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For seventeen days this summer, much of the world's attention will focus on Atlanta, Georgia and the Centennial Olympic Games. Landscape Architects, whether Olympic-class sports fans or not, can educate themselves and improve their own professional practices by observing and appreciating every detail down to the blades of grass (details that others may overlook) during the competitions.

More than simply a collection of competition venues and support facilities, the Olympic settings in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia; Orlando, Florida; Birmingham, Alabama; and Washington, D.C., will vividly illustrate how designers have combined form and function to create a panorama of beautiful and purposeful landscape creations. But rather than being overwhelmed by the complexity of the arrangements and designs, Landscape Architects might want to consider focusing on just a single element of the projects. As you watch the games in person or on television, consider focusing your attention on the role of something as seemingly simple as the elemental use of turfgrass.

Start with a couple of big questions: "If there were no grass, would the fans and athletes be as eager to come and compete?" Or "How would the appearance and use of the overall design be changed if grass were not used?" Now, as you analyze the "big picture," refine your view to smaller questions. Consider the practical and utilitarian roles of grass, and whether or not substituted materials (live or inert) could effectively and efficiently replace the benefits of turfgrass.

By viewing the Olympic competitions through "green-grass" glasses, Landscape Architects may soon appreciate the diversity of venues into which grass has been placed. While some locations, such as the Olympic Stadium's center floor, are obviously grassed sites, others, like the cycling track at the velodrome, may at first go unnoticed as "grassy venues." In addition to the sports arenas themselves, innumerable large and small improvement projects in Atlanta and all across Georgia rely heavily on turfgrass. When the television cameras scan the Atlanta cityscape, keep a well-trained eye open for the quilts of grass in these areas.

Athletes from around the world will compete on newly-renovated competition sites that utilize turfgrass in one way or another. As the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, and most of the track and field events, the infield of the Olympic Stadium was sodded with "big-roll technology" (sod rolls can reach up to 48" wide and 60' long!) Dr. Tim Bowyer of Southern Turf Nurseries found the long-range scale of this project challenging and rewarding: "it's very exciting to work on a project for such a long time before making the first delivery." Woerner Turf utilized a combination of sod and sprigs to grass the host location for equestrian, modern pentathlon, cycling and mountain bike events, the Georgia International Horse Park.

New turfgrass has enhanced multiple locations for all of the soccer (football) matches: Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA; Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL; Legion Field in Birmingham, AL; Orange Bowl in Miami, FL; and RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C. Grass improvements range from complete replacement at the University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium to new sod in Birmingham to up-graded conditioning at the other sites. After viewing the extensive list of turfgrass improvements all across the South, an observant Landscape Architect might be tempted to venture, "no grass... no Olympics!"

Golden Park, a minor league baseball park in Columbus, GA, host for the first-ever Olympic softball competition, doubled its seating capacity and received a grass field makeover in preparation for this summer's games. "Sprigging was a much better option than seeding," Arron McWhorter of Sports Turf, explains, for the project included replacing a small golf course with eight Olympic-quality practice softball teams and regrading the entire baseball field with Bermuda Grass. Turfgrass sod has been installed at the bottom edge of the radically sloped track of the Olympic cycling arena, the Stone Mountain Park Velodrome, to soften athletes' inevitable falls. Sod was also positioned onto the areas outside of the track for erosion control purposes.

In addition to being used in various ways on or near competition sites, turfgrass sod has also helped to refine the "look of the games" at non-competition sites. Centennial Park, a 21-acre entertainment and recreation complex that will become a permanent part of downtown Atlanta's urban renewal efforts, was "regreened" and carpeted in native-bred Emerald Zoysia grass by Super Sod/ Patten Seed Co. Seven new dorms will house 15,000 athletes and officials in the newly constructed Olympic Village at Georgia Tech University, which features tree-shaded lawn areas for relaxation and natural cooling effects. In addition, trees and turf, a rebuilt promenade, and a new forty-foot-tall geyser fountain grace Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta.

Just as the athletes themselves contend, world-class Landscape Architects competed long and hard to win each of the contracts resulting from the Olympics coming to Atlanta. Their imaginative and innovative results demonstrate not only new techniques and ideas, but also display how plant and building materials can be combined in new, interesting and usable ways. These ideas, and particularly the multiple ways turfgrass can fit so ideally into so many diverse settings, can be used by Landscape Architects world-wide to improve their own professional practice.

While millions and millions of eyes will be searching out gold medal winning, world-class athletes, Landscape Architects can learn and improve themselves by searching out and cheering on that virtually unnoticed, but tough little competitor that will be trying to avoid gold in the quest to stay green... the turfgrass!

Douglas Fender is the executive director of Turfgrass Producers International and its Turf Resource Center.

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October 17, 2019, 6:19 am PDT

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