Good Sports Fields
How to make your grounds look like the pros
By Melissa Bigner
|LEFT PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN DOUGLAS|
TOP PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID SCHOFIELD
|Photos, above and left: Members of the Reading |
Phillies ground crew in action.
Work smarter, not harder. The cliché has spread out of offices and into nearly every field of business these days, including grounds maintenance programs. The message is this: If you want to survive in an unforgiving economy, you have to economize, in the best sense of the word. That means using your assets and maximizing your manpower in such a way that you waste neither minutes nor money.
The smarter-not-harder philosophy shows itself many times over in the latest innovations taking place in ground maintenance. And good news—the advances have little to do with the scale of your operation. No matter whether you tend a little-league diamond or baby its big-league brother, there's something on the following pages that is sure to apply to your situation. But enough of the drumrolling. We asked a handful of the country's experts what has piqued their interest of late, what new developments they were most excited about in the field. Here's what they had to say.
We've all heard it: The difference between men and boys is the size of their toys. If that's as true as it seems, guys—and gals, too, of course—should be pretty excited about what's going on with grounds keeping equipment today.
|PHOTOS COURTESY OF PAUL ZWASKA/BEACON BALLFIELDS|
|Seminars, conferences and other industry |
events are good places to hone your field
Precision laser leveling, in which a field is graded with the use of laser beams, has been around for years and has become more and more prevalent. But Paul Zwaska, the former groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, sees something else on the horizon. He predicts that the next big thing will be combining groomers with laser leveling, so you can do grading touch-ups with the same machine. Multipurpose equipment like that knocks out wasted hours and is ideal for smaller ground crews, as one person can do the work of several. Thus the investment pays off: Put a little more money out front and reap the rewards in less man-hours and manpower.
You gotta love any gadget that does the math for you, especially while you sit cozy at home, miles away from work. That's how radio- and satellite-controlled irrigation systems operate. Dr. Gil Landry, professor of turfgrass management at the University of Georgia in Griffin, says this simple technological advance does wonders for groundskeepers, whose lives are ruled by weather reports. Sensors placed throughout a targeted area measure the amount of ground water and detect rainfall. From the comfort of your home, office or some other remote place, you get readings of what is going on water-wise at the field. A report relates the stats to the amount of water you've budgeted that month to ensure healthy turf. Thus you are directed to either turn off irrigation systems (remotely, of course) or head out to cover the fields. Of course, the system is especially useful if you live far from your keep, Zwaska says, as it may be raining on one side of town but not the other.
Here's one that will make the little guys cheer. But first, a quick lesson: There are two main mower classifications when it comes to cutting grass, according to Landry. The first cut by reel, in which one blade lifts grass and a second blades it slices the tips off, much like a Norelco electric shaver operates on facial hair. The second (called a rotary mower) is akin to a spinning whip, in which the blades chop and whack grass short, not unlike a weed eater. The former gives a cleaner cut, Landry says, but they tend to be price-prohibitive for smaller operations. That's where the innovation comes in. Landry says he's been impressed with a new generation of rotary mowers that compensate for their shortcomings without breaking the bank. How? First off, they have shorter blades and multiple discs, which improve the mower's cutting radius, and allow for a better cut on contoured land. The result is a better look for less money done in less time. And, says George Van Haasteren, president of Sports Field Management Systems, there are rotary mowers outfitted to create the striped look of the pros—something only the expensive reel mowers used to do.
|PHOTOS COURTESY OF JERRY WACHTER|
|These two views of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore show there's more |
than one way to stripe a field, proving groundskeepers are truly the artists of
Machines don't corner the market when it comes to product innovations. Landry says that companies are now combining lining paint with a plant growth suppressor. Why?
"The biggest reason that you have to paint and repaint your lining is that you end up cutting it off with a mower," he says. "By stunting the grass growth, you rule out the frequency of that problem."
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."
|PHOTO COURTESY OF SPORTS TURF MANAGERS ASSOCIATION|
|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.
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."
|PHOTO COURTESY OF BOYD MONTGOMERY/SPORTS TURF |
|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.
The way you learn about turfgrass management and field maintenance is changing as much as how you practice it. That's thanks in part to the proliferation of related programs offered at state colleges nationwide and due to technological advances. Landry outlines two major innovations.
Schools like UGA offer correspondent courses for out-of-towners to complete the turfgrass management program. For a fee, students receive the course materials and lessons and mail in assignments.
"At test time," Landry says, "they can go to a public library or some other supervised, designated location."
A bevy of groundskeeping information can be found online, but don't just take in the static stuff. There are loads of interactive learning tools, from quizzes to online courses. Because the nature of the Web, it can provide you with some of the most up-to-date advice and innovations.
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