some NFL head groundskeepers who have natural grass fields a few questions
about their surfaces, past, present and future. Here’s what they said:
When you started this job, what kind
of grass/surface did you inherit? What, if any, problems were there when you
Tom Vaughan, Carolina Panthers: The field has always been 419
hybrid bermudagrass. No major problems. The field was only a few years old at
Tony Leonard, Philadelphia Eagles: Our stadium field was a DD GrassMaster
field when we opened in 2003. This field performed very well the first year but
slowly declined over the next few years. This was due to a heavy event schedule
that included Eagles football games, Temple University football games, the
Army/Navy game, along with concerts and many contractually obligated marketing
events. Structurally, the field performed as it should have, but aesthetically,
it looked worn by December with no ability to remove and resod.
Don Follett, Baltimore Ravens: When I started with the Ravens
they had a Shaw Momentum 51 artificial turf field. It was in pretty good shape
but it was starting to show its age.
Andrew Levy, Arizona Cardinals: When we opened State Farm Stadium
in 2006 we had spent the previous 2 years working on a soil/grass combination
that we believed would perform the best throughout an NFL season. We wanted a
grass variety that would recover quickly and a soil able to resist compaction
under the demanding stadium schedule. We built mock field tray plots in 2004
and tested dozens of soils and grass varieties. An important factor in this
decision process was to have a surface that performed like our training
facility where the team practices weekly. We had success with Tifway 419 in a
100% USGA sand mix at our facility; that previous success in combination with
the results from our test plots, had us deciding to continue with that mix
along with Staylock fibers tilled in to the sand. The fibers are installed to
provide additional sheer strength in the soil late in the season once the field
has been played on and begins to ware without compacting the surface.
Allen Johnson, CSFM, Green Bay
Packers: When I
first started, Lambeau Field had just been converted from a native soil field
to a sand-based rootzone, with a playing surface that was a combination of
synthetic turf and natural grass. We were able to make it look nice, but
inherently it had some challenges delivering consistent footing. It was a great
learning experience for me that keeps paying dividends today in how I approach
managing our current playing surfaces.
practice fields were also both native soil fields and were converted to sand-based
in 2004 and 2009.
How did you address any problems?
Leonard: In 2008, we decided to use Patriot
bermudagrass. This did well but declined quickly in November. We decided at
that time to sod overtop of the GrassMaster system with Kentucky bluegrass. With
the help of Todd Vanek and King Sports Turf, we were able to accomplish this successfully.
We continue this process of switching between varieties to this day.
Follett: My biggest problem was there were
no standards of maintenance either here at the Ravens or from Shaw [the
synthetic turf manufacturer]. No one seemed to know what needed to be done
in order to keep the field in top shape. I asked a lot of questions and
did a lot of trial and error to find out what worked and how often I needed to
groom the field. That led me to create a set of standards that the Ravens used
to maintain our artificial turf.
Johnson: It was a lot of research and
talking with peers in the sports turf industry. Attending the STMA Conference
was a great place to do a lot of that. I had to educate myself and then help
educate upper management in our organization. Initially, we had given up on the
combo playing surface and the sand rootzone at Lambeau Field was capped with
native soil, which presented another unique challenge. We did our best to make
that work, re-sodding as necessary with thick cut, sand-based sod. We even tried
a “drill and fill” to create drainage channels through the soil layer into the
sand below. The last few years of that situation, we were sodding the middle of
the field with bermudagrass just for the winter games, and removing it in the
spring. We were trying everything that we could think of to make the best of
it. Meanwhile, I was intrigued by what Ross Kurcab was doing in Denver with
another sand stabilizing product, which we eventually went with, on one of our
practice fields in 2004, then the stadium in 2007 and another practice field in
2009. Ever since, we’ve been doing our best to make that system work for us.
Levy: Once we selected our grass/soil
mix (Tifway 419 and USGA sand with Staylock fibers tilled into the profile) our
next challenge was to maintain this surface to the standards we set out for
during construction. We understood at some point we would need to sod some
areas of the field, and in 2006 not many sod farms would grow custom sod (outside
golf course grow in). Many sod farms were selling sand-based sod that did not
match with our soil, in turn compromising the profile. This change in profile
could affect water percolation, uniformity and turf density. After a late
season resod in 2007 we reached out to Evergreen Turf based in Chandler, AZ to
consider a custom annual field for our use, grown in our exact mix of sand and
Staylock fibers. This partnership allows us to resod the field late in the
season on a field that is identical to what we play on at the training facility
as well as the one it will be replacing at the stadium, giving our team a
seamless transition from each surface.
What is your surface now and how old
Johnson: Lambeau’s field was rebuilt just
last year with SISGRASS stabilizing fibers and Kentucky bluegrass as our
natural component. Our practice fields have Desso’s GrassMaster fibers yet from
when they were constructed in 2004 and 2009.
Vaughan: The current surface is 419 hybrid
bermudagrass overseeded with perennial ryegrass. We rebuilt the field in 2016.
Levy: The field at State Farm Stadium is
replaced two times annually once following training camp (held at the stadium)
and once late season in preparation for the Fiesta Bowl and late season
Cardinals games. With an established turf partnership in place that allows me
to replace the field with a matching soil profile, I am able maintain the
desired profile during the resod process. Since our inaugural season in 2006 we
have played on Tifway 419 in the same USGA sand mix. I had the opportunity
following the 2017 season to replace the entire sand fiber mix based on
maintenance that was needed on the tray below. With 14 seasons of use I was
excited to replace the sand and regain the angular sand properties that were
lost over time due to use and mechanical work. With 14 successful seasons on Tifway
419 grown in our sand/fiber mix that is what went back down following
Follett: We now have a natural grass field.
It is NorthBridge bermuda. The original field was put in 3 years ago but we
re-grass the field each year. The current field was put in in November
Leonard: Our surface from July through late
November is Northbridge bermudagrass and from December through mid-summer,
Kentucky bluegrass. We still have the original rootzone and GrassMaster system
as a base, but use sod 1½-inch thick throughout the year due to a heavy event
Do you foresee any changes/tweaks in
your maintenance plan heading into 2019 season?
Vaughan: Plans can change based on weather
and events. We may overseed ryegrass a little later this season due to our
Johnson: We are constantly trying different
things to improve our management of these types of systems. We regularly renovate
the surfaces with the TopMaker machine and grow back in from seed, but recently
we have also been using the Allett machines with their various attachments. The
turf rakes are great for combing through the grass canopy, grabbing the
synthetic fiber and helping to keep it standing vertical and upright within the
grass canopy. We also used the scarifying blades this spring in lieu of the TopMaker
to thin the canopy and help get rid of the organic layer that was beginning to
build on the surface.
Levy: Our field use begins in the summer
with training camp when outside temperatures are well into the 100’s and ends
in the winter when the nighttime temperatures are well below freezing. I do my
best to encourage the 419 as late as I can into the winter by covering with
grow blankets, applying green paint and on occasion bringing the field inside
for the night when a hard freeze is in the forecast. I look forward to a
variety of bermudagrass that will withstand the extreme heat of the Arizona
desert as well as resist dormancy during the late season winter months,
allowing the field to recover without overseeding. I continue to test new
varieties and communicate with sod producers and universities to continue with
Leonard: I do not. This system has done
well for us. The folks at both Carolina Green and Tuckahoe Turf Farms have done
a tremendous job preparing a sod for us that we can install and play on
immediately with no down time.
Follett: We do not see making any changes
to our current plan for 2019.
Are there plans to change the
surface in the next few years?
Johnson: Like a good football team, we are
always evaluating what we are doing. We are trying the SISGRASS fibers on
Lambeau at present, compared to the GrassMaster fibers. Each has unique
characteristics. We are specifically interested in a fiber that has the ability
to stay standing vertical within the turf canopy as long as possible. When
these stabilizing fibers are standing upright within the canopy they really are
at their best in providing excellent stability and consistent footing.
Levy: I believe a 12-month growing
season for bermudagrass will someday be the future in the Southwest.
Vaughan: The rebuild in 2016 was extensive.
I don’t foresee any major changes.
Leonard: Not at this time. As a stadium, we
will continue to be aggressive in booking events that require planning, not
only internally, but also externally with sod suppliers, installers, and field
prep crews. As far as the performance of our base, it drains well and
withstands the abuse it takes throughout the year. Not sure if this system is
for everyone, but it’s been working here so far!
Follett: We will probably re-grass some time
in November with the NorthBridge bermuda.