Molyneux Park head groundsman Gary Smith, who spent hours preparing the field for Alexandra’s historic rugby match between the Highlanders and Waratahs on February 1, talks to The News about his role.
Q What do you think the game meant for Alexandra?
That’s the ultimate, really, for turf management to have [top-level] rugby. It’s a special little ground at Molyneux Park.
Q What makes Molyneux Park special?
Anybody in our industry that manages stadiums like this, we thrive on top-level sports.
The other box [Molyneux Stadium] ticks is it’s a hub that’s a lot more. It caters to a range of sports including softball, football and athletics.
It has car parking nearby, which is great, and there’s a bit of shelter with the lovely golden willows.
Q What does it take to get a field up to standard?
We had three and a-half weeks turnaround from T20 cricket to the . . . rugby game, so we’ve put a lot of hours in.
The oval is a dual-purpose ground, with a cricket pitch in the middle, which we had to soften for the game.
Q How did you get into the industry?
I’ve been in it all my life – 40 years I’ve been in the industry, with managing golf courses and then I became a senior turf lecturer in sports management at Otago Polytechnic.
I [later] decided I didn’t have a lot of experience in stadiums for cricket and I wanted to upskill so I took this challenge on [at Molyneux Park].
The cricket is a big challenge. I like learning new skills and I like the variety here, which includes softball, football and athletics.
I’ve been here 18 months and work alongside Guy McCone. He’s part of the success story here. We work well as a team.
Q What is your advice to other people wanting to become a ground keeper?
If you are interested in sports, go for it. You are outdoors, you are rubbing shoulders with some of the elite. I wasn’t good enough to represent my province at rugby and cricket, but I am rubbing shoulders with my idols in this job.
There are several ways to get into it. You could either take on a three to four-year apprenticeship or do a sports turf management programme.
You get to work in some of the top sporting arenas in a two-year internship, so you get a taste of it.
You’ve got to love the outdoors, be keen on sport – they are the two main things – and have the passion.
And it can take you around the world.