First to work, last to leave: head Wimbledon groundskeeper puts in the time

Canadian Grant Cantin was working maintenance at the Lakes Golf Club in Sydney, Australia, when he was offered a summer job working on the crew at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club in London, home of Wimbledon.

“I thought that it would be a good summer job,” Cantin says 17 years later. “I thought I’d go over, do it once, travel a bit of Europe. Once I got there I was blown away by its beauty. The history, the importance of the place, I absolutely loved it. The next year they offered me a full-time position.

“I started as a groundsman, just one of the guys, but I always had a theory: first to work, last one to leave,” Cantin continues. “But I never imagined I’d one day be head groundsman. UK is home now.”

Cantin, now in his second season as head groundsman, oversees a crew of 17 full time staff, which includes two mechanics and two irrigation engineers. In the weeks leading up to Wimbledon his staff doubles in size to handle the demands of the tournament.

It takes three weeks from the start of qualifying to the championship match at Centre Court — the most famous tennis court in the world — to transpire. This year qualifying begins on June 25, with the championship match set for July 15.

During that time Cantin and his crew get to work each day by 6:30 a.m. in order to have the covers removed by 7:30. Their goal is to have all 42 courts cut and marked by 10:30 a.m., when the gates open. If rain is in the forecast the crew stays close by all day. Typically Cantin makes his exit by midnight.

“That’s over the course of three weeks,” he says. “By the end of it, everyone is pretty much a zombie.”

With expansion and constant renovations, there are no down times at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club. Built in 1922, the historic site is always improving. The entire site is 45 acres and typically contains 45 courts, but three courts are temporarily down as a retractable roof is being built — the roof trusses are so big they’re being built on-site.

“We’re getting bigger and bigger but we don’t know where to go,” Cantin says. “A great example is when we needed a couple more restaurants. We dug up two of the tennis courts, dug out huge basements, built the restaurants then built the courts back on top. It’s a different world inside the gates there. If they need something done, they do it. They want to be a world-class facility.”

To get world class conditions, Cantin and his team uses electric Cub Cadet Infinicut walk-behind mowers with 21-inch reels designed specifically for the All England Club and its perennial ryegrass.

“We went from a 22-inch to a 21-inch reel,” Cantin says. “22-inches was too wide, 20-inches was too short — we’d be overlapping shades. Grass tennis is a very small industry, but similar to football. Whatever we ask for Cub Cadet designs. They built this machine for our needs.”

Cantin loves that when people come through the gates of Wimbledon, they step into “a different world.”

“We want people to have that ‘wow’ factor when they go there,” he says. “I love it when people think the grass is fake because it looks so good. And it all comes down to the machinery that we use. Everything is evolving. Mowers are so much better today than they were 20 years ago… and I honestly don’t know when it will end.”

Published by: Seth Jones on http://athleticturf.net/ June 15, 2018