More than 200 tonnes of sand, 350-400kg of grass seed sowed, then mowed to a height of 24 millimetres, and up to 500 hours of work.
That is what it took to transform the Bay Oval’s international cricket pitch into a Fifa Women’s World Cup training ground for the Netherlands football team.
Tauranga is hosting the Oranje Leeuwinnen (Orange Lionesses) as they prepare for the tournament, which is the largest women’s sporting event in the world. The event is jointly hosted by New Zealand and Australia and kicks off tomorrow in Auckland.
The Dutch team was welcomed to Mount Maunganui by tangata whenua with a pōhiri todaywith dozens of children and their families invited to watch the footballers’ first training session at Bay Oval.
The team will train at Bay Oval but play their matches in other cities. Their group matches will be against Portugal and Vietnam in Dunedin and the United States in Wellington.
Tauranga City Council was granted $240,000 from the Department of Internal Affairs’ Hine te Hiringa fund to celebrate and empower women alongside the event. The city was eligible to apply to the fund as a team base camp.
To prepare for the team’s arrival, the grounds team at Bay Oval has been working to change the international cricket pitch into a football field.
Bay Oval turf manager Jared Carter said they started the transformation about August and September last year.
The “renovations” included coring and sanding.
“A lot of sand was used to firm it up. Over 200 tonnes have gone on throughout the summer.”
Couch grass was underneath to help make the ground “strong and resilient”.
Carter said that in April he and his team of groundsmen oversowed the 1.7ha oval with ryegrass, which was more suitable for a football field. About 350kg to 400kg of grass seed would have been used, he said.
The staff worked through summer and had spent up to 500 hours transforming the pitch, he said.
“We were mowing every day, when normally at this time of year we wouldn’t be mowing at all.”
The grass was mowed to 24mm, he said.
The biggest challenge, he said, was getting enough – “but not too much” – ryegrass and timing the sowing right.
“It was a balancing act.”
Carter said the project was “very special”.
“There is a huge amount of pride for us and the city to be able to host this [team]. I am very proud of my staff.”
“We want to provide a product fitting of the World Cup. Our big goal is we want them to be able to train on the best facility possible … ”
He said the next challenge was maintaining the grounds for the Netherlands team’s training.
“The big thing is not knowing how many repairs we will be doing overnight.”
His top three tips for growing a good lawn in winter were: mow regularly, fertilise, and use the right grass to start with.
Carter said once the cup event was over, they would have to almost reverse the process to prepare the Bay Oval ground for the international cricket schedule come Christmas.
“That will be another three-to-four-month process.”
Bay Oval general manager Kelvin Jones said the ground had undergone “quite the transformation”.
”It is unique and something we would never expect to see.”
Jones said an “extensive” amount of time and money had gone into the change.
“It is pretty cool. We are involved with two or three big world cups which is really quite something for a Tauranga facility. We really are one of the premier facilities in the region and this is a testament to that.”
Netherlands football star Lieke Martens said the pitch looked “amazing”.
“It is a really good pitch. It is a really good area to prepare us for the first game.”
Martens said it was a great experience to be welcomed on to the Bay Oval with a traditional pōhiri.
“We feel really welcomed. It was a good experience. It was nice to see a different culture. It feels so good to be here.”
Her message to young fans was to “have fun”. “Enjoy doing things that you love, be free and enjoy playing football.”
Netherlands-born Nicky Plomp and his son Morris Plomp, 10, were at the training session.
Morris, who played for Tauranga City AFC, said he had come to see the team train. “I have always wanted to become a Dutch football player. I really wanted to see how they play.”
His father Nicky Plomp said he was part of helping the council to win the bid to host the Netherlands footballers in Tauranga and wanted to come and show his support.
“It is amazing, two months later we get to see it in fruition,” he said. “I think it [the Mount] is one of the best places in New Zealand to live and it is a nice base for the team, and a world-class facility. I am stoked.”
Plomp said the Netherlands team were “hungry” for the win this year.
Tauranga City Council Commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said it was a privilege to host the Oranje Leeuwinnen in Tauranga for their World Cup campaign.
“We are proud to be able to welcome them to our beautiful city. This is a chance for our community to feel connected to one of the biggest sporting tournaments on the planet and showcase Tauranga Moana on the world stage.”
The first game of the tournament kicks off in Auckland tomorrow night.
Zoe Hunter is an assistant news director covering business and property news for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has worked for NZME since 2017.