thank You to Eddie for firstly hiring me and secondly for everything he has done for me while I’ve been here. He was a great boss and an even better bloke.

Now though it is time to move forward and stepping into Eddie's place is Neil Stubley. Neil was the former senior groundsman here and was chosen from the list of interviewees nearly two years ago to replace Eddie and so he was given the position of head groundsman designate until taking full charge on September 1st. Next month I will have a short interview with him to introduce you all to him properly and find out what got him to where he is today.

Remember a groundsman is for life not just The Championships, and to see what we are up to daily follow @WimboGroundsman for updates and pictures.

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