Saturday School: 10 Questions we all have about the Wimbledon Grass

Every year over 600 matches are played on the green grass courts of Wimbledon. For 14 days the grass experiences constant wear and tear. Yet the courts are always ready for a new day’s play. Providing faster conditions, grass needs high maintenance treatments. Here are 10 of the most asked questions about Wimbledon’s grass.
1) Who is responsible for maintaining all the grass courts at Wimbledon?
Neil Stubley
“It’s a two-week championship. The first week, there’s a lot of grass. The second week, there’s not as much. Players adapt.” 
– Eddie Seaward
Until 2011, it was Eddie Seaward who was the head groundsman at Wimbledon. In 2012, he was replaced by Neil Stubley. Stubley’s team comprises of 16 permanent ground keepers. 12 more are added when the Championships begin.

2) What variety of grass does Wimbledon use?

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Grass usually needs a dry soil to grow properly. Before 2001, a mix of perennial ryegrass (70%) and creeping red fescue(30%) was used on Wimbledon’s courts. But, a study conducted at The Sports Turf Research Institute at Yorkshire proved that a court of 100% perennial ryegrass would be more beneficial. This was because perennial grass allows the court’s speed to be nearly the same on the first day of the tournament as on the last day.

3) Why is the grass length 8 mm and how is it maintained throughout the tournament?

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Since 1995 there has been no change in the dimensions of tennis balls. The same year, research proposed that 8mm is the optimum height of the grass for the ball to bounce. During the Championships the grass is cut every day to maintain its height. Ground staff also tracks the hardness of the surface, chlorophyll index, and the live grass content to make sure they are within normal limits.

4) Why is there no play on middle Sunday?

The answer is: the grass. After the first week, most people believe that the organizers have scheduled the middle Sunday so that the players can take a day off. That is not the case. Water is an essential factor for the proper growth of grass. The middle Sunday is the day when the grounds men give maximum water to the grass to prepare it for the second week. Doing so on days when matches are to be played is dangerous for players as it could cause them to slip and be injured.
Besides the ground men at Wimbledon use “Billy the Goat” on the middle Sunday. It is a powerful vacuum machine. It hoovers up debris near the baseline, the T and the center service line.

5) How are the vertical stripes of grass so perfectly mowed?

Image result for wimbledon grassIf you look at a grass court you notice that the vertical stripes of grass contribute to the ambiance. So what equipment is used to make this picturesque image of the court? None! The grounds men take a roller and with their own precision and skill they let this highly difficult task look easy and beautify the court through multiple folds. A key point is that the mowing must be done only in one direction so that the grass blades arrange themselves accordingly in a unidirectional fashion.

6) How is “hammer-throwing” a key factor in assuring homogeneity of the Wimbledon turf?

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A Clegg soil impact hammer is what is used at Wimbledon. It costs around £2,000. A hammer is attached to a structure which looks like a bicycle pump. A digital sensor is attached in the center. The hammer is struck on the ground and the sensor reads a certain value. If the ground is too soft, then water should not be added further. If the ground is too hard, then water needs to be added. This procedure of hammer-throwing is done 10 days before Wimbledon begins.

7) Is it really the grass that determines the bounce of the ball?

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The answer lies underneath. Many believe the grass is the primary factor determining the bounce of the ball but in reality, it’s the soil. There are 9 tons of grass that are used every year at Wimbledon. 54 million grass plants are planted. The soil contains 25% clay which gives hardness to the turf but also makes it prone to cracks. Moisture content should be minimal which keeps the soil dry and hard.

8) What are the various hindrances the grass faces and how are they countered?

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– Water: To keep the grass away from rain water, Centre Court has a shed which prevents any damage to the grass.
– Weeds: In the 90s, there was a weed known as Poa Annua which infected the grass at Wimbledon making the surface spongy and soft. To fight this weed, the use of perennial ryegrass was pioneered. Later, a machine known as the Koro Field Top maker was introduced to remove any kind of weeds on grass.
– Pigeons: Pigeons tend to eat the grass. To scare them away, Wimbledon employs a red-tailed hawk named Rufus. Rufus keeps an eye on the grounds and keeps the courts safe from pigeons. Pollux, now a four-year-old hawk, is being trained to patrol the Wimbledon grounds.
– Fox: The urine of a fox can burn the grass down. Hence, outfoxing is done by placing an electric wire around the grounds and dogs guard the periphery.
9)  When the roof goes over the Centre Court, won’t the excess moisture affect the grass?
Image result for roof centre court wimbledon
No, it won’t. The reason is proper conditioning of the grass. Once the roof goes up, there are four air conditioners that reduce the humidity so it will not damage the grass.

10) How are the courts maintained for the remainder of the year?

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Ideally, it takes 15 months to establish the perfect grass court. Once the championships are over, the grounds are irrigated, seeded and aerated. The layer between the soil and grass which makes the soil spongy is removed by small drilling holes. This layer is known as thatch.
The grass is cut to 15 mm in winters with extreme caution as frost develops on the grass. In May the grass is cut three times in a week. In June the roller is regularly moved over the grass to keep the surface firm. June also marks the beginning of the time when the amount of water given to grass is reduced the to a minimum.
The amount of hard work that Neil Stubley and his men put in all year to maintain the aesthetics of Wimbledon is commendable. Their efforts deserve a thousand salutes.

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