Feature Article - February 2006
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Tough Turf

Getting athletic fields in good shape is both complicated and not-so-complicated

By Kyle Ryan

The good news for Jesse Pritchard was that he got the job he interviewed for: grounds manager for University of Virginia athletics. The bad news came quickly after that, says his friend Eric Fasbender, grounds manager for University of Oregon athletics.

"Like literally his first day of work," Fasbender says, "they said, 'Welcome aboard, Jesse. Hey, by the way, this fall we're having the Rolling Stones coming, and they're going to be playing a concert at the football stadium—and, oh by the way, nine days later we play Florida State on a nationally televised game." He laughs.

After the concert, as workers deconstructed the stage and the temporary flooring that covered the field, it quickly became apparent that all the natural-grass turf from roughly the 20-yard line to the neighboring end zone had died. But before stage construction began, Pritchard had pre-germinated the field with quickly growing ryegrass seeds and fertilized it heavily. He didn't even replace or cut out any of the dead turf. The result? Untrained eyes couldn't notice a difference in the turf when the game aired a little more than a week later.

Proper planning and understanding of how turf works are the mundane details that make these kinds of miracles possible. Natural-grass fields may have more complex needs, but even synthetics require a little TLC to function properly. People continually underestimate that, according to Mike Trigg, president of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and superintendent of parks for the Waukegan Park District in Waukegan, Ill.

"The misconception [is] not understanding all that is required to maintain athletic fields," he says.

Turf, whether it's created in a factory or by Mother Nature, has many needs. Understanding them makes for a safer surface that offers ideal playing conditions.