Cutting the Grass – A Labor of Love


Whether it’s a golf course, soccer field or the garden at home, looking after grass is a demanding task and takes up a great deal of time. Two greenkeepers – Nigel Broadwith from the UK and Georg Schmitz from Germany – know what matters most and reveal their tips.

Nigel Broadwith is an early riser. At 5:30 a.m., when others are still in bed, he is already on the golf course. Broadwith (54) is head greenkeeper at the John O’Gaunt golf club in Bedfordshire, England, where he makes sure the grass is well kept in both summer and winter alike. Between March and September, this means one thing above all else – mowing the grass. In Bedfordshire, Broadwith and his 13 co-workers have to keep a golf course of around 140 hectares in shape. This equates to roughly 200 soccer fields. “It takes us almost four and a half hours for all 18 holes,” he says.

“Many of our golfers ask me how they can get their lawns at home to look so nice,” he explains, with a wide smile. “My tip is to mow, mow, mow.” He feels his work at the golf club can definitely be applied to any small garden. “To get a really nice lawn, you need to invest time. In other words, it isn’t a case of hacking down the long blades once a week but cutting just a little, three or four times a week. The grass will then be strong, and weeds barely stand a chance.”

When Broadwith started the job more than 35 years ago, much of the work was still done manually. To avoid damaging the delicate soil, mowing was mainly on foot. “Better equipment and improved training have changed my job fundamentally in the last few decades.” In the past, for example, too much fertilizer and too many crop protection agents were used, he says. “The watchword was ‘the more the better.’ We used the wrong products at the wrong time of year. Nowadays we use less, and we use them correctly.”

Colin Mumford

Nigel Broadwith's experience helps us research and develop new products that are more effective and are better for the environment.

“His experience and that of his co-workers is extremely important to us," explains Dr. Colin Mumford, Technical Support Manager for the Bayer Turf Solutions team in UK. "They help us research and develop new products that are more effective and are better for the environment.” The regular dialog between Bayer and the greenkeepers also helps ensure plant protection agents are used in a more targeted way. “We apply fungicides four times a year,” explains Broadwith. “This enables us to keep 90 to 95 percent of all fungi away from our grass.” The John O’Gaunt golf club now even offers training videos that show other greenkeepers how they can become more efficient by making proper use of plant protection agents while simultaneously taking care of the environment.

4 Questions to Bayer-04-Head Greenkeeper Georg Schmitz

Georg Schmitz has a lawn that every gardener dreams of. No weeds, no voles – and admired multiple times a month by numerous soccer fans. He is the head greenkeeper at Bayer Leverkusen and thus responsible for the grass in the BayArena. He and his 13-strong workforce ensure the top-flight soccer club plays on a pitch-perfect surface.

How does the grass in the BayArena differ from grass in gardens?
A great many things lie beneath the grass here in the BayArena. First, there’s the subsoil, with drainage ditches every four meters. This is followed by a layer of gravel and, at a depth of 25 centimeters, underground heating. Above this is a layer of sand, with the actual turf substratum not starting till this point.

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And then comes grass as we know it from our garden at home?
No. In the stadium, we’ve opted for a combination of two grass types – Kentucky bluegrass and ryegrass. As we always cut the grass down to 23 millimeters, it forms a lot of side shoots, making it thick and bristly and thus harder for weeds to take hold.

How often is the grass cut in the BayArena?
Almost every day. As a result of the extensive technology such as grass heating and lighting in the winter, the grass grows around one centimeter each day throughout the year. Mowing takes about an hour.

How do you know exactly what care the grass needs?
We carry out regular status analyses using soil cubes, which are two silver boxes on the grass that monitor the soil. We then receive all the key data by cellphone, such as the nutrient content of the soil, temperature and blade moisture. This enables us to adapt nutrients to meet the specific needs of the grass as well as keep fungi under control. Fungi are not immediately visible but may cause the grass to die.

“When I started at John O’Gaunt, we cut the grass back almost everywhere,” says Broadwith. “Now there are large areas where we simply let nature take its course.” These areas are a haven for wild flowers that attract bees and provide a habitat for brooding birds, insects and amphibians, which have made their home in the water hazards. His co-worker Stephen Thompson has just been honored with the 2018 Golf Environment Award. “We do a huge amount to encourage biodiversity, and what’s more, the red and purple wild flowers in bloom are a sight to behold,” says Broadwith.

Yet the job isn’t all plain sailing. The John O’Gaunt golf club is normally open 52 weeks a year and in all weathers. “There are times when I wish the course were closed,” he admits. “When the grass is frozen, every step causes damage. But when our members want to play, then we greenkeepers ensure it’s in perfect condition.” It’s only in snow that he and his co-workers can breathe a sigh of relief, as the course is then shut.

When at around 3 p.m. the end of work approaches, Broadwith is far from finished with looking after grass. “I have a small garden at home,” he says. “That’s where I like to sit, have a barbecue and drink a beer.” It’s around 200 square meters, with a lot of flowers and, in the middle, a lawn – well maintained, cut short and without a single weed. His secret? Well, there isn’t one: “I mow here three or four times a week. After work.” After all, he would never give a tip he doesn’t follow himself, now, would he?