Sports Field Maintenance

Everyone loves a beautiful green lawn. Whether it is a sports field or an immaculate lawn, both are built on similar principles. However, sports field managers understand the high expectations placed on them. They must produce and maintain a quality playing field that can handle tremendous abuse without sacrificing appearance or quality. They perform their job with little or no fanfare working when no one is present. Most players will come and go and never know their name or the hard work that went into making a great playing field. If they do a terrible job, however, everyone will know their name.

Winning The Turf War

In suburban and high population areas, quality sports fields are especially necessary for sports of all ages. Championships are won and lost on sports fields across the country. Sports teams spend hours on end running back and forth across the field and turf managers must have the knowledge to counter all the activity on the grass to keep it looking good all season long. It’s a battle dealing with sports turf management simply from the usage aspect, but problems of compaction, disease and poor drainage as well need to be met and fixed before major damage occurs. Therefore, what goes into sports field management is vitally important.

The Best Turf Grass Types for Your Climate 

Not all grasses can handle the demands placed on it by organized sports, therefore grass types are important. Some grasses are better designed to handle the heavy traffic and the type you choose depends largely on where you live.

Cool Season Grass:

In the Transition Zone and the Northern United States, cool season grass will work best although the Transition Zone is a tricky area and is considered the most difficult place in the U.S. to grow quality turf. 

When cool season grasses are preferred, Kentucky Bluegrass is often mixed with Perennial RyeGrass or Turf Type Tall Fescue (TTTF) on a sports field. Kentucky Bluegrass works well in this scenario because it will handle the traffic demands and will produce runners that will help “heal” or fill in the damaged spots. 

Perennial Ryegrass cannot take the cold weather in the Northern United States, therefore, is best suited for the transition zone. Although Perennial Ryegrass is often used, TTTF can handle heavy traffic pressure better. Kentucky Bluegrass can be used as a stand alone grass in the Northern States.

In the Transition Zone, which covers about half of the central United States, cool season grasses are also preferred. Turf Type Tall Fescue has better cold tolerance than Perennial Ryegrass,  so TTTF is most often used where winter temperatures can still drop near zero or below.

Warm Season Grass:

If you live in the Southern United States, warm season grass will be best. Bermudagrass is the favored grass and is generally a stand alone grass. Although Annual Ryegrass is often spread over dormant Bermudagrass just before the sports season has ended. Bermudagrass has the ability to…

  • heal itself when damaged
  • grow quickly in summer
  • take a lot of traffic
  • and look great 

There are many different improved varieties of Bermudagrass that are preferred over the common varieties due to their problems with cold weather damage, disease and slow growth.

Zoysia, another great warm season grass, can handle the stress of heavy traffic well but it grows and spreads too slowly for sports turf so it is better used as a fairway grass.

Taking Soil Composite Into Account 

In most cases, when constructing  community sports fields, the materials used will often depend  on how much money is allocated for construction and maintenance. Due to money constraints, construction crews frequently use the existing soil at that location. This can be the beginning of problems down the road.  One such common problem if the soil is a clay composite, is compaction and poor drainage.

To help alleviate the problem, there will need to be a 1% to 1.5% grade to assist in drainage. It may also take core aeration once or even twice a month to help relieve compaction. In severe cases of compaction, deep tine aeration using solid tines may be needed along with core aeration. Multiple passes in different directions are needed and will cause no harm to the grass.

Many people know that sand helps with water movement and drainage. Although sand based fields are the best overall, in that sand doesn’t compact, a common problem occurs however when sports field managers bring in sand and rototill it into the top few inches of soil without any soil testing. If the wrong size sand is used it can cause even more problems with drainage and compaction. When this happens, the fix may be to remove the top 4 – 6 inches of soil and replace it and you are essentially starting over from scratch. 

Every area of the country is different when it comes to soil types and composition.  The best mode of action is to start with the best understanding of the soil you are working with. To ensure accurate results, standards must be set for performing soil sampling and testing. There are actually a few labs across the country that specialize in testing soil composite to determine the right materials and amounts needed. 

The world leader on building sand based fields is the USGA. In 1993 construction crews used the formula for building greens and adapted it to sports fields, which is now called the USGA Type Field. Over the years a number of sand-based sports field building methods have been developed, including the AirField System out of Oklahoma City and the Prescription Athletic Turf System (PAT).

Fertilization of Sports Fields

Sports fields have higher nutritional needs than a home lawn. What makes it harder is if the sports field was made using a sand-based method. With sand you will have a far lower CEC that does not have the ability to hold many nutrients. Sand-based fields may comprise up to 80% to 90% sand.

Fertilization will need to be applied at low Nitrogen (N) rates every 7 to 14 days on sand fields. This method is called spoon feeding and was developed originally for golf greens. Low N applications of .1 to .4 lbs N per 1000 sq ft during the season depending on grass type and grass needs. Because of sand’s inability to hold nutrients, multiple feedings give the grass more opportunity to feed before nutrients leach below the root zone. Soil tests will need to be performed to see where nutrient levels are situated. Because of the low CEC, Potassium (K) will probably need to be added to help manage turf stress. If soil pH is high due to high volumes of sand, chelated iron may need to be added. If the pH is above 7.2 the iron will need to be able to be foliarly absorbed. In high pH soil, the minute iron touches the soil it is converted to a form that plants cannot use. All other essential nutrients will need to be monitored as well.

Help to Make Life Better for Turf Managers

Sports field managers have high expectations placed on them. They must keep the fields looking good no matter how much activity is on it. This means consistent fertilization on sand fields. There is a lot of pressure on turf managers to find ways to reduce nutrient run-off and nutrient inputs without sacrificing turf quality. AgriGro’s Turf Formula has been shown to be the turf managers best friend. 

Using Turf Formula mixed with SuperCal liquid calcium has been used by turf managers for decades. I interviewed a golf course builder, Roy Briggs, from Florida (formally a Golf Course Superintendent) about using Turf Formula. He told me he was able to reduce his nutrient inputs by 35% using Turf Formula and SuperCal Calcium and had better looking greens than using traditional methods. He said in two days he would begin to see a green up.  It kept the players happy and satisfied the city.

How does Turf Formula Work?

Turf Formula and SuperCal were tested by the University of Missouri/Columbia. Within 24 hours of application, the soil’s native microbial populations were increased by 3400% and 5000% in 72 hours. This increase in beneficial microbial activity breaks down soil elements into nutrients plants can use, helps with water and nutrient uptake, increases root volume, increases plant health, decreases disease pathogens and much more. 

Calcium is essential for plant growth and development for the soil’s native microbial populations to function at their highest potential.  Inside the plant, calcium is used to help move nutrients through the plant, builds plant walls (cuticle), reduces disease occurrence and is essential for photosynthesis. Together, Turf Formula and SuperCal Calcium make a bio-enhanced calcium blend that is fantastic for plant and soil health and is used successfully by professionals around the world.

Sources:

  • Dr. Nick Christians, professor of Horticulture, Iowa State University
  • Fundamentals of Turf Management
  • Stewart Brown, Sports Turf and Amenity Grassland Management
  • Russ James, Lawn Care Academy