ILKLEY Lawn Tennis & Squash Club chairman Rik Smith is optimistic that their grass courts will be in tip-top condition for their big pre-Wimbledon tournament on June 15-22, despite a wet winter.

The Lexus Ilkley Trophy is scheduled for two weeks before the All England Club’s extravaganza and is the North of England’s most important tournament.

Smith, who is also tournament director for the Lexus Ilkley Trophy, said: “It is fair to say that we have the most rain that we have ever had throughout a winter, but surprisingly it is one of the first winters that we haven’t seen flooding, which is quite astonishing.

“There have been a couple of times where it has been close, but we haven’t had one of the disastrous floods where the entire site gets enveloped by the river (Wharfe, which runs to the side and back of the club complex).

“Up to 2015, flooding was a 10-15 year event, but since then it has almost been an every year event, so we have been lucky this year so far that it hasn’t happened.”

Smith added: “We haven’t had a flood recently that has impacted the grass courts, leaving sediment or debris on them, but if it does flood we don’t think that it causes too many issues to the courts.

“At the moment the courts are looking in as good a condition as they ever have. Will Rigg, our head groundsman who has now been in post for two years, is getting a lot of support from the All England Club and their head agronomist, and the combined efforts of both those and the close monitoring of the courts and the long-term plans for the maintenance schedules are really coming to fruition.

“We have full grass cover and a consistent colour, and hopefully that will lead to them being better than ever for the Lexus Ilkley Trophy in June.

“Also the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI, who are based in Bingley) are still involved, and they will continue to be involved leading up to the tournament.

“They are doing a lot of testing on the grass in terms of hardness and grass composition, but we now have a better link with the All England Club and their head agronomist, who used to be the head agronomist at the STRI.”

As far as volunteers are concerned, Smith explained that the system is fairly seamless and that 90 per cent of the posts needed to make the tournament run smoothly have already been filled.

He explained: “Post-pandemic in 2022 we hadn’t had the tournament for two years so we had to restart that process and remind people that it was happening, but now the tournament has had two years of running since then everybody is into the swing of it, and getting volunteers in has been as easy as it has ever been this year.

“People have seen how the tournament has grown over the years and want to be part of it, so we already have about 90 per cent of the volunteers that we need for the tournament.

“The retention rate is high so we must treat them right, and they get fed and watered throughout the week and they enjoy being part of an event that puts the club on the map, puts Ilkley on the map and puts the region on the map.

“Volunteers can see what we are doing with it and are proud to be part of it, and that is why a lot of them do it as they want to showcase the club, the region and tennis, and being part of it they can be incredibly proud.

“This year the core organisational team has virtually remained the same, which is beneficial as everybody knows what that they are doing.

“The only difference is that Colin Campbell, one of our coaches, is training the ball crew, which was done in the past by Simon Ickringill, who has now retired, but Colin has worked under Simon in that capacity, and we are lucky to have him both in terms of training and at the tournament.”