Tales from the Wimbledon groundstaff – September

We caught up with Head Groundsman designate Neil Stubley to learn about what’s been going on around the Grounds at the AELTC this September… 

September is about renovation, and the closing of the grass courts. The Members will have their end of season grass court tournament which they had last Saturday, so now officially the grass courts are closed. But because we’ve still got a little bit of time, we’ve still got some of the practice courts open.

A recently renovated court

The courts that have been renovated through August, are now ready to be top-dressed. We also prick the top of the courts, to let the air in there. There’s a team out top-dressing getting the levels back, and a team doing the renovating. By the end of October, we’d want to have top-dressed all the practice courts then too. Once the first frosts start coming in, which is early November, the surface becomes very soft, and the machines that you need to do the top-dressing don’t work so well.

Centre Court, for example, has been renovated and top dressed, so it is what we would class as being ‘put to bed.’ So we’ll manage it from now until the spring, and then the natural April/May spring flush of growth will thicken it up to the thickness that we want for the forthcoming season. From now until the spring it’s a case of man-managing the courts so they’re healthy. Keeping the air in the surface, making sure they have enough food to last them for the winter.

A court ready to be top-dressed

The practice courts operate on a slightly different schedule. Two of the blocks of courts, at the College, are turned into croquet lawns after The Championships, and they stay in until October. The rest of them, we split into two, and we renovate half one year, half the next, because we can’t fit them all in every year.

We haven’t lost that much play because of the weather. But it’s when you start to renovate, that’s when it gets wet and it doesn’t dry out very quickly. We’ve had one of our worst-case scenarios of a wet, not particularly warm summer. When we get to renovation time, it’s always better if it’s warmer and drier, because we can control how much water we put on. But if you’ve got a lot of rain, you get restricted on what you can and can’t do. As long as we get a two-three week dry window that gets us back on track.

Centre Court ready to be ‘put to bed’

What else has been going on?
We went to our annual trade show, touch base with our current suppliers, and take a look at what’s new, just to make sure we’re still getting what’s best for this club. Down to the marking compound, it’s evolving all the time. A brighter line, longer-lasting line, for example. Machines that will give you a crisper edge to your line. Every single part of it is changing all the time.

Is there anything changing around the Grounds?
There’s only a few bits of enabling work going on, so it’s the first time since I started that it’s not been noisy.I started in 1995 so they were already a year into construction for No. 1 Court, then the Millennium Building, the roof, No.2, No.3. On and on. So we’re getting a bit of a break this year.

Has this year taught you anything as far as preparing for the Olympics?
Pray for dry weather! We’ve done some trials this year, renovating the baselines in a 20-day window, and they worked ok, which given that it was the worst-case scenario, it was wet and cold, we hit our targets. So we know it will work. Best case scenario is that after next years’ Championships it will be dry and warm, which means we can control the irrigation, and everything will be even better than it was this year. As groundsmen, it’s a once in a lifetime experience for us.

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Alexandra Willis

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