Daniel Heckl on his passion for grass and how he involves others with pitch maintenance

From caring
to sharing

Daniel Heckl, Head Groundsman at SK Rapid Wien, on sharing his daily work on his socials and what he loves about his work.

Daniel Heckl, head groundsman at SK Rapid Wien on the pitch of Allianz Stadion with the SGL UVC180.

The work of a groundsman is determined by the weather. The elements are and will always be the toughest opponent for every groundsman. The end result is what we see on TV or in the stadium, but the hard work that goes into creating that beautiful stage for sports, is often invisible. Daniel Heckl, Head Groundsman at SK Rapid Wien tries to give a glimpse behind the scenes by sharing his work on social media, and explains why he thinks that is important.

From the first moment Daniel learned about pitch maintenance, he was hooked. His story began when he started working as a side job at the local golf course and worked together with the greenkeepers. “I was absolutely into it from day one. It was fascinating to learn what has to be done to get the grass in perfect condition day in day out, which I had never imagined.” After that, he decided to look for an internship in pitch maintenance, to gain the knowledge he needed to follow his passion and become a turfgrass professional.

Since 2016, Daniel has been working at SK Rapid Wien. While he joined the team as a rookie, he quickly got the opportunity to become Head Groundsman. The past five years at SK Rapid Wien, the Rapid Wien team overcome many challenges. “When I just started at SK Rapid Wien, the team was a lot smaller and we had much less resources. Grow lights, for example, were not yet part of our available tools.”

The toughest time they experienced was in 2018, when they had to deal with a persistent Gray leaf spot outbreak in summer. They replaced the pitch in August, but that had to be done within a short amount of time to get it ready before the first match of the season. Due to the haste, the replacement had not been carried out properly, leading to poor pitch quality in the following months. Therefore they had to replace the pitch again in November. It couldn’t have come at a worse time: it was in the middle of the football season, temperatures were low and there was little natural sunlight. That was the moment Daniel opted to invest in grow lighting technology. “We had overseeded in winter, so the only chance we had to grow the pitch within six weeks was with grow lights. We bought three LU440’s and also rented three, to get the extra sunlight we desperately needed during that time. After six weeks the density of the grass was fantastic, so the grow lighting technology definitely proved its worth.”

For Daniel and his team, it’s important to think ahead in order to achieve a perfect pitch quality during their hot summers and cold winters. During the football season, the pitch of SK Rapid Wien is seeded with Lolium Perenne. Although it’s the better choice for the low temperatures in winter, it’s susceptible to summer diseases such as Gray leaf spot because of their hot summers. Therefore they overseed the pitch in February/March with Poa Pratensis, to make the pitch more resistant to a disease outbreak in the summer. “We do everything we can to minimize the risk of a possible disease outbreak. Because we’re not allowed to use a lot of fungicide in Austria, we bought the UVC180. Since we use the machine, we have avoided major disease outbreaks. When we know that the disease pressure is high, we use the UVC180 every day. Also when we discover traces of fungi, we’re able to kill it quickly with the UVC180, before it can spread. The UVC180 has made our lives a lot easier and is certainly a solution for a more sustainable future.”

Much of the groundsmen’s work, challenges and considerations are not seen by the general public. They only see the final result during the football match, but the knowledge and technology that goes into it, is unknown or overlooked. Therefore Daniel shares his passion on Instagram (@dani.the.groundsman). “I very much like to share our work with fans and other groundsmen. Sometimes I do an Q&A for those who have questions about certain equipment or maintenance practices. It’s important to learn from each other to improve and get better, but it’s also great fun to share behind the scenes to people outside of the turfgrass industry. By sharing my passion for grass with others, I hope that they get the same feeling as I got back then and still have to this day.”