A good portion of my career has been spent growing turf on golf courses all over the country except for a short time when I worked at a university. There I oversaw the grounds operations, including the athletic fields used for club level and collegiate games.
Many of you reading this article deal with the same problems I have. Whether you are from a wealthy community, school district, park or camp, trying to manage field turf for quality playing conditions is difficult.
We simply deal with too many events played on too few fields. At the school district, the junior varsity and varsity soccer team share the same field with the football teams. Add to that the marching band that needs time on the field to practice their half-time routine, while baseball fields are shared between local municipalities and school districts. That means middle and high school athletes and recreational leagues may play on the same fields, besides all the community traffic, including special events throughout the year, which play havoc on the turf.
Camps and summer programming deal with all types of activities and high traffic concentrated on small, confined fields. This high-use usually comes during hot, humid summers when turfgrass is already under stress from the environmental conditions, not to mention foot traffic.
With all this in mind you are expected to deliver the best playing conditions, and don't try to use your budget for an excuse! That doesn't work, because the powers that be just don't want to hear it! Is this all beginning to sound familiar? So how do we achieve our goal to produce quality turf with our shortcomings of limited resources -- equipment, material, budget, knowledge and human capital?
Bridging the Turf Gap
Communication may be the first step. Find out how many events are planned for your facilities. Can you get volunteers from the community? Ask coaches, parents of players and players, because they can help with some of the minor tasks.
Talk to other people just like you in neighboring communities, like school districts or camps. Chances are they are dealing with the same problems you are. They may have good ideas that would work for you.
Now, let's be realistic… Natural turfgrass fields and golf courses can only take so much traffic, weather and abuse before it will show signs of wear.
A point person needs to be appointed to make critical decisions when the field should be closed due to weather or safety conditions. This person needs to be someone who has the best interest of both the athlete and the field conditions in mind, and needs to determine if a common ground can be met that would reasonably satisfy all parties.
Are there alternative solutions available such as field rotation? Is it possible to limit the use of certain fields? Can practices, from time to time, be conducted at alternative sites? Is there access to areas that may be adequate to conduct a limited practice? Is a full-size field necessary, or can you improvise? If none of these solutions are possible then how do you create and maintain quality, safe playing conditions? Make sure you, or the person in charge of these fields has the tools to achieve this task.
A person formally trained in turfgrass management or sports field management would be the obvious place to start, but if you do not have anyone like this on your staff you might consider utilizing a consultant or one of the area golf course superintendents.
Most golf course superintendents are formally trained in turfgrass science or agronomy (study of soil management). They would be a good source of information since they deal with turf problems day in and day out. Suggest a site visit to your fields; they just might volunteer their time to help out. This leads me into our next solution for maintaining quality playing conditions.
Golf courses specialize in turfgrass management. They are also a good course for equipment. Develop a relationship with the golf course and the superintendent for both knowledge and equipment. Maybe an "adopt the field" program could be started with local businesses. This could help generate volunteers and money.
Something else that could be done is to develop relationships with other school districts and municipalities for expertise and equipment use.
Along the same lines in developing relationships, there is strength in numbers, so get together and develop a buying group. Currently, several buying grounds exist that you can join for an initial fee. Once a member you are entitled to discounts on equipment and material.
Now you have the basic utilization of your facilities in order. How do you maintain the conditions? This is where the budget comes into play, and the budget should reflect your needs. Is it equipment or material, such as fertilizer or top dressing?
If your community wants to be in the recreation business they need to make accommodations to maintain quality, safe conditions. If your organization is not committed then they should re-think their position.
I know this may sound harsh, but think about it, this is your image or reflection. Poorly maintained fields are an accident waiting to happen.
Now I know many of you are thinking this all sounds good but I don’t have the budget to maintain the fields in great condition. The cost of fertilizer, grass seed, top dressing and equipment is very expensive. Once again, build relationships with your neighbors, develop a buying group, and seek out co-ops you can join for a reasonable cost. As mentioned earlier, there is power in numbers, take full advantage of this when purchasing material and equipment.
So, to recap some thoughts and ideas that will help you to develop you fields:
* Network with your neighbors. What do they have that you might need? Specialized equipment, aerifiers, top dressers, seeders, knowledge –- share it!
* Think outside the box! Look for alternative locations for practice and game day and rotate field use. Move goals on soccer fields from practice to practice; this will distribute the wearing of the turf at the net.
* Seek advice from turfgrass experts in your area. Golf course superintendents, local colleges and universities, and other field maintenance personnel. This is a great source of knowledge.
* Build that relationship with other groups and organizations, and develop a buying group or co-op for both materials and equipment.
Sean P. McHugh , CGCS, is Chief Superintendent of Golf, Turf Grass Division, Cleveland Metroparks and can be reached for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org