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Jeff Lenihan: Pitch Prep in the UK

10 countries and 1000 cups of tea later...

Posted 27 July 2015 · 3,960 views

I have finished up my summer in Europe with trips to London and Paris with my family. In total, I traveled to ten different countries and met hundreds of turf professionals along the way. This trip was an incredible experience.


My adventure with Campey Turfcare enabled me to visit some of the world's most famous sporting venues, including Manchester United, Arsenal, Wimbledon, Wembley Stadium, and St. Andrews. On each stop, I got to pick the brain of the groundsman and learn a bit about how they are able to achieve success on each of their outstanding grounds.


With Richard Campey on my first day at work.


We carried out pitch renovations in Finland, Denmark, England, and Hungary and showed hundreds of groundsman our method of maintaining a high quality, safe playing surface.


I became familiar with all of the Campey machinery.


While I learned quite a bit about turf, my education didn't stop there. I can now say that I withstood the heat of a Finnish sauna and the immediate icy cold of the Baltic Sea, drank a pint (or more!) of Guinness in Ireland, and ran with the bulls in Spain. I also drank about a thousand cups of tea and survived driving on the left side of the road, among many other things.


I want to take the time to thank a few people, without whom this experience would not have happened.


First, thank you to Richard Campey for giving me the opportunity to work and learn all summer. Not just learning about turf either! Also thank you to Mike O'Keeffe at Ohio State. Mike put me in touch with Richard and was someone I could rely on throughout the whole process.


I also want to thank Julia Campey, who worked tirelessly to set up my whole trip and was always there to help. Another is Ian Campbell for providing me with a place to stay more than a few times! Thank you also to Brian O'Shaugnessy, Richard Heywood, Lee Morgado, David Stonier, John Campey, and Max Lomas for showing me how things are done at Campeys.


First renovated pitch of the summer - Helsinki, Finland


The last renovated pitch of the summer- Budapest, Hungary


I made memories and connections that will last a lifetime and all of those people above are to thank. It was the best summer of my life and I will never forget it! If you want to keep up with what I am doing, you can follow me on Twitter @jefflenihan. Mostly turf stuff, with some Nebraska football tweets in there as well!


One final thank you to Jon Kiger and Peter McCormick at TurfNet for giving me the opportunity to write this blog all summer. I hope some of you found it enjoyable and learned a few things as I did! Thanks for following along!

Final presentation, and running with the bulls at Pamplona

Posted in travel, Fun stuff 14 July 2015 · 3,838 views

My last project this summer with Campeys was completed in Budapest, Hungary. It was very successful, with more than 40 turf professionals coming out to see our pitch renovation. The Hungarian Football Association was there as well.


For the first time in my short career, and hopefully not the last, I gave a presentation to those attending about why you should renovate a pitch (Poa annua, thatch, safety, etc.) and the process we use. It went as well as it could have for my first time speaking about turf.


After Budapest, I traveled alone to Barcelona, Spain, and found a nice place to stay close to Barceloneta beach. On Sunday, I boarded a train up to Pamplona, a town in the northeast of Spain. Every year from July 6-14, Pamplona holds the Running of the Bulls, where participants from all over the world come to be chased down a street by six bulls, every day of that week! One person who was there described it to me as "better than Mardi Gras in New Orleans". It turns the town into one big party for a week straight.


Runners packed in near the starting line. 


The whole town shows up to watch.


Me in the traditional white outfit and red bandanaMost runners end up with minor scrapes and bruises, but the possibility of serious injury and even death is there. Four people had been gored during one of the early runs. The hard part about the run is you have to have stamina, be able to watch the bulls behind you while not tripping over the runners who might fall ahead of you. During my run, I jumped over more than one person on the ground. It is also very physical, as you have to jockey for position with other people.


In the photo, I am wearing the traditional white outfit and red bandana of the runners.


Knowing when to stop running and jump out of the way is another key here. You must also be wary that the bulls don't always run together, therefore, a few might pass you, but watch out because there are more coming behind you. I knew there were six bulls running going into it, so I counted in my head as they went by. I got to a point where I thought I counted that all six flew past me, so I slowed down. It might have been the chaos or just my exhaustion from running, but I miscounted and two bulls were right behind me in an instant. I went into a dead sprint and was able to get to safety off to the side of the course. The closest they ever got to me was probably 3-4 yards, and that was plenty close enough.


Cameras line the course. It is shown live on TV every day throughout Spain. 

Everyone gathers after the run to watch the replay.


Right after we finished, ambulance sirens pierced the air as we gathered around the local pub to watch a replay. Two people had been gored during my run. Luckily, paramedics were quickly on the scene, and, from what I have read, thankfully the two people survived.


A well-deserved beer after my run.


In the quickest bull run of the week (2 min. 12 sec), two were gored and many others had bruises, cuts, and headaches. It was a physically demanding run, but an experience I will never forget and hope to do again. Hopefully, next year!

Hanging out with the Pope...

Posted in travel, Fun stuff 06 July 2015 · 1,705 views

With my last day at Campeys on June 30, I said my goodbyes and headed off on July 1 for a mini vacation to Rome. I picked a place to stay near The Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica.


When you first see the famous dome and balcony, it is pretty surreal knowing just how much history surrounds you, from Michaelangelo's paintings to the tombs of more than 90 popes, including the tomb of St. Peter, the first pope and a disciple of Jesus.


On Thursday, there was a ceremony at The Vatican and Pope Francis was there! I was able to see him and hear him give a speech. Just don't ask me what he was talking about because it was all in Italian!


My long range attempt at a picture of the Pope. He's the one circled in the middle with the white/gold robe!


One of the best things I did on the trip was taking a tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica. There was a guided tour at the museums and we got to see the Sistine Chapel at the end. Unfortunately, it is a holy place and no pictures were allowed. I would also recommend a trip up to the dome in St. Peter's where you can look out onto the city and there are some spectacular views.



View from the dome


View of the Vatican Gardens, from the dome


Getting up to the top wasn't easy. Yes that is a curved passageway, and this one was spacious compared to the rest!


My journey continued with day trips to the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Roman Forums. They were all incredible and worth the trip. Unfortunately for me, the Trevi Fountain was under renovation, so it wasn't as spectacular as you see in most pictures.


That's me at the Colosseum.


Inside the Colosseum


The Pantheon. Incredible sight outside, incredibly beautiful inside.


Trevi Fountain under renovation.


Possibly the best pizza I have ever had


After four days of fantastic sights, food, and experiences, I was ready to head off to my next adventure. Before I can go on more 'just for fun' trips, there is one more place to go with Campeys...

Manchester United Training Complex and Old Trafford

Posted in Road trip 29 June 2015 · 4,365 views

The official Manchester United Instagram account sent out a picture a little over a week ago that shocked a good portion of its 4.2 million followers. The picture, as you can see, features barren soil instead of grass in the Theatre of Dreams. The comments on this picture ranged from outrage to confusion, with a lot asking why they stripped the pitch that just won the joint Premier League Pitch of the Year with Arsenal. The answer can be found if we rewind back exactly one year in time.


Last year, and every year for about the past decade, the turf at Old Trafford was stripped off with the Koro Field Top Maker. Eliminated from the pitch was any thatch present, almost all the Poa annua plants and seeds, and any other surface contaminants.


This puts the head groundsman, Tony Sinclair, in almost complete control over his new pitch.  At the time of our visit -- about ten days after seeding -- the pitch was well on its way to recovery, as you can see from the photos below.





The same treatment is done to the pitches at the Aon Training Complex in Carrington as well. Here, head groundsman Joe Pemberton deals with the challenges of maintaining a facility that is used by about a dozen teams (U-11s up to the Senior team). Luckily, Manager Louis van Gaal is very supportive and understanding of the challenges the grounds staff faces and keeps an open dialogue.


Joe Pemberton (middle), head groundsman at Carrington Training Complex


Joe has been with Manchester United since 1985, when the training facility consisted of just two pitches. Instead of the 11 groundsman and two gardeners that are working at today's complex, it was just two groundsman on site. With the club's growth came a new training ground, and many more youth teams.


First team pitches at Carrington being mowed.


With Tony and Joe leading the way for Manchester United's grounds, more industry awards and trophies are sure to be on the way. Let's hope the team brings in some trophies as well!


That's me in the tunnel below the stands, the only entry point onto the pitch at Old Trafford.

Kilts and Bagpipes: The end of my Scotland trip

Posted in Road trip 27 June 2015 · 1,835 views

My time in Scotland has come to an end. Before I left, I got to see a traditional Scottish pipe band play. The Kilbarchan Pipe Band led a march of local school children up to the school for their end of the year dance.



One of the most supported football clubs in Scotland is the Glasgow Rangers. I got to meet their passionate head groundsman David Roxburgh. Rangers play in Ibrox Stadium which holds the unique and challenging title of the darkest stadium in Europe. It really was incredible feeling the difference in moisture and temperature when walking from a shaded part to a sunny part. Because so little light gets onto the pitch, grow lights are a necessity.


David Roxburgh and me at Ibrox Stadium.


The difference between the pitch in the sun and in shade is drastic.


David also took us around to to show us the rest of the stadium, including the trophy room and locker rooms. Rangers have won a lot of silverware over the years, as you can see from the pictures.




After our visit to Rangers, we visited Hampden, the National Stadium, as they set up for an AC/DC concert. We also got around to a couple of smaller clubs, Partick Thistle and Greenock Morton FC.


Flooring going down for an AC/DC concert at Hampden.


At Greenock Morton, their one and only groundsman, Mark Farrell, showed me some Red Thread that had invaded his pitch (photo below). Luckily, Mark really knows his turf, so dealing with that will be no problem. Mark uses his limited budget in the best ways possible to get the most out of his pitch.


St. Andrews and the 2015 British Open

Posted in Road trip 23 June 2015 · 1,584 views

I recently had the unique opportunity to visit the famous St. Andrews Links golf course, the home of the 2015 British Open on July 16-19. Preparations were well under way to welcome the world's best golfers to one of the world's best known and oldest courses.



The spectator stands were being constructed as we walked the fairways of the Old Course. Because the course is so flat, wind here is a major challenge for the golfers, and we certainly felt its power as it swirled around us on our walk.





Many people don't realize that the St. Andrews courses are basically open to the public. As we were there, kids were riding bikes through, couples were taking a midday stroll, and people were free to walk the course, as long as they stayed off the greens and tees. Keep in mind, this is about three weeks until the start of The Open! The "home of golf" looked like a neighborhood park, but there was still that awe factor and that feeling that you're standing on hallowed ground.



We got a bonus to the day as well, as the claret jug was out and being photographed on the Swilcan Burn Bridge, the iconic small bridge that connects the 1st and 18th fairways.



Edinburgh Castle

Posted in travel, Fun stuff 21 June 2015 · 1,318 views

Today, I visited the famous Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. It was built in medieval times, around the 12th century and sits on Castle Rock overlooking the city. Edinburgh Castle was involved in the War of Scottish Independence (yes, the one with William Wallace!) and withstood numerous sieges, including one that lasted two years. The architecture in the castle and the rest of this city is incredible. It is best described through pictures, from both the castle and the surrounding area:





Overlooking the city


Cannon ready to fire down on the city


Statue outside the Scottish National War Museum located in the castle



Scottish bagpiper playing on the street



Inside the Royal Palace

Chambers Bay feel at seaside Irish links course

Posted in On the job, Road trip 16 June 2015 · 2,745 views

Portmarnock is a small coastal town right outside Dublin in the southeast of Ireland. It is home to the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, a seaside resort that includes a spa, a 4 star hotel which is my home for the week, and an 18 hole Championship Links Course designed by Bernhard Langer.


View out of my hotel room window at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links


Ocean view from the golf course...


With the U.S. Open being this week at Chambers Bay, you can imagine my surprise at walking onto a course that looked very similar to the pictures and videos I've seen this week from the Washington state course, with primarily fescue grasses (along with some bent grass and annual meadow grasses).


Fairway on the Portmarnock Golf Links course


While Chambers Bay is not a true links course, it tries to deliver the feel of one, like the Portmarnock Golf Links has achieved. The rolling fairways, deep bunkers, and almost indiscernible greens make this a unique challenge for golfers who come from all over the world to play this seaside course.


Fintan Brennan is the head groundsman here, and he has really become an expert in what it takes to prepare this course for play day-in and day-out. He has also used some new products to help maintain the course, including using the Recycling Dresser on one of his struggling fairways with great success.


Fintan Brennan and me


One product is of his own invention. The Greenstester is a hole-out tester much like the Stimpmeter. However, he has put in a curved pathway for the ball to roll on and into the cup, instead of the straight one that the Stimp provides. This allows the ball to get a true roll off the tester and onto the green, unlike the Stimp, where the ball bounces and doesn't provide a totally accurate reading. The Greenstester can really help a course manager pinpoint which individual greens need help and how. It is a really simple, very affordable device that can make a difference on any putting surface. More information, including a video, about this new product can be found at www.greenstester.com.



Another product Fintan has found useful is a new type of hybrid turf mat (below) that allows natural turf, such as ryegrass, to grow through it. He has used this for some of his walking paths to provide added strength and durability.



Lots of Guinness... And some innovative equipment as well!

Posted in On the job, Road trip 11 June 2015 · 3,733 views

Ireland is an incredible place, with beautiful scenery and friendly people. And great beer. Specifically, Guinness. It is a thick and creamy beer that goes down smooth, and a heavenly pint of this dark and savory drink will have you wanting more of this delicious... But I digress. Back to turf!


Demonstration days give groundsmen the opportunity to see first hand equipment they believe can benefit them. With today's technology, you can see videos of new innovations at the push of a button. However, until you are actually there up close, seeing the results and benefits, it can be tough to totally buy in to new products. Until you are actually seeing (and feeling), for example, an Air2G2 lifting the ground, you might not be totally convinced just from the videos.


A part of the reason I came to Ireland was to help with demonstration days, in order to get as much exposure for Campey's products as possible. This week, I have visited three different sites in the north of Ireland.


A good variety of equipment on display gives groundsman different options to potentially add to their arsenal


Air2G2 on demonstration.


Imants Rotoknife


Many of the attendees were in charge of multiple pitches at different facilities that are used frequently. Compaction becomes a problem with frequent use. We demonstrated both the Shockwave and Recycle Dresser and got great feedback from the attendees.


Shockwave: aeration with little surface disruption


Watching the ground move side to side inside the Shockwave


For the first time, I got to see the Imants Sandcat in action. This machine cuts slits into the ground and funnels dry sand into them, all in one pass. It is ideal for improving drainage and soil structure in golf greens.


Imants Sandcat in action


Capable of injecting sand up to almost 5 inches deep (120mm)


Dublin, Republic of Ireland: Croke Park

Posted in travel, On the job 08 June 2015 · 1,792 views

Today was the first day of two weeks I get to spend in Ireland. We got off the ferry at 5 am this morning loaded down with Campey equipment to show.


The visit today was to the center of Dublin and Croke Park, the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association. This massive stadium seats 80,000+, making it the third largest stadium in Europe behind Barcelona's Camp Nou and Wembley Stadium.




Croke Park is home to traditional Gaelic games like hurling, camogie (a game like hurling typically played by women), Gaelic football, handball and rounders (I had to Google these to see what they all were!). While we were there, a community event was held where thousands of kids got the chance to play hurling and camogie on the pitch.


Kids playing camogie at Croke Park.


We demonstrated some equipment for the groundsman, Stuart Wilson, and got a look around the park.The surface of the pitch looked immaculate today at the end of the season.


They will Koro a portion of it off next week for a concert and then take off another portion in July for an Ed Sheeran concert. After that, the bare areas will be sodded and Gaelic football will be played just five short days later.


Hollow-tining the sidelines with a Toro ProCore...


... and sweeping up with an Imants Rotosweep.


The finished product after hollow-tining and sweeping.


Stuart faces the challenges of a multi functional facility. As you have read, it isn't just Gaelic games that are played here. Croke Park has seen football matches, concerts, and even American football games. Stuart and his team successfully handle this variety of events and keep the pitch looking mint all year round.

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