Wimbledon comes round every year, and every year, as if by magic, players and public are treated to the sight of 19 immaculate grass courts, trimmed and toned to perfection. They are the best grass courts in the world. But, how do they get that way?
You may think that a whole load of new turf is brought in each year. You may think they just sort themselves out on their own. Not quite. A hardy team of 16 groundsmen, led by Head Groundsman Eddie Seaward, and his No.2, Head Groundsman Designate Neil Stubley, tend to the courts for 365 days a year, so that when June rolls around, they are as prim and proper as possible.
We’ll be bringing you a month by month update on the Wimbledon greensward (or grass, to you and me), so watch this space. First up, April, and Verticutting.
Early spring for the groundsmen is about killing off any weeds that might have popped up in the grass as it’s started to grow again as the weather gets warmer, evaluating its thickness, and starting to trim the grass down from its winter height.
” We put a weed killer down, which will kill any weeds which have come up over the winter period, leave it for about two weeks, then put the scarifiers across them, which are little star blades that just touches the soil. These will pick out all the dead weeds and any debris that’s settled in the sward (Ed: that’s the grass) over the winter. Then we’ll follow up with the mower, and it basically thins out the sward ready for the spring. So normally we’ll do it on a by eye basis, if we think that one of the courts is a bit thicker, we’ll run over it two or three times, but they’re pretty much all looking the same at the moment. We did Centre and No.1 first, because it tends to stay a little bit colder because of the stands.”
The result? Two bundles of very different-looking grass. One lot is dry and brown and straw-like, the other is beautifully green…
“The brown stuff in there, that’s the bits of dead grass that sit at the base of the grass. Over time if you don’t take that out, it’ll almost go like a sponge, it’ll sit between the grass and the soil. It then starts getting soft, and when you roll it, it doesn’t go hard, so the ball won’t bounce. That’s about the amount we’d expect from this time of year. But when you cut, it’s all green.”
The second task in April is starting to trim the courts, which is a step by step process of pain-staking precision…
” The courts have a winter height of 13mm, but over the last seven days we’ve dropped it to 11mm. They’ll stay like this for another couple of weeks, and then gradually over each week, we’ll just drop it a mm until it’s down to the playing height of 8mm. To us it looks long, most people probably think it’s short!”
The process of verticutting takes the groundsmen about three days to do all 19 Championship courts, plus the practice courts in Aorangi Pavilion. They’ll keep an eye
on the thickness of the grass, and if necessary, run the scarifiers and mowers through again. And also tidy up any bare patches at the side of the courts, or ‘tickle the surface,’ as they like to put it.
“For us at the moment, this is perfect, nice 20 degree days, not too cold overnight. Our biggest problem has been when you get sunny days, but frost at night, which keeps the soil temperatues down and means the grass isn’t growing as it should be.”
Next month…getting the courts ready for the Members.