No rest for the best

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Sydney’s number one multi-purpose sporting venue ANZ Stadium, also known to many as Homebush Stadium, famously held the highly acclaimed 2000 Olympic Games.

With a capacity crowd of 80,000 and a moving stand system to accommodate rugby, football, Australian Rules Football, cricket, and other various events, the head groundsman Graeme Logan along with his staff have the big responsibility of maintaining and preparing the playing surface for approximately fifty events each year.

ANZ Stadium is 100 per cent privately owned, therefore every hirer and event is hugely important to keep the stadium operating. The number one priority for management is to get the public through the gates, yet the team are also aware that surface wear goes hand in hand with each event.

Graeme and his staff have been set up and prepared by management to specifically cope with the surface wear. The surface at the stadium has been known for its positive and negative publicity, with 2006 being the most challenging year of Graeme’s career. Various factors in 2006 heavily impacted upon the playing surface quality, with the media scrutinising the stadium and the surface management. Yet out of the negatives came many positives for ANZ Stadium, with both Graeme and management becoming wiser and more prepared for future.

Graeme has been at ANZ stadium since day one in 1998, while also working at Parramatta Stadium until 2003. At this point he made the decision to take on the head groundsman job at ANZ stadium due to the development potential and challenges of the venue.

He possesses a rich and proud eighteen year history at Parramatta Stadium alongside current head groundsman Dave Hinkley, where his reputation grew as one of the top groundsmen in the country. The networking between head groundsmen in Sydney is second to none with a good rapport and Graeme is often at the core of this.

This network provides an advantage to all those involved, with Graeme mentioning he has great relationships with the guys from Parramatta and Concord Stadiums, along with other major venues.

He is also heavily involved with and a former president of the STA (Sports Turf Association) NSW, which provides support, networking opportunities and education to the turf industry throughout NSW. It’s hard to see how Graeme gets any time to himself, however, somehow he manages to do it all!

A 2IC, 3IC, general hand, mechanic and apprentice make up Graeme’s ground staff team which maintain the playing surface and attend to all turf related issues.

After every event an analysis of the playing surface is undertaken to determine the schedule for the proceeding week, which includes what products are to be applied to the surface and if aeration is required.

Graeme says, “our windows of opportunity for applying products and aeration is at the start of the week on a Monday and Tuesday, so we need to be very organised to get these processes happening as soon as possible.”

On a typical Monday morning the grounds staff will tidy up the playing surface and undertake any necessary stand movements. A general tidy up will consist of a divot fill, general repair and possibly a vacuum depending on the amount of scuffing and divoting that occurred during the event. Wednesday is often project day and use of the Stadium Grow Lights.

All through the week other proceedings are undertaken at ANZ stadium including commercials and press related items. Managing and working around these proceedings keeps the ground staff busy all week ahead of event day preparation on a Friday, and the event day itself. Generally Graeme and his staff try to be two weeks ahead of schedule, while also aiming to produce the best playing surfaces for key events with constant visual analysis.

The turf at ANZ Stadium in comprised of ‘Legend’ and ‘CT2’ couch grass which is then oversown with ryegrass varieties. The profile is a Motz Stabilised Turf Technology System which is comprised of synthetic tufts, a sand fill layer and plastic mesh backing, creating a unique matrix which shelters the vegetative structures of the turf that are essential for vigorous growth and rapid recovery.

“Along with granular fertilizers, we introduce a lot of beneficial microbes into our environment to increase the amount of microbial life within profile, which is necessary for healthy and vigorous plant growth.”

“We have a lot of wear on our playing surface but our ProCore helps with the recovery of that wear without damaging the surface, while improving drainage by punching through the plastic mesh backing of the Motz Technology.”

The ProCore is also used to hollow tine the logo areas of the turf once every three to four weeks to help wash out the paint from the logos after events.

When it comes to cutting the turf, Graeme has chosen to use 2x Jacobesen TR3 surrounds mowers to achieve an accurate and high quality cut. With such a variety of sports and events held at ANZ Stadium cutting height on the PR3 can vary constantly, especially when Holger Osieck and the Socceroos are in town.

“The Socceroos’s request 27mm-not 25mm or 30mm it must be 27mm. I don’t know how they came up with that height but that’s the height we cut it for them.”

The drainage within the profile is a conventional herringbone system, which has evolved from the original drainage system installed prior to the Olympic Games. A collection pipe one metre in diameter then diverts all the drainage water into a collection precinct where the water is then recycled and not wasted.

“Any building or area in Homebush collects and diverts any water runoff into the collection precinct. This system collects and saves vast amounts of water, creating a very cost effective scheme.”

The grounds staff at ANZ Stadium has always faced challenges, especially with the stand movements which at first was a two and a half day process. Now the process has been reduced to two and a half hours due to much refinement and perfecting.

In 2006 when problems with the playing surface occurred with a hand-in-hand nematode and Rhizoctonia outbreak in the first half of the year, resulting in one of the toughest periods of Graeme’s career.

“The turf capitulated, and for the next six months we were putting out fires. At the time we were the only major venue in Australia without a backup turf nursery, because up until then we hadn’t needed one. Out if the experience came a lot of good things though, including sitting down and re-strategising with management, setting up a turf nursery and preparing ourselves for the future.”

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The situation attracted media attention and negative publicity affecting everyone involved directly and indirectly.

“You can’t take it personally. You take it together as a business and that’s the importance of having a good management team like I do here.”

Graeme describes himself as a very basic person who loves to get away and have some quality time with his family and to himself, which usually involves trout fishing somewhere in the Australian wilderness. At the eventual conclusion of Graeme’s time at ANZ Stadium, he hopes to have made the right changes, while leaving a good path for people to follow, before moving to Alice Springs where turf doesn’t grow.