Feature Article - October 2019
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Grounds for Improvement

New Efficiencies Drive Better Maintenance Practices

By Rick Dandes


Tennis

Standard hard and cushioned courts are the simplest to maintain, Weavil said. Other than being blown daily, there is little other surface maintenance to perform. "Clay courts, however, are a much different animal," he said.

Clay courts in Weavil's territory are maintained daily, two times a day, April through October. Also, each spring the courts have an annual topdressing of the clay material added to replace what is lost from weather and play during the previous year. This work includes removal of the "dead," old surfacing material, installation of 1/8 inch of new material, removal of the old line tapes and installation of new line tape. Once the topdressing is added (this work is contracted out), Weavil's team takes over.

"The courts must be watered, swept and rolled every day for about a month to get the courts tight and ready for the heavy play months," he said. "Once we have the courts packed and tightened to a level where players can safely play, our staff moves into a daily routine of watering, sweeping, rolling and line sweeping. The clay courts are watered using an irrigation controller in order to keep the courts viable and from turning into unplayable powder.

"By having multiple tennis surfacing we open our facilities to players of all levels," Weavil said.

Soccer

There is only one recreational soccer field in Weavil's system. The turf on this field is GN-1 Bermuda grass. Bermuda grass does well in North Carolina due to the hot summers and high nighttime summer temperatures. Exceptionally cold and wet winters can lead to issues, but this is a relatively rare occurrence.

Weavil advises following standard best management practices for turf: soil tests every winter, applications of recommended fertilizers and supplements throughout the year, monthly applications of nitrogen from May through August, pre-emergent weed control, post-emergent weed control and irrigation.

One additional step he takes each June during a break in the soccer season is to replace the sod in front of the goals each year due to the wear and tear and to mitigate the risk posed to players from the damaged turf. Weavil annually replaces approximately 1,000 square feet of sod at each goal, he said. They sod cut the area to the correct depth, install the sod, cutting in at the edges to create a clean transition, and finally add washed sand to any gaps in seams. Then they water and grow the sod in for one month, cutting the new sod as it begins to grow. During their shutdown, maintenance staff also performs a heavy aeration on the field. They level and adjust any sprinkler heads that require attention during this time.

"As this is a recreational field not used for heavy league play," he said, "we cut the field two times per week using a rotary mower set at a 1-inch height."

Softball

Weavil currently has five softball fields in his inventory. These fields have brick dust infields and mixed tall fescue outfields. The outfields are mown, seeded, aerated and fertilized per normal best management practices.

"Our main maintenance work here is performed on our infields," he said. "Each season we remove our pitching rubbers and home plates so that we may add sufficient clay material to level the batter's box and pitching area creating safe playing surfaces. We also add clay to these areas during the summer playing season as needed."

Prior to the opening of each season, the interface between the skinned area and outfield grass is leveled to remove any built-up material that could create a lip and affect play of the game. "We utilize equipment to remove any grass and infield material to the correct field dimensions and then add back infield material or sod as needed," Weavil said. "These operations are very intensive for a small three-to-five-man crew each season and requires a trained staff member to direct the operations."

Finally, daily maintenance includes grooming the field, lining the infield foul lines with sports chalk and using turf paint for the outfield foul lines. The infield is lightly watered and bases are installed as required.

Eco-Friendly Practices

Eco-friendly practices are trending, and managing water is increasingly important in today's changing environment, according to James Bergdoll, director of parks maintenance, Chattanooga, Tenn. "Using tools such as soil moisture meters and 'smart' irrigation system components helps us be more efficient with water use on sports fields."

Also, consider the type of grass being used, Bergdoll advised. "Turfgrass scientists and producers are constantly bringing new and improved grass varieties to the marketplace. These new grasses require less water, are more disease-resistant, out-compete weeds, require less fertilizer and beyond. Growing these improved varieties requires less input to have exceptional, sustainable playing surfaces."