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Feature Article - February 2017

The Best of Both Worlds

Know When to Rely on Synthetic or Natural Turf

By Joe Bush


Know Your Stuff

As you'd expect from a STMA president, VanLoo is progressive with natural turf management techniques and tools. After a talk on fraise mowing at the annual STMA event, VanLoo tried it at Iowa State on an older practice field.

"A really cheap way to renovate the field," VanLoo said. "Had great success with it and it's played really well since. Another tool we hadn't had before we're able to use now."

For the past four years, VanLoo has used GPS technology for more efficient spraying and a TDR probe to better gauge field moisture levels. VanLoo said a TDR probe can be as much as a $1,200 investment. To employ GPS, $8,000 to $10,000 is needed at least, going up to $20,000.

"(The TDR) allows me to get game-ready with certain moisture levels, make sure we're not wilting anywhere," VanLoo said. "It's allowed me to really utilize water more efficiently and only when needed. I've just tried to stay up with the technology that allows us to be much more scientific about our approach instead of just kind of, 'Hey, I think.' It eliminates some of that thought process—the should I or shouldn't I—and allows us to be more precise."

VanLoo's staff is all students—some experienced, some green. He said that they all end up doing everything because there is no full-time staff. VanLoo has a teaching and executive style with them.

"You're going to make mistakes, so try to understand what the mistakes were and not repeat them," he said. "The best learning experience is typically a mistake. I try not to allow those to happen on game fields. A lot of it is just slowing down. Just slow down and make sure we get the job done right the first time so we don't have to come back.

"You're going to make mistakes, so try to understand what the mistakes were and not repeat them," he said. "The best learning experience is typically a mistake. I try not to allow those to happen on game fields. A lot of it is just slowing down. Just slow down and make sure we get the job done right the first time so we don't have to come back.

"I encourage all of them to use their education, use what they're seeing, to come back with ideas. I've had to change some of my old ways with what they've come up with. I try to have them learn what we do then use their brains to see if there's a better way. I have a program I stick to and I tweak every year. You're always trying to get incrementally better."

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