Feature Article - March 2003
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Good Sports Fields

How to make your grounds look like the pros

By Melissa Bigner


Innovations need not be strictly tangible. One of the most interesting things going on these days, according to Floyd Perry, who has written several books about grounds maintenance and is president of Orlando-based Grounds Maintenance Services, is that people are having to get more creative with their budgets.

"Budgets are being cut, and staffs are shrinking," he says. "Those who are left have to learn how to get the same work done with less assets."

Diamonds are your best friend
An on-field mound demonstration by the
Sports Turf Managers Association.

A big fan of starting off on the right foot and front-end investments that pay off in the long run, Zwaska offers up proper grading of a diamond as an example of creative budgeting. Here's how it plays out: If you don't have a level playing field, water builds up and can destroy turf and creates pools on the infield, which carries away your top dirt and leaves a hard, unforgiving surface when the sun returns—not good.

The problem is exacerbated by teams who don't want to be rained out; often players whip out the brooms and sweep water off the infield, sweeping precious top dirt along with it. At worst, that brushed-aside dirt chokes turf and can kill it off, and at best, the sweeping builds up lips along the diamond's edge, creating ridges that interfere with ball play.

The solution: grading. If a field were properly graded, Zwaska says, you would save yourself many of these woes. Instead of backtracking and investing in a re-grade, which can last from 10 to 15 years, depending on usage, groundskeepers often add more drying agents to the diamond to absorb the water. In the short run, he says, the cost and convenience wins. But if you look at the long-term costs and labor, he bets you'll at least break even, if not better.

We want you

Remember those overzealous, water-sweeping team members? The pros suggest you harness their energy and direct it where and how you really need it.

"TV has been a blessing and a curse for athletics," Zwaska says. "You should see photos of early baseball games—the fields were in terrible condition compared our standards now."

Soccer fields score plenty of TLC for a regional
soccer tournament in Sylvania, Ohio.

Fans see how fields look on television and want the same for themselves, paying little mind to the fact that the pros work full time with large staffs to get the fields looking like they do.

"Unlike the pros," Van Haasteren says, "on the park and rec level, maybe one or two people have the responsibility of overseeing several fields."

And on the high-school level, it's often the coaches and the teams that tend to the turf. So you can see those with limited resources have a tall order to fill.

But listen to this creative approach. Perry tells the story of a local high-school football coach who dressed up the field NFL-style, paint and all, for a homecoming game. The town liked it so much, they wanted the look for every Friday night. "Sure thing," the coach said, "but only if you pitch in."

"The parents helped out, and now they've got the big-league look for all the games," Perry says. The lesson learned here is that coaches and groundskeepers serve themselves well to look off the field and beyond their payrolled staff for assistance. And too, when community members invest their own time and effort, the payback in pride is priceless.

Tips from the Top

Want to make your operation look like the big-time, even though your budget is little league? We asked the experts what advice they would give to the asset-strapped. Here's what they said.

Dan Douglas director of stadium grounds for the Reading Phillies and president of the Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization:  "Start by improving your mowing practices. Mow more frequently with sharp blades. Next, soil test your fields and fertilize according to the recommendations. Last but not least, create an aerification program. And remember, all fields need a period of recovery. Meet with whomever schedules the field and reduce the abuse of the field."

George Van Haasteren president, Sports Field Management Systems:  "There are no real shortcuts in this business. To have your fields stand out, it is important to have the basic knowledge of field maintenance, budgeting and hard work. Use one piece of equipment to perform several tasks, use a drag mat to produce a striping effect on the turf, and have players and coaches help with the upkeep. Networking with others in the field is also a great way of improving ways to have the best fields.

Dr. Rick Brandenberg professor and state extension turfgrass entomologist at North Carolina State University, Raleigh:  "Stay on top of things. Don't let lips build up or low areas become bigger. On ball fields, keep your edges sharp—that's the easiest way to look professional. On turf, do everything you can to keep it covered. Over seed, or slit seed thin areas and move traffic around on practice fields. Aerate regularly to eliminate compactions."

Lance Hauserman ATD Sports Field Specialists:  "Make sure a professional in the field evaluates your field. Know what needs to be done, how much it will cost. Develop a plan [blueprint] so if you need to phase the project or use volunteers everyone is on the same page."