Lansdowne Park gets a make-over

Marlborough’s main rugby ground will soon find itself on a par with some of the nation’s top sporting venues.

Over the past few months the surface of the number one ground at Lansdowne Park has undergone a major transformation.

A sand-based pitch has been installed, designed to bring the province’s premier rugby venue up to the same level as Trafalgar Park, Nelson, Seddon Park, Hamilton, and the Basin Reserve, in Wellington, all of whom use the same turf system. The “sand carpet” model is also used at the famous Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.

Jamie Lyall, manager of property and community facilities at the Marlborough District Council [MDC], said the impetus behind the pitch renovation came a couple of years ago following a particularly wet winter.

“The only way to keep the field active for a whole season, when you have got wet conditions, is by resting it. That meant that there were a number of opportunities lost for teams to play on the number one ground. That causes some community angst.”

Coinciding with that situation was a Mitre 10 Cup game where the players suggested that could not scrummage at 100 percent because of the turf condition.

“But the main driver was the community aspect,” said Jamie, “getting more hours, or games, per year on the field. Council’s role is to give every young child in Marlborough the best opportunity to play on [Lansdowne] number one. That was certainly one of the first aspirations as a young rugby player.”

To that end, the MDC engaged an Auckland company, NZ Turf Management Solutions, who came back with three options.

The option the MDC decided on involved removing topsoil, rechecking the existing underground drainage system, laying 100mm of sand on top, then re-sowing with Super Strike grass.

The existing drainage system was inspected by camera to ensure it was still in good working order, some additions were made, then a fully-automated irrigation system was installed.

Jamie was quick to point out that, although the ground is now covered with lush, green grass, the process is not yet complete and players will have to wait until August to sink their sprigs into it.

“That’s a hard sell because everyone is going to be looking over the fence, seeing this lovely, lush surface and thinking ‘why can’t we play on it?’

“The reason for the delay is that all the subsoil has to weave together and create a mat. The only way that can happen is with time and [completion] is dependent on the environmental conditions.

“The first six weeks of our growing programme have been magic, but as we get into the winter months that underground growth will slow down.”

Jamie is confident the resurfacing, which cost around $700,000, will ultimately allow more games to go ahead on the province’s main rugby arena.

“Council’s basis for agreeing to [the renovation] was the increase in games played on number one, throughout the season. That focusses primarily on age grade, junior, local senior and women’s rugby.”