I am the… Athletic Turf Manager
For … Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington).
What field care product/piece of equipment could you not live without? [In 2016], it was our Redexim Verti-Drain 7316 model. We had the wettest October on record and couldn’t have completed our season without it.
Complete this sentence: “If I weren’t a field care pro, I would be …” Something related to the sports industry. Ideally I’d be a golf professional, probably teaching rather than playing as talent plays a factor in the latter! After 30 years in turf, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What types of fields and turf areas are you responsible for? Our responsibilities include a baseball facility, soccer field, practice soccer field and a shortgame facility for the golf teams. In all, around 8 acres of managed turf.
What path led you to a career in sports field management? I started doing residential irrigation and then had an offer as the “irrigation guy” on a golf course. After four years, I was promoted to superintendent and attended Rutgers University’s two-year turf management program. After 10 years as a superintendent, I had an opportunity to get into sports turf and have been in the industry for 16 years now.
What are the biggest challenges in maintaining the facility? Without question, it’s being located in an interior northern climate. Trying to accommodate a baseball team that wants to start practice Feb. 1st and two soccer programs that play into November can be quite a challenge. You end up doing a lot of things that are not in the “groundskeeper’s manual.” For example, I’ve used a torch to thaw out the bullpens so the pitchers can throw. I’ve used aerosol to paint the soccer field, because bucket paint won’t dry in time.
You definitely forego aesthetics for playability at these times.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the job? Try and take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Physically, if your job doesn’t allow you to just delegate, you need to be able to do the work at your age. And I’ve learned that when you do have a chance to get away — do it! Don’t let this job eat you up, because there are too many things out of your control.
How do you predict the sports field industry will evolve in the future? This is a really good question that I guess only time will tell. I do believe that if you asked a coach if they would rather have a natural grass surface that was in good condition, or a synthetic turf field, they would choose the natural grass. We’ll see if environmental regulations, drought conditions, etc., will make a natural surface a viable option in the future. I also hope the perception of the public that we pollute the environment without regard to it would change. From my experiences, this profession continues to evolve into a willing steward of the environment.
What is the most important quality required to be a successful field manager? Integrity. When you make a mistake, own up to it. And most of all, learn from it. How you respond to it can affect the trust of the other people involved.
What advice would you give aspiring field managers? Never stop learning. There are some really good universities that are committed to advancing the industry through good research and trials.
Who have been your biggest influences/mentors? The superintendent who hired me at the golf course, Bob Lee. He helped me a lot when I was new in the business and showed me that it’s fine to take risks. When I moved over to sports turf, Tony Lee ( former groundskeeper for the Spokane Indians) helped me out with infield maintenance, especially the pitcher’s mound.