Head Groundsman at Sydney Uni Sport and Fitness
Please provide a little background about yourself and how long you’ve been at Sydney University?
I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years since the age of 16.
I started my career on a Group 1 Golf Course in Western sydney formerly known as Ashlar Golf Club now a new housing estate, through a work studies program at school which lead to an apprenticeship.
I’ve been at the University for over 11 years now spending the first 6 years as the Assistant Head Groundsman.
Can you provide some background on the university, e.g. the grounds, uses, types of turf, etc?
Sydney University has some of the oldest grounds in Sydney and are pretty close to the day they were built or when the students decided to cut the paddock a bit shorter.
There is a lot of history on campus with the University Founded in 1850. The two oldest clubs with over 300 years history between them are the Rugby and Cricket.
The No1 oval is the lowest point in The University and also part of our storm management plan as a big bath tub it has pretty much been untouched in over 150 years.
On campus there is 7 ovals and 8 lawn tennis courts Sydney Uni Sports and Fitness only have control over 3 ovals and the 8 Lawn Tennis courts.
The rest are owned by the colleges on campus that 2 of the 3 we maintain. We also have another campus we look after at Cumberland that has a oval and a Synthetic Hockey field.
The fields we manage are mainly kikuyu and couch
No1 oval – Village Green Kikuyu, Kikuyu , and a wide variety of couch grasses
Football Ground – Windsor Green Couch but we are currently trialing pure rye.
Square – Santa Anna Couch and Kikuyu outsides/ rye winter
St Paul’s Oval – Kikuyu
St Andrews Oval – Kikuyu/rye winter
Cumberland Oval – Currently a bit of everything
Manning Tennis Courts- A mixture of Couch varieties, Queensland Blue and Carpet grass. We are currently stripping them back and converting them to the original common couch, we also are trialling some TifTuf and Santa Anna that we planted as chaff.
How does the maintenance of the turfed areas at Sydney Uni differ to other public gardens/spaces?
We have over 40 sporting clubs plus around 70000 students as well as commercial bookings with limited green space we are always looking for new ways to grow grass against Mother Nature. We only look after the Sporting Fields and their surrounds the rest is looked after the University Grounds Team who cop just as much wear and release as we do with such a large population on campus.
What are improvements you’re hoping to work on for 2020?
We are currently rejuvenating the old Turf Tennis Courts that are based on Cricket Wicket soil where we turf cut off 1.5 inches on 4 courts to let the grass grow back thatch free. We transplanted the turf around campus to save money on tip fees. Our biggest trial for 2020 will be us trialing Blue Grass on our No1 oval with the theory that the Blue grass will help during the heavy load during the winter then hopefully go dormant when the temperatures rise letting the host grass take over.
We honestly do not know if it will work as it’s not commonly practiced here but that’s what trials are all about, if it doesn’t work we will trial something else until we find something that works for us. The biggest thing I try to drill into our team members heads is that what we do here may not work next door. We currently have a lot of projects going on from turf trials to a new Turf Management Software program thats automating our day to day lives.
What have been the ‘big wins’ you’ve had since you’ve been in your role at Sydney Uni in relation to turfed areas?
Unfortunately we will always be under the pump as it’s an overpopulated campus with outdated facilities. We have accepted that as a team and have decided to use it to our advantage to set it up to what a university is meant for education. Our fields are probably the most used ovals in the country so trialling things like Line Planting , chaffing , different grass varieties, fertilisers, chemicals, new technology, and machinery is a great advantage to our industry as the population is only going to increase and with the popularity of women’s sport we will all have to think outside the box to prevent Synthetic Grass from taking over.
Our management team has bought into this and love seeing the new ideas that help prolong the expensive process of upgrading the ovals to handle their actual needs. Having our management team believe us that the ovals are too far gone but we can put lipstick on a pig until they can find the money to bring us up to the 21st century has helped dramatically with helping our grounds team become part of the organisation as previously we were just the people that cut the grass.
Building this new relationship with management and the entire organisation we have been able to set up a work experience/volunteer program where we accept volunteers and Overseas Greenkeepers who want to learn and better their career and also send our staff to different employers around the country and overseas for on the job training with some of the best people in the Turf Industry.
After a few years Success I decided to share our success with the rest of the industry and Start International Greenkeepers For Hire which has over 1700 members on our Closed Facebook Group in just over 9 months.
Have there been any difficulties relating to the management of the grounds’ grasses that you’ve had to overcome? How was this achieved?
Our Biggest problem on campus is unauthorised use and wet weather use.
Unfortunately once a game has started you can not stop them and with ovals that have no working drainage it can be heart breaking coming to work on a Monday to see a pig pen that was once a sporting field. To help over come this we introduced a night grounds manager which is one of our staff members, it doesn’t fix the problem but at least if it rains they can turn the lights off or kick unauthorised users off the oval.
The first year we introduced this new position we saved over $20000 in replacement turf.
Can you detail the rye grass trial you are undertaking? Why did it come about, what are you hoping to achieve, results so far, etc.?
This was the biggest decision I’ve ever made after trialing a rye grass variety from the US that we struggled to transition out so the couch could come back.
After 3 seasons struggling to transition from Rye to Couch in a short turn around without having a large area on campus look brown that’s regularly photographed by students and tourists wasn’t ideal, plus the fact we flog the oval with over 200 games plus training each year.
The ground is used from February to November with Boots from all codes, with the sydney weather the couch wouldn’t move until December so the oval was brown for a long period of time after spraying out the rye grass with chemicals.
After a lot of talks with management, staff members, friends in the industry and suppliers we decided to let the rye go through knowing we would be up for a rough summer if the weather turned.
The goal was to have a mature Rye Plant from round one instead of an immature rye competing with an immature couch that would be ripped out by heavy use, in the past we found that the couch wanted to thrive when we were trying to establish the rye at the end of February especially with a bit of turf Starter.
We originally had 4 weeks each year before the first Game to establish the rye grass but this year keeping the rye in we knew the clubs would want to get on earlier and they got their way locking in TV games which took my back up plan of re seeding the oval if we lost large areas from the summer heat.
The field that’s a clay loam holds a lot of water and stays wet which helps hold moisture to keep the Rye alive but also creates other problems like disease outbreaks and compaction issues from the inconsistent profile.
The trial is working for us so far with only a couple of major disease issues mainly brown patch from the poor quality soil our next step if this works is a Hybrid Grass system that’s a Rye Hybrid combination where we can strip the grass over summer and not have to water as we will just have the synthetic fibres exposed the seed for the winter period. We are currently trialling two different Hybrid Grass Systems which are both showing their strengths and weaknesses.
This is the only oval on campus I’d even think about doing a pure rye grass trial as every oval has its own needs , usage and climates. It’s not a cheap exercise but it’s currently weighing itself out compared to purchasing washed couch and establishing it. At the end of the Day sports fields that are highly used cost money, as we have a tight budget we have to try and look for new ways to handle the constant beatings.
The University is also not the easiest place to receive deliveries as it’s a little city so any way we can cut back on relying on trucks will make our lives easier, whether that’s a new seed or turf variety that can the abuse it all helps.
In the last 4 years we have cut our turfing bill from around $200000 to under $40000 just by trialling a wide variety of new and old technology.
It’s very important to remember pure rye might work on one field the same as some warm season grasses may not work on the ground next door, every ground and sporting facility is different that’s the fun part of the job getting to know your site and it it’s needs.
Daryl Davidson – Sydney University