16 Jun 2022

Working at the intersection of natural grass and civil was a dream come true

FotY nominee André Wolbrink provides added value through knowledge contribution

Tags:Hybrid · News · XtraGrass

As a technical consultant, André Wolbrink represents a group in the world of field management that is normally less prominent, but is indispensable. He has extensive experience in the construction of natural, hybrid and artificial turf fields around the world. He has been working at GreenFields since 2015. A week abroad is normal for him; his suitcase is ready every month. Fieldmanager magazine walks with him in the Netherlands, where Wolbrink is also very active.

NEC's stadium De Goffert in Nijmegen will be turned upside down in May after the last match. The old pitch will make way for a new GrassMaster pitch after the soil has been improved. This is being done by CSC GreenFields and Wolbrink is supervising the project technically, as with many stadium pitches before it. The pitch will be given a new sprinkler system and the top layer will be excavated and sieved. The pins used to apply the GrassMaster fibers can be broken by large stones. That is why they are being sifted out just outside the stadium; the bulldozers are coming and going. In the third week of June the stadium pitch has to be sown in order to make a good start of the new competition year.

Wolbrink supervises the operation in a friendly and patient manner and with an enormous amount of knowledge. His explanations do not have to make anyone drop out because of woolly tasks or hot air. He is a true technical advisor. When it comes to quality, he pays close attention to details and if he wants to know something, he gets his finger on it. Wolbrink does not like tight suits and prefers to talk about the content, but for the pictures he is neatly dressed.

Quality down to the details

The sale of the product is important, but it is just as important to produce a durable, high-quality and technically sound product - perhaps the most important in the long term. Wolbrink: 'It's about the whole system, the total package.

At GreenFields Wolbrink is active in three areas: sales, quality and technology. That is no coincidence. Wolbrink has consciously mapped out his route and found his niche that way. With his knowledge and insight he has contributed to developments in the sports field world at various companies.

Wolbrink is constantly thinking about how sports ground products can be improved in the market and in the sector as a whole. He was therefore a member of various working groups within trade associations from the very beginning. Nowadays he is also part of the working group for hybrid fields and he regularly gives guest lectures at Has Knowledge Transfer. In addition, he is a member of the examination committee of the groundsman course at IPC Groene Ruimte. Wolbrink has been an ambassador for his entire career; there is no need for an award for that.

"Wolbrink is always thinking about how sports ground products can be improved in the market and in the sector as a whole."

Fascination with nature (grass)

Learning used to come easily to Wolbrink, especially when it concerned technical subjects. After a few small steps, he graduated from Van Hall Larenstein (then the Higher School of Forestry and Soil Science) in land and water management. My parents both came from farms and I was always active on the farms of my relatives during the vacations. That's where my interest in nature and therefore in natural and hybrid grass came from.'

Introduction to artificial grass constructions

His graduation thesis at Van Hall Larenstein in 1988 was not about grass, however, but about drainage in artificial sports turf systems. The graduation project was through Heijmans (which divested its sports branch in 2015). 'Although my heart lies with natural grass, this assignment always kept haunting my mind in the years that followed. I knew even then that I wanted to work in artificial turf,' says Wolbrink.

"There is a shortage of sports field people with a technical background"

At the cradle of synthetic turf

After graduating, Wolbrink went into military service as a conscripted officer. In the army he was engaged in technical and geometrical matters. After working for a contractor, in land consolidation and as a planner for an urban development consultancy, Wolbrink changed course. I knew that office work was not for me. I had to go outside. That's why I started in 1994 at Desso DLW Sports Systems, now part of FieldTurf. Here I started laying artificial turf pitches in the Netherlands and hybrid pitches worldwide. The combination of natural grass and civil works was a dream come true for me as a technical advisor: from that moment on I was really working on the cutting edge of both worlds.

The international aspect also immediately attracted him to his work. Partly thanks to Wolbrink, the knowledge of hybrid pitches had been scattered! There were no artificial turf pitches with rubber infill yet. The artificial grass market was mainly a field hockey market, not yet a soccer market. The world was still open and I could share my knowledge anywhere.'

"Selling a product is one thing; it's more about the total package"

At home in all sports pitch disciplines

From 2001, Wolbrink was back working in the Netherlands for a few years, also to see his children grow up. He started working at the then Tuin- en Cultuurtechnisch Bureau De Enk in De Steeg. This company became part of Heijmans Sport en Groen, where Wolbrink was advisor for sports and head of the business office for many years. Not only sports pitches were considered, but also golf courses. When the golf course architect had finished the design, I worked out how the course had to be built technically. Then I calculated everything. Finally, I supervised the implementation team in order to realize and maintain the work in the best possible way from a soil science point of view. I learned a great deal there. A golf course has very different dimensions, averaging 50 hectares. And the various course components: greens, tees, fairway, rough and semi-rough, are actually all different construction types that must be approached differently. What I had learned about soil science during my land and water management studies came in useful even then.

At Heijmans Sport, Wolbrink had become acquainted with GreenFields' products. In 2015, he joined GreenFields himself, as the age of his children gave him the space to work international again. GreenFields is a global supplier and innovator of sustainable sports grass technology, and Wolbrink is right at home here as head of engineering. He supervises many projects and acts as a contractor. Because GreenFields is a FIFA Preferred Producer, among other things, he lays pitches all over the world for the FIFA. Furthermore, GreenFields installs hybrid fields and Cruyff Courts worldwide. Wolbrink is currently involved in exuting artificial grass pitches in Congo and Cameroon. He does not always have to go there personally; he can manage and advise the local project leader and subcontractors remotely.

Team player

Thanks to his training and experience, Wolbrink has mastered both the soil science and the civil-technical aspects of sports pitches. In his area, he is also a real team player. I really enjoy working with the client, but also with the maintenance people on the field, the tractor driver and the machine operator. No detail escapes him. Wolbrink points to the subsoil: 'The top layer has been removed and sieved, because it contained a lot of large stones. Then the pitch will be rebuilt.' Outside the stadium, Wolbrink is coordinating the reuse of a scraped-off top layer that was released during the construction of an artificial turf field. He points to a spot behind a row of trees: 'We're going to reuse the soil for the hybrid pitch over there.'

Raising the alarm

Wolbrink also didn't feel the need to be in the spotlight when the Fieldmanager of the Year was chosen. The reason he decided to participate anyway was that he wanted to seize the opportunity to talk about technology in the sports pitch world. I'm a professional idiot myself and I like to pass on my enthusiasm to young people. So I'm not participating for myself, but for my profession.' We can't all cut the grass; technical advisors are also needed.’ Wolbrink nods: 'Right! Not only with contractors, but also with municipalities. There is a shortage of managers with a technical background. Because of the lack of technical knowledge, a lot is outsourced to consultancies and in purchasing the emphasis is more on a low price than on quality. Robotic mowers are purchased, but they do not observe the same as a field manager. If there is disease in the grass, a robot cannot sound the alarm.'


Wolbrink wants to emphasize variety in technology to young people in particular. 'Building something technical is not routine; it doesn't go according to a fixed step-by-step plan. You always have to keep thinking. Especially with natural grass constructions, the conditions are always different, especially in the different climate zones where I work. In the Netherlands we use cold-season grasses, such as ryegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass; in warmer countries we use warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda and Zoysia. These species roots differently and must be maintained various. A construction system in a country with a cool climate must primarily lose water, as more precipitation falls than evaporates. In dry conditions, the top layer must retain the water. In tropical climates it is the other way around and the top layer must retain water because of the high rate of evaporation. This is achieved with an underlying gravel layer with a top layer on top. The capillary break between fine and coarse meshes prevents the water from running off, comparable to a sponge that you put in a hand with spread fingers. Wolbrink enthusiastically talks about all kinds of technical differences between solutions, which can be different at every location.

Involved from A to Z

Wolbrink is currently working at the construction of a hybrid pitch at PSV's De Herdgang training campus. We have also laid hybrid pitches at the KNVB campus and at Vitesse. I continue to be involved in those. A few times a year I visit the maintenance teams, for guidance, but also to continue to support them with the experiences we encounter on our other international hybrid fields. The process starts long before the product is delivered and only ends years later - if it ends at all, because the work is becoming increasingly circular.

Do you have questions for André? Please feel free to contact him!

Source: Fieldmanager - Written by Karlijn Raats

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