CHANGING ROOM CHAT: Graham Kimpton, Grounds Manager at The Queen’s Club
Graham, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as a groundsman?
I started working at Queen’s in 1984. My dad was already head groundsman here then. He started at Queen’s in 1966, so he had already been here some time. He retired from here in 2008, so it was quite a long handover period!
I’ve done bits and pieces outside of Queen’s – consulting and things like that. I’ve got quite a wide breadth of knowledge – not just in tennis. I’ve been there all that time. I spent 5 years at horticultural college and got qualified. However there’s no doubt that the best qualification you can get is through experience and from being out in the field (literally) doing it.
Did you have any other career choice, given your rich family history and connection with the grounds at Queen’s, or were you always destined to be a groundsman?
Not really. I left school and I was quite into engineering and I started doing an engineering apprenticeship, but I sort of realised after about 6 months, that being inside wasn’t really what I was cut out for. I came here by default really, to come and get a bit of work whilst I decided what I was going to do and enjoyed it.
What does your role as a Grounds Manager entail, on a day-to-day basis?
My role generally is to look after everything outdoors – not just the playing surfaces, but hedging and trees and shrubs and pathways – anything associated with the grounds. Obviously playing surfaces takes up most of the time. In all we’ve got 20 grass courts, 6 clay courts (which I would like to say are of international standard), with the Davis Cup team coming to practise here whenever they have a tie on clay. Or even last week we had Kyle Edmund coming to practise on our clay – as they’re known in the industry to be very good and are the red traditional clay, as opposed to the green clay which a lot of clubs have now.
What’s the biggest challenge of your role?
Trying to keep our 4000 members happy, whilst getting everything ready for an international standard tournament (Fever Tree Championships) can be quite a challenge – but one that we’re up for.
What makes the perfect grass court?
Well, not sure how long you’ve got! But, it’s lots of attention-to-detail – what we’re really looking for is good bounce, true bounce, pace – everyone says “Ah the grass courts are so slow compared to years ago”. I don’t think that’s quite true – I think the balls have changed a lot – they’ve got slightly bigger, slightly fluffier, so the balls don’t fly through the air quite so quick. We’re also looking for traction for the players. Obviously a grass court is a bit more slippery than a clay court or a hard court, but they need to be able to stand up on it and get traction to play the rallies.
In terms of the weather, what are the perfect conditions for grass growth on the tennis courts?
What you really want is a nice temperature – maybe 23, 24 degrees, and maybe a light breeze, and the odd bit of rain. You don’t want rain too much and you don’t want a complete drought. In a way we’re farmers – we like a little bit of everything. All things in moderation – not too hot, not too wet. No matter what weather comes, we’ll be moaning about it!
The Fever Tree Championships is only one week of the year. What do you do in the off-season?
We obviously gear our calendar largely around the tournament. However, we are a members club, so we are constantly trying to improve the club for our members, be it the grass courts, hard, courts, clay courts, whatever it may be.
The preparations for next year’s Championships will start the day after the upcoming tournament finishes. Centre Court is only really used for the Championships.
All year round, we’re just trying to get the grass in as best condition as possible, with it peaking on that first Monday of the tournament. It’s all about getting the timing right – which is something you learn from experience. Whatever comes, you just have to deal with it and get around it.
What are the main differences between the grass courts at Queen’s Club and the All England Lawn Tennis Club?
To the Lehman they don’t look too different, but to someone in our industry they could probably tell the difference. We do some things differently, but not an awful lot. The biggest difference will be the soil composition – which is more of where the soil comes from, as opposed to clay content – and the biggest one will be the grass seed choice. We’re 50/55% rye grass and they’re 100% – but we just prefer some other grasses in there as well.
What makes a good grass court tennis player?
A key element is being flexible and able to react to the conditions. Obviously the big servers do well because the ball comes away quickly, so you need a big serve. Also if you just win your serve, you may not ever win a tennis match, as you could get done in the tie-break. You’ve got to be able to return, have great reactions, be able to read the ball off the bounce, and be able to move on grass. That’s where some of the clay courters come unstuck, because they’re not so good at moving. Whereas, you look at some of the greats like Federer and Sampras – the way that they could move across the grass – very light on their feet, and yet generating lots of power.
Finally, will you be persuading your children to get into the family business?!
My eldest son is already on the team – he’s been with us for about 2 or 3 years now. He’s at college at the moment and he’s doing very well. He may well follow in the footsteps, but I don’t want to put any pressure on him. He’s a young man and he should be able to do what he wants to do.
However, he enjoys it and he’s good at it, so the family tradition may very well carry on!
Interview conducted and written by Joe Tyler – Senior Account Executive at Henman Communications.
Local school children affected by the Grenfell Tower fire will be attending the Fever Tree Championships on Monday 18th June, courtesy of the LTA. To help raise vital charity funds for those left injured, bereaved, or homeless by the disaster, please visit: www.ebay.co.uk/usr/westwaysportsandfitness to bid on an auction item, or https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rally4grenfell to make a donation.
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