There are few things quite as quintessential to the typical English summer as Wimbledon. Indeed, the idea that there might be a tennis tournament held outdoors in England may come as a surprise to some foreign readers, convinced as that Britain is an island perpetually lashed by wind and rain. They’d be wrong though, despite popular stereotypes of the Englishman with his bowler hat and umbrella, the country does enjoy a summer as evidenced by the yearly tournament held at Wimbledon.
Given its prestige, with its long history and the prominence of some of the players visiting for the tournament, it’s no surprise that care of the facilities is of immense importance. Pride of place are the championship courts upon which the tournament is played. In total, Wimbledon has:
- 19 Grass Champion Courts.
- 22 grass practice courts
- 8 American clay courts
- 5 indoor courts
Maintaining all this requires a full time staff of 16, which increases to 28 during tournament season.
The Turf of Champions
A huge amount of work goes into making a grass court worthy of the greatest champions. It takes 15 months from initial construction before a court is ready for the championships. Because Tennis is an outdoor sport, the growing season of the grass has to be taken into account and the plant has to be given time to root itself firmly into the soil prior to being played upon.
The grass used in the modern Wimbledon grass courts is Perennial Ryegrass, a plant chosen for its durability and presentation. After all, the tournament does enjoy Royal patronage and therefore it is essential that it always looks its best. The grass is kept to an ideal height of 8mm during play which is determined to be the optimum balance between survivability for the grass and maintaining the quality of play.
The needs of the game weigh heavily on what is expected of the grass. During the playing season, the grass is mowed every other day, and during the championships, every single day. Preparation of the courts may include running a one-tonne roller over the entire playing field every day to ensure it is level during champion season.
Another factor that has to be born in mind by the groundskeepers is the effect water has on the grass and the soil underneath it. Wet, water soaked soil slows down the game, making the ball seem heavier. Dry soil is thus preferred, and this requires a careful balancing act of ensuring that the grass gets enough water to survive but not so much that the turf becomes sodden and game impacting.
While it takes an incredible amount of work to maintain those courts to the impeccable standards demanded of the modern tournament, Wimbledon remains a foremost example for those working in grounds maintenance who want to know what the very best sort of grass court should look like.