A familiar face at SGL for over 11 years, we spoke to our Agronomist Mark Wubben about his passion for grass and what he loves about the industry.
Working for the most beautiful pitches in the biggest stadiums in the world: a lifelong dream for many, but reality for Mark Wubben. For over a decade, the SGL agronomist has been watching the grass grow from Barcelona to Hong Kong. He also explains why that is much more exciting than it might sound.
Mark, well known for his eternal smile, is one of SGL’s most experienced agronomists. During the past 11 years he has supported hundreds of groundsmen worldwide, as well as conducting research and developing algorithms to make data applicable. Mark explains: “Growing grass is a science, it’s like molecular gastronomy. You have a hundred ingredients, and you have to make a five-star meal out of it for thousands of people every week. Sounds like a challenging job, right? It’s a matter of finding that perfect balance, by using the right ingredients, prepare them with the appropriate tools and methods, in the correct order. One error could mean food poisoning.” Mark chuckles: “Maybe that last bit is a little exaggerated, but there is very little room for mistakes. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
This entertaining comparison does very accurately describe the complexity of all that is involved in turfgrass maintenance. It’s also illustrative of Mark’s love for analogies and his talent for helping people inside and outside of the turfgrass industry understand agronomy. Growing up in a horticultural family (and being proudly responsible for his very own little football pitch in the garden), he discovered his passion at a young age and has been learning ever since: “In contrast to cooking and to growing crop in a greenhouse, groundsmen have to deal with external influences that they have no control over whatsoever. In a previous interview Kiel Barrett, Head Groundsman at Leeds United FC, aptly said: ‘You have to work around the weather, not around the clock’. It’s a job of constant change that requires flexibility of the highest level. I didn’t know that yet while mowing our lawn at ten years old, but luckily I’ve got the chance to experience that first-hand during my SGL career.”
While Mark usually spends a lot of time analysing data behind his computer and at our research facilities, he has gained extensive experience in the field over the years. One of his most precious memories is his traineeship at the New York Red Bull Stadium: “Theoretical knowledge is essential, but in order to really get around in this industry, practical experience is indispensable. We’ve always had a good relationship with the New York Red Bull grounds team and I was very thankful for the opportunity to join them for two months. Neal Sitzman, Dan Shemesh and the others welcomed me with open arms and I felt part of the team straight away.”
The move from a small Dutch town to New York was a big step, especially considering that all residents of his hometown easily fit into the Red Bull stadium. However, it felt right from day one: “I rented a bike and cycled to the stadium every day, so it still felt a little bit like home”, Mark chuckles. He continues on a more serious note: “I always knew that groundsmen worked extremely hard, but doing it yourself adds a whole new level of respect. These guys are so driven. They don’t stop when the day is done, they stop when the work is done. To perfection. It was very special to be part of it.”
With this incredible experience in his pocket, you would think Mark was keen on making a career switch, but he smiles and returns to his gastronomy analogy: “I’m not much of a cook, but I love to assist with developing the recipe.”
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