Feature Article - January 2022
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Fields of Green

Smart Strategies & New Ideas in Sports Field Maintenance

By Dave Ramont

In addition to the nine natural turf fields at ISU, there are also two synthetic fields that are maintained by the Athletics Department. "Our maintenance practices for synthetic would include dragging, grooming and disinfecting the turf. We try to manicure both synthetic fields at least twice a month," said Tvrdik, who added that they impact-test their indoor football field and soccer game field once a year to ensure they're safe to play on. "Once we see the reading, we can then make a decision on whether to add more crumb rubber to soften it up or remove rubber to firm up the surface. One benefit to synthetic is that when a team needs to practice in inclement weather, they have a place to do so without ruining their game or practice field."

There seems to be a perception among some that synthetic fields are maintenance-free, and while there are currently no synthetic fields in Chattanooga's parks, Bergdoll said this is simply not the case. "Based on experience, I can tell you that most park administrators, city officials and user-group leaders don't understand that artificial fields require maintenance. Typical high-wear areas such as goal mouths and batter's boxes require a lot of maintenance just like a natural surface. If artificial fields are not routinely maintained, they become unsafe for use, which is hard to understand if you don't have a professional on staff monitoring conditions."

It should also be pointed out that like natural turf fields, synthetic fields also require superior drainage systems.

Darren Gill, senior vice president of marketing and innovation for an international synthetic turf manufacturer with 25,000 installations globally, said it's important to understand that high-performance synthetic turf sports fields are not maintenance-free, and went on to describe working with field managers who've "helped us create and refine our maintenance recommendations and guidelines over the past few decades. In addition, we have a tremendous field care division that can assist clients in situations where they don't have the resources to perform their own maintenance. We also leverage technology… to assist field managers in understanding what type of maintenance should be done on their fields and at what frequency.

"Our multi-faceted approach includes standard guidance for brushing, aerating, raking and sweeping along with new options for those who want to sanitize their fields," Gill continued. "We've worked to simplify the field maintenance procedure for our clients and make their lives as easy as possible. Our design thinking approach keeps maintainers in mind throughout the product development process."

When it comes to baseball and softball fields, there are added maintenance challenges, including infields vs. outfields, pitcher's mounds, batter's boxes and bull pens. "Depending on the amount of use, the skinned areas often require daily maintenance to keep low areas from developing, edge or lip buildup, weed control etc.," said Bergdoll. "One thing to note is that there has been some really great advancements in materials in the past five to 10 years. I recommend anyone to do some research to see what's available in their area as far as materials. There has been a strong push on better-performing soil mixes in low-maintenance situations such as parks and recreation fields."

Tvrdik's team maintains one softball field, and he explained that keeping the infield moisture content just right tends to be the most challenging aspect. "We flood the infield a couple times a day and let it dry out before a practice so that it doesn't play too hard or too soft. After practice and games, we patch the mounds and homeplate with clay and tamp the holes to keep everything filled in and flat. When it rains, we pull out the infield tarp to prevent washouts and muddy playing conditions."

New technologies continue to aid the turfgrass industry, and Tvrdik said these can prove to be huge timesavers. "We now use a GPS chemical sprayer to control where we are applying chemicals to prevent any overlapping and waste. This saves us money, helps the environment and teaches us to be better turf managers. We use a tool called a TDR to monitor the moisture level of all our playing surfaces. This stops us from guessing on how much water to apply with our irrigation systems and from wasting water."

Bergdoll said they're fortunate to have companies in their industry that understand their challenges and work to develop new products and technologies to help with efficiency. "Because as demand goes up, our capacity and resources do not, in most cases. Some of the new technology that (I've) been watching closely has been robotics and artificial intelligence. With a labor shortage, we may have to rely more on this technology to help us do our jobs."

In fact, it's becoming increasingly common for municipalities and facilities to utilize outside firms for help, particularly with specialized maintenance tasks, according to Bergdoll. "It certainly is for us because we have such a small team and limited capacity. With the cost of equipment and labor shortages, using outside firms often makes more sense from a budgetary standpoint, but not always from a scheduling aspect. There are pros and cons to everything so you have to weigh your options to make sure it makes sense for your operation." RM