The Australian Sports Turf Managers Association has created a segment to help the turf industry stay connected. With many events postponed due to current challenges, the opportunity to meet new and catch up with familiar friends and peers across the turf industry is limited, so we’re keeping connected and to ensure that turf managers can get to know members from other areas of the industry, other States and other countries, to help promote the professionals and the hard work put into the industry.
Today we spend 5 minutes with... Luke Armstrong, Sportsground Coordinator & St Kilda FC AFLW Project Coordinator.
Provide a quick overview of your facility (staff, turf varieties managed, current role and length of time at your club/facility.)
Kingston City Council has 55 sportsgrounds, with the number set to increase over the next 5 years as Green Wedge land is transformed into community playing surfaces and facilities. 80Ha of warm season sportsgrounds, with 70Ha being irrigated. All surfaces are Couch (Santa Ana) or Kikuyu, with none being over sowed.
Our approach is to focus and invest in quality warm season fields, resulting in sustainable water use while also reducing post emergent chemical applications.
Currently the team consists of 4 FT staff, with open space mowing contracted out.
Sportsgrounds include - AFL, cricket, soccer, rugby, gridiron, baseball, athletics and synthetic facilities.
My current role is Sportsground Maintenance Coordinator & St Kilda FC AFLW Project Coordinator. I have been at Kingston Council in this role for almost 4 years, and part of the turf industry for 16 years.
2020 has been one out of the box especially in light of the global pandemic – how have your operations had to change and adapt from past years and what has been the most challenging aspect for your as a superintendent/sports turf manager?
2020 has certainly had its challenges! Council has been fantastic supporting all employees and our community throughout these testing times.
All staff remained employed, with council redeploying staff from our Leisure and Arts teams across to other departments within the organisation.
During Stage 4 lockdown, we had to identify and make a call on ‘essential’ tasks, ensuring council lead from the front while also delivering adequate maintenance so our open spaces continued to meet high community expectations. This was certainly a challenge and open to interpretation depending on who you spoke to.
Mowing was reduced to a monthly cycle, ground change-over tasks were delayed, the team worked in isolation for a 2 month period minimising the sharing of vehicles & equipment. Spring renovation maintenance tasks were delayed until after lockdown restrictions had eased. The focus turned to reactive/emergency works with safety and auditing of assets a priority.
Operations had to become more fluid with greater flexibility shown as the landscape was changing daily. The most challenging aspect throughout the period was working from home and losing that face to face connection with staff and community stakeholders.
Online meetings don’t have the same connection, nothing beats the real life feeling of being surrounded by quality people and a dedicated team on a daily basis.
From a turf management perspective, a major challenge will be managing increased thatch levels on our sportsgrounds due to no usage over the winter months. With this comes an increase in disease activity which has already come to realisation on some grounds.
Best piece of advice you have received about the turf management profession and who gave it to you?
“Never ask your staff to complete a task that you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself!”
My first boss - Jeremy Cutajar (Maroondah City Council Golf Courses/Sportsgrounds) led from the front and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, this piece of advice has stayed with me throughout my career.
Talk about a recent or current project you have undertaken at your facility and what it means for the club.
Council continued its investment in providing quality public open spaces and sporting fields, creating new sporting facilities at Aspendale Gardens Sports Ground which was recently constructed and handed over at the beginning of April 2020. (ariel plan image above)
The project has been split into two stages with Stage 1 including car park and sports field works. The site was previously a low quality 1.5Ha Kikuyu surface, it has since been transformed into two 1.6Ha Santa Ana couch ovals incorporating 4 full size soccer pitches within the design.
The facility will now be home to Aspendale Stingrays SC, previously the club occupied several sites within Kingston without having as true ‘home ground’.
This project was fantastic to deliver for such a strong and family focussed club within our community. The club has large junior and senior numbers, with female participation continuing to grow. The club can now plan for their future and be proud of the facility.
Stage 2 includes the construction of a new pavilion and landscaping improvements.
Tell us one thing about yourself that your fellow turf practitioners might not now know about you (eg: hobbies/achievements in sport etc).
Love my footy, my claim to fame is representing the Big V at junior level on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately I stopped growing and everyone else seemed to get faster, stronger and better! lol
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as silly as they might sound at the time it is always worthwhile asking.
Surround yourself with quality people/organisation and be prepared to make short term sacrifices that will set you up well into your future.
Think long term, not short term- it’s far easier said then done.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Spending time with family and friends, in particular my wife, 2 yr. old son Jack and my Border Collie Ollie.
Love a quiet beer/wine while watching sport, the mighty Demons are my team of choice and I also support Chelsea in the EPL (soccer).
I enjoy golf and fishing, both give me an outlet to relax and refocus.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Luke!