Research manager, Mark Ferguson, talks to the Independent‘s David Barnett about Wimbledon 2017, the work STRI conducts into sports turf research, and preparing the best sporting surfaces.
Mark Ferguson will be the envy of tennis fans across the world this next two weeks as he spends Wimbledon fortnight watching the tournament all day, every day, right up close to the action.
But he confesses that his attention won’t entirely be on Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Johanna Konta. He’ll be keeping more than a weather eye on the grass. “I watched Queens and the Gerry Weber Open in June and I was just flicking between the channels, seeing how the courts were holding up,” laughs Ferguson. Which is quite understandable; as research manager at the Sports Turf Research Institute, the green stuff is his business.
In fact, it could be said that Ferguson’s day job is quite literally watching grass grow. He raises an eyebrow and deadpans: “I’ve never heard that one before.” But it’s true.
The company is based in a country park and former estate called St Ives, which is near Bingley, in West Yorkshire. Looking out from the building, which nestles between a golf course and thick woodland, the 10 hectares of land belonging to the institute is divided up into rectangles of turf being sprayed, mowed, prodded and tested by a small battalion of scientists, researchers and groundspeople. This is where the magic happens that ensures sporting events across the world are as slick and problem-free as possible.
And while Wimbledon is uppermost in everyone’s mind at the moment, it isn’t just tennis courts that they deal with. Ferguson says: “We work on pitches for football, rugby, cricket, equestrian events, and golf, of course, which is a big part of what we do.”
In fact, it was golf that first prompted the setting up of the company as far back as 1929, when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews decided that there must be ways to give nature a helping hand and make the game smoother and more satisfying. “If you think that the lawnmower wasn’t widely used until the 19th century, it can be a bit surprising to think that as far back as 1929 people were sitting down and wondering how they could improve the greens for playing golf on,” says Ferguson.
To read the full article visit the Independent’s website here