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Sports fields: How to Look Like
a Major Leage Field on a Shoestring Budget

By James Culley, regional sales manager, Stover Seed Co.

These fields are overseeded, depending upon the time of year. Perennial ryegrass is applied in fall and early spring. The bermuda is applied in late spring through summer. Downtime on these fields is minimal.

The design/construction of a quality sports field involves many aspects long before applying the turfgrass and growing in the field. When consulting to parks departments, field managers and the host of others involved in the decision on the project, I like to point out the following topics for discussion before we talk turf. Many variables can and will occur during the project development but if discussed prior to them, adjustments can be made without too many hassles.

The first group of variables that should be discussed are what sports will be using the field. The playing season for the major sports occur during seasonal windows and therefore determine turf used and maintenance. There is some overlapping of them and this inhibits the recuperation of the field. Soccer is mainly a summer and fall sport but club play and weekend usage can make it a year round sport in the southern half of the country. Baseball is mainly spring and summer except for high school/college where winter play is encouraged; football is mainly fall and winter. As you can see, a multi-use field would get almost no downtime to recover unless it is taken out of play periodically. These variables determine almost everything involved in the sports field decision.

This field is a mixture of perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass because it fills in quickly from overseeding and can take the heat better than either one variety by itself. The Midwest Sod Council advises the ratio of ryegrass to bluegrass is critical. "If you used 40% ryegrass and 60% bluegrass, your turf will turn out to be almost 100% ryegrass." The exact ratio depends on field conditions, weather and management, however, "no more than 10-15% ryegrass with 85-90% bluegrass."

The next group of variables should be air, land and water. The air factor is basically temperatures and weather during growing in and playing time. Temperatures can affect what turf is applied and how much care is needed for growing. Here in Southern California, we play on predominantly bermudagrass fields. Cool season grasses like perennial ryegrasses or bluegrasses are also used. Other warm season grasses like kikuyugrass also have been done or converted to because of climatic conditions favoring them. Depending on the time of year that the field will be growing in determines which of these grasses is used or combination of them. There are projects done here within the same facility that have a mixed turf stand for year round play and others done solely in warm season grasses for spring/summer use.

The land factor is the soil profile and much more. Taking soils samples for analysis of nutrient levels, salinity and ECEs, tilth and suggestions for amending is a top priority for a healthy turf stand. Unfortunately, this is overlooked many times and thus the sports field struggles over its lifetime. This process should never be overlooked. Have it done well in advance so that any amending needed can be done during grading. During growing in, continue sampling for nutrient levels, this will ensure that the sports field turf has everything available to it for proper growth. The recuperation of the turf stand also involves the soil. The aerification/spiking, addition of amendments and fertilizers for soil tilth and nutrient levels aid in maintaining a soil profile that the turf can utilized fully.

Stover Seed Co. offers perennial ryegrasses and Del Sol improved bermudagrass that provide a consistent playing surface with great traffic resistance.

The water factor involves more than just irrigation. Water quality and availability is becoming a major issue throughout the country. Potable water is being stretched due to urban growth, agriculture needs and unpredictable weather patterns. With urban growth, the usage for homes strains the availability while increasing water treatment facilities. Many cities have gone to using reclaimed water for irrigation but this has its problems. Salts, high nitrogen levels and heavy metals buildup in the soil can weaken an otherwise healthy turf, leaving it susceptible to insects, diseases and weeds. Knowing these factors should influence either turf use or conversion depending upon time. Grasses have varied levels of resistance/adaptability to conditions and therefore consulting turfgrass specialists can help with these decisions.

Proper irrigation also involves more than just turning on a valve. The monitoring of coverage is an ongoing process. A good irrigation plan gives head to head coverage, length of run times adjusted seasonally for the turf requirements and watching for localized dry spots will ensure that the turf receives the needed water for proper growth and recovery. There are many ways to review that this occurs and applying what works best for the location. This is also very important if overseeding or sodding is done. Run times will need to be adjusted to factor for additionally needed water for growing without oversaturation of existing turf.

The turf type determines what mowing equipment is used. Reel mowers provide better cutting on both warm and cool season grasses. Rotary mowers are fine for cool season but should be discouraged for warm season grasses.

The other major factor is maintenance. This is more than just mowing and edging of the sports field. The equipment depends upon the turf. Reel mowers provide better cutting on both warm and cool season grasses. Rotary mowers are fine for cool season but should be discouraged for warm season grasses. This involves the height of cut and method they employ to cut. Reel mowers, besides cutting with a scissor-type action, also can be adjusted for varied heights easier. This scissor cut also provides a clean cut of the leaf blade which heals easily and quickly. The rotary mower on the other hand cuts with more of a shearing-type action which can shred the leaf cut. This will take longer to heal and thus can provide more time for a disease to penetrate. The height of cut should also depend upon which turf is used and seasonality. This could take a long time to discuss; better to ask your local turf consultant for this.

The other factor in maintenance is personnel. Having great equipment is worthless unless the operators are properly trained. A properly trained operator can mean the difference between a healthy turf stand and one that is uneven, rutted or worse. Be sure to also provide ongoing continuing education for them. It will pay off 10 fold in the long run. I work with a number of golf course superintendents and many have taken this approach. Would you trust the operator of a mower with your family vehicle? Remember, a large mower can cost as much as $40,000, the price of many SUVs or luxury sedans. Give them the training they need and have them take pride in the equipment. It will cost less in the long run.

A seeded kikuyugrass (Pennisetum clandestinum) sports field at the Hansen Dam Soccer Complex in Sylmar, Calif. This is an extremely aggressive perennial weed of turfgrass native to Africa. Its "toughness" is a necessary attribute for this field, as some of the local Polo Clubs play matches here.

The last major factor is expectations. The public wants Dodger Stadium, Home Depot Center or the Rose Bowl for playing their respective sports. If you have that kind of time and money, that's great! I'll bet 98 percent don't. You need to adjust their thinking given the capabilities provided to you. Education here goes a long way. Discussing with park supervisors, commissions and local use groups the needs of the sports field and your desire to provide them with quality playing surfaces will only benefit everyone. Having them attend seminars, university field days or field trips to other facilities will give them an education that could provide some guidance in sports field development and maintenance.

In conclusion, sports field development involves many things. You should involve as many consultants/experts as possible. Seed suppliers like myself, fertilizer distributors, irrigation companies and others provide these services many times free of charge. Use them to educate everyone involved in the decision making for the fields complex. If variables should arise during the project, these people can be called upon to assist in changes of direction or application to ensure a successful project.

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October 13, 2019, 7:08 pm PDT

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