For the second time in as many weeks, I found myself in a well-stocked party bus surrounded by jolly people. The first time was at my youngest brother’s wedding as we took the obligatory ride around Milwaukee to snap post-wedding photos, and test the patience of Marquette University’s on-campus police.
This time, I was surrounded by my fellow editorial brethren from trade magazines and Web sites, representing all branches of the “green media”--landscape, golf, parks and recreation, sports turf and so on. You get the idea.
This particular bus was headed to Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the Friday night Busch Series race, one of the last races in which Dale Ernhardt, Jr., would be driving the number 8 car. It was also the final event on a schedule that included a tour of the new Jacobsen facility, a test drive (well, a test-look) at the new walk-behind, electric greens mower and, for me, an introduction to its line of sports turf equipment.
As you may know, PRB has been on the hunt for credible information on how to solve some of your peskiest sports turf problems, chief among them the best way to maintain attractive, desirable and safe sports fields (soccer, baseball, football, lacrosse, etc.) in the face of overwhelming in-season and out-of-season use.
In past issues, we’ve presented a variety of common-sense remedies:
1. Control the field schedule and avoid overuse (it’s O.K. to laugh now; we know this is almost impossible)
2. Develop a list of maintenance standards (i.e., agency considerations for a safe field)
3. Document how you’re going to meet those standards
4. Document when the work is done, and by whom, to adhere to these standards
5. Follow maintenance best practices:
a. Irrigate regularly (when possible)
b. Aerate regularly to avoid compaction
c. Topdress after aeration
d. Use fertilizer and control agents as necessary to keep the turf healthy after aeration
e. Use proper mowing practices
For the past several issues, this last point--the use of proper mowing practices--hasn’t received much attention. It seems fairly straightforward--sharpen blades weekly, don’t cut more than 1/3rd of the canopy, and so on. But, as the folks at Jacobsen were quick to point out, the quality of the cut of the sports fields (and the cultural practices surrounding that cut) can significantly impact the health of your turf.
One extreme example of this is frequency-of-clip, which is the rate at which the reel/blades in a mower rotate to cut the grass. Jacobsen engineers have zeroed in on this concept in its new walk-behind greens mower, allowing the user to set the frequency-of-clip independent of the speed the operator is walking. For example, if the operator slows down while running the machine, the number of clips per inches actually increases, which results, the company claims, in a smoother finish and faster green. The theme throughout the tour was smart machines that work diligently to provide a great cut, regardless of the experience of the operator.
How does this relate to larger sports-turf issues? It shows the overarching importance of developing cultural cutting practices that fit in with your overall sports-field maintenance plan. Instead of merely sharpening blades weekly and keeping an eye on how much turf canopy you cut, it may be time to take a serious look at how minor things like the depth of aeration can affect the health, safety and playability of your fields. Aerating to 10-12 inches in spring and fall, followed by topdressing, is a great idea.
Going forward, PRB will be looking at these issues to determine what cultural maintenance practices we can recommend for you to solve your field overuse problems. Till then, I’ll be at the race track. See you around the bend.