Polo club's endeavour

Miles Properjohn, head groundsman at Black Bears Polo Club, says he has been relying on ICL’s Greenheaven cultivar in an attempt to increase the percentage of tall fescue in the one of the world’s most renowned polo pitches.

Lower Bolney Farm in Oxfordshire, home of Black Bears Polo Club, has deservedly gained a reputation for having some of the best facilities in the UK. The five polo grounds are kept in immaculate condition by a dedicated team of grounds staff. Pitch 5 in particular is the talk of the polo community and those that have been fortunate enough to play on it have declared it to be the “best field in the UK - if not the world”.

The grounds team is led by Head Groundsman Miles Properjohn, a long-term employee who has honed his skills at Black Bears, and he explained the reasoning behind using the cultivar.

“The pitch was originally sown with tall fescue, and we have since used other cultivars for a few seasons,” he said. “We are now keen to build back the percentage of tall fescue as we see its benefit in providing a hard wearing, low input, and great playing surface for polo. The polo schedule is very busy here with high goal being played and the players have incredibly high expectations of how the pitch should play.  

“Whenever choosing a seed we always refer to the BSPB/STRI guide and we also do our own plot trial of any new seed to assess its germination speed and visual characteristics. Greenheaven was no exception.”

Greenheaven, from ICL, is a European-bred tall fescue which presents a midgreen compact growth habit. 

Miles and the team sowed the cultivar in September 2022 as part of a post season renovation: “Germination and development were very good after overseeding, and we found Greenheaven to be a finer more attractive cultivar than other versions,” he said. 

“The tall fescue has been extremely hard wearing under a high level of wear from all the matches. It has a dense root structure and has great stability in the turf.”

Miles continued, “When making a decision on species/cultivars, drought tolerance is of high importance. The irrigation is used to provide the correct firmness and traction for the ponies and players, so irrigation is for playability more than plant health. Irrigation is time consuming so the sward will have periods of no irrigation therefore the pitch needs to have excellent drought tolerance. In the hot/dry summers of 2018 and 2021 it was the only thing that was thriving. Water security and responsible water usage will be a factor for the future, so affects the decision-making process.”

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