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Bury St Edmunds turfs out grass in favour of the first artificial surface court

Report by Club Chairman, Brian Lewis

The project all started way back in 1989 when St. Edmundsbury Borough Council were approached, but although agreeable in principle there was never enough money to go ahead, until the Lottery came along, with funding possible from the Sports Council.

The political climate also changed in that the Borough went Labour, having been Conservative for many years. They instigated public meeting throughout the Borough, seeking opinions from residents as to what sporting facilities people wanted. We sent croquet players to all of these meetings and we always spoke up asking why no croquet facilities. This impressed the Leisure and Recreation Committee, so they included us in their overall plan for Borough Sport over the next few years. The next step was to meet with the Director of Leisure and agree where we should play and what strategy should be followed in constructing courts.

The Borough's policy was to develop the Victory Sports Ground so that it paid its way, and is used by as many sports and people as possible. We were allocated an area in the south east corner of the ground, very close to where we started life back in 1985 under the East Anglian Development Plan. It was also agreed that we should go for artificial surfaces, but since this would be a first in the UK, it would be prudent to only lay one to test the compatibility of such for croquet. This was to be paid for by the Borough, and if successful, then a further 3 similar courts would be laid but funded by application to the Sports Council.

So we then set about investigating what was available on the market and visited various places to try out the 'plastic grass', from Melton Mowbray, Letchworth, Walsall and finally Kilburn in north west London. The CA's Development Committee led by Derek Trotman employed a specialist team of consultants to test the speed of the surface at Kilburn, which was used for 5-a-side soccer. This turned out to be what we had been looking for and, as a bonus, needed no sanding.

Whilst the Borough invited tenders to build the court to the criteria and standards set by the CA, the club was carrying out its own trials on how to construct a hoop that could be placed into and artificial surface, be easily removed, and also amenable to width adjustment; but above all, react when placed in concrete, as if it were in soil. In other words that there was some give when a ball hit an upright. The first one laid was not too successful, and players became uneasy at running this hoop because it required absolute accuracy. The second one using plastic inserts turned out to be more acceptable, and was tested by many players.

The part of the contract relating to (?) with the finished article, as checked by Professor Pidcock. We had asked for a one yard wide area around the outside of the playing area, and in addition a one yard wide Macadam footpath all around that. We also requested that the boundary be woven into the carpet as an inch wide white line and this was agreed after some hesitation. Painting is not recommended.

The hoop emplacements were then set in small concrete blocks on site using the jigs designed by Ron Rawden, who has a Patent pending for this intricate part of the construction. Accuracy of depth, alignment, width, and verticality are, of course, critical for hoops. We had a major hic-up when we discovered that the workmen had set the blocks at 90 degrees to the correct alignment, so they had to be dug out and put back in!

After the 40mm Macadam layer it was the turn of the Shock Pad, which is basically finely chopped tyre rubber, which sticks together, but allows water through. This is 10mm thick, and appears to be edible by squirrels which scratched away at it whilst still warm, and not set!

The carpet then arrived from Italy, in early December. There were 9 rolls of 4.1 metres by 26 metres which had to just lie there awaiting three consecutive dry days. When, we asked during an English winter? This parameter arose because the glue for sticking the carpet to the shock pad does not work in the wet, or indeed with any moisture. So December and January passed, but early February saw the glue being sprayed all over the court, and the 12mm thick artificial grass rolled down.

The full size court can be divided readily into two short ones, and string defines the border between. We anticipate great savings since there will be no mowing, no fertilising, no moss, no watering, no rolling, no weeding, no fox/rabbit scratchings, and no molehills. The life of the carpet is approximately 6 to 10 yrs for football, so we hope to perhaps gain at least 20 yrs of use. Winter snow can be swept off, and the drainage is excellent.

The hoops, comer flags etc were all fitted into their stainless steel tubes, and we awaited the official opening by the Chairman of the Borough's Leisure Services Committee. This he did by hitting a ball with a mallet at a bottle of champagne. The Croquet Association did us proud with the attendance of the Chairman, Vice Chairman and Treasurer, on what turned out to be a glorious day. Several schoolchildren were given elementary coaching, and we had TV cameras from BBC, ITV and BBC 24Hr News; the actual showing being some 10 minintes or so in total.

So now we look forward to learning how different, if at all, it is to play on. Doubtless there will be many who would wish to try it, but we would ask that they ring any of our members in the Associates Directory who have an address in or around Bury St Edmunds, so that they may be accompanied onto what is a private sports ground.

The Croquet Gazette, Issue 261, p10

[IRP] Problems arose with this lawn inasmuch as a nap existed on the artificial surface which drew balls down it. This was reportedly caused by prolonged storage of the surface rolled up. The contractor (En tout Cas) is now in receivership.

The hoops are regarded as fully satisfactory; currently, two short lawns are deployed since their orientation minimises the effect of the lawn bias.

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Updated 28.i.16
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