Television is full of prognosticators laying out their thoughts and predictions for the future of various sports (are ratings up or down?), different franchises (is your favorite team on the way up, or is their window to win it all closing?) and individual players (who’s the MVP going to be?). So, with a new year here, we’ve compiled similar projections on the future of the sports turf management industry — and we didn’t ask talking heads, we went right to the experts in the field to get their insights.

Meet the Sports Turf Managers:

Q: How do you — and how do you think other sports turf managers — feel about the future of the profession?

“I think the profession is in pretty good hands and the future is getting better. We’re seeing Papa John’s run a commercial thanking the sports turf manager of the Denver Broncos; this is a huge exposure for our industry (maybe as big as the George Toma SportsCenter commercial). More and more people are seeing the value and importance of a professional sports turf manager — they’re making the connection between player safety and field conditions.”

Marcus Dean | Sports Turf Manager for the University of Kentucky

Brad Thedens agrees that one of the reasons that the future of the profession is strong, and will continue to grow, is an increasing emphasis on safety in sports. “With all the new and continuing information coming out about concussions and other injuries relating to the games played, I feel that we’ll need to be proactive to make sure we’re doing our part to make the fields the safest they can be.”

Brad Thedens | CSFM, groundskeeper for the city of Sioux Falls (South Dakota) parks and recreation department

Chris Ralston says the professionalism of sports turf managers is growing, and that needs to continue in the future. “It isn’t just some guys mowing the grass and raking the dirt, but providing a playing surface that’s invested in and part of the importance of the operation for the sport.”

Chris Ralston | Manager of Maintenance and Operations with San Juan Unified School District in California

Sports turf managers “have a lot to look forward to in the future,” says Casey Carrick.He notes that there are continually new products coming on the market to help make maintenance easier with improved field conditions. He also points to advances in turfgrass development. “I think we might see synthetic turf installations slow down and more natural grass playing surfaces at new facilities, due to some new varieties that can withstand cooler climates.”

Casey Carrick | Director of Athletic Grounds and Turf Management at the University of North Carolina

“The industry is growing by leaps and bounds. With new technology in equipment and advances in chemicals, seed and fertilizers, this is helping sports turf managers stay on top of their fields.”

Vince Cassata | Sports Turf Specialist and Foreman of Parks, Recreation and Facilities with the village of Glendale Heights (Illinois)


Q: What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for those entering in the profession?

Andrew Marking (Class-A affiliate of the Houston Astros) says one of the biggest challenges for those entering the field of sports turf management is “finding a job that’s well compensated for the amount of hours that turf managers are putting in.”

Andrew Marking | Head Groundskeeper with the Quad Cities River Bandits

Beyond financial compensation, there can also be a challenge of getting the support needed to do the job, says Zackary Holm. “I don’t mean a pat on the back and a ‘great job,’ but being taken seriously by management for our expertise in our field and given the tools we need to succeed,” he explains. While noting that he’s fortunate in his current position, Holm recalls a past job maintaining a minor league baseball field with an annual budget totaling $30,000. “But I made it work and so many great turf managers in this industry face the same problem and produce excellent fields. Sports turf managers are excellent problem solvers.”

Zachary Holm | Assistant Groundskeeper with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer

One of the challenges of working in sports turf management is the demanding nature of the job itself, says Dale Croft. “Staying up on education and maintaining a strong work ethic takes a lot of (rewarding) hard work in this profession.” It’s not for everyone: “If you are someone who likes to be on a computer at a desk all day this is the wrong profession.”

Dale Croft | with Orange County Public Schools in Florida

Ralston agrees that it’s important for people coming into sports turf to understand what the job involves: “Lots of hours, no days off on the private sports side; lots of public opinions [to contend with] and a limited budget on the public side. Some people think ‘I’ll work in baseball, this will be great,’ and then realize that working in baseball is actual work that doesn’t include much baseball!”

Chris Ralston | Manager of Maintenance and Operations with San Juan Unified School District in California

“I think just the time it takes to get a field or complex ready each and every day, year-round, is eye-opening for those entering the profession,” says Dean. “Most college students do a three to four-month internship but don’t see the entire yearly cycle.I’ve heard recent graduates comment on how much of a grind it is. You have to wake up each day and look forward to going to work; there can’t be a negative attitude. Newcomers need to understand this isn’t a nine-to-five job. This is a lifestyle.” That means developing the ability to manage your time, plan and then replan on a daily basis, he adds.

Marcus Dean | Sports Turf Manager for the University of Kentucky

And plan on having all eyes on the work you do. “One of the challenges I can see is dealing with the growing amount of social media involvement, both good and bad, and how we react to that involvement.”

Brad Thedens | CSFM, groundskeeper for the city of Sioux Falls (South Dakota) parks and recreation department

Of course, there are exciting opportunities for those getting into sports turf, adds Connor Schutzman. He thinks that advances in technology, and the increased use of technology in sports turf is part of what is attracting new people into the field. One example is the web-based irrigation system controller that he’s now using. And Schutzman notes that there are plenty of other apps designed to support turf maintenance programs. “It’s a little bit more intriguing to the younger generation; they see that you’re not just sitting on a tractor mowing grass,” he states. And there are new maintenance practices being employed to continually improve field conditions and performance, which he says helps generate excitement in the profession. “I just finished fraze mowing, which is something that’s been overseas for quite a while, but not really common here.”

Connor Schutzman | Manager of Athletic Field Maintenance at Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee


Q: Can the sports turf industry compete with golf course maintenance in terms of wages, vendor support, hiring, etc.?

“I think it already is. As the golf industry is shrinking and courses are closing, the sports turf need is growing. Higher expectations for parks are requiring more education and experience among its leaders, sports stadiums are growing staff to take on more events and the expectation of all facilities is only going to grow.”

Chris Ralston | Manager of Maintenance and Operations with San Juan Unified School District in California

Croft is equally bullish on parity between the two different turfgrass professions. “Since there seems to be more golf course superintendents leaving the golf side of the house [ for sports turf ], I don’t see why we couldn’t have higher wages, vendor support and better candidates when it comes to hiring,” he says.

Dale Croft | with Orange County Public Schools in Florida

“No,” is the response from Holm on whether sports turf management is able compete with golf course management. While he thinks that some sports turf managers might be able to catch golf course superintendents in terms of wages, that’s the exception rather than the rule. “Think of the number of golf course superintendents who make six figures and the number of sports turf managers who do. Even more so, look at the number of golf course superintendents who make $30,000 and the number of minor league head groundskeepers that do.”

Zachary Holm | Assistant Groundskeeper with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer

“The sports turf industry has been making great strides in this area, but I do feel we’re still behind golf in wages and hiring. I hope with the growing awareness within the media and the growing concerns about player safety, that sports turf managers will start seeing better or more competitive wages on all levels from the professional fields down to park and recreation fields.” In terms of vendor support, the education and development of equipment, products and services in the turf industry, for both golf and sports turf, is strong and continues to get better.

Brad Thedens | CSFM, Groundskeeper for the City of Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Parks and Recreation Department

“I think we have incredible vendor support for any product we need. The vendors we deal with are great about not only providing products, but advice and help whenever we need it.”

Casey Carrick | director of athletic grounds and turf management at the University of North Carolina

“I think sports turf management can compete with the golf course industry, but owners, athletic directors and community leaders have to see and value the importance of the sports turf manager. At times, we’re our own worst enemy; by that I mean we won’t accept failure and will do anything possible to succeed. Everyone just expects us to get things done; they take us for granted. We have to start telling our story to anyone who will listen. The attitude has been ‘to be seen but not heard’ … but we must do a better job educating the owners, athletic directors, and community leaders on what exactly it takes to have things at this level.”

Marcus Dean | Sports Turf Manager for the University of Kentucky


Q: Will special events and larger game schedules continue to challenge field managers, or is there starting to be some recognition on the part of facility owners/managers/coaches/schedulers about the connection between overuse and field conditions/safety?

“I think both of these are going to happen,” says Holm. And it’s no longer something faced just by those maintaining fields at the school and municipal level. At the professional sports level, “Owners (and cities) are spending over a billion dollars to build a stadium now; they can’t make money if only using it a handful of days. I think as an industry we need to embrace that change that our facilities are going to be used heavily and we need to find ways to produce great results.” It takes a combination of expertise in maintenance, new technology, and open lines of communication to keep up the condition of fields while making users aware that there is a breaking point: “Personally, I think there is still a stigma with our industry that we discourage these extra events. Every situation is different, but I think extra events are something our industry needs to be more open to.”

Zachary Holm | Assistant Groundskeeper with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer

“Owners and front office staff are continuing to look for more options to make more money in the offseason or while the team is on the road. I think this is always going to be a continued struggle between the grounds department and [ facility managers]. However, I do believe that there is starting to become more of a recognition for the work that turf managers are doing and how they’re able to flip fields from one sporting event or special event to another in a short amount of time. I personally believe that social media over the past five or 10 years has helped with opening the eyes of the general public to those concerns.”

Andrew Marking | Head Groundskeeper with the Quad Cities River Bandits


Q: Do you see states (including your own) continuing to pass restrictions on the use of pesticides and fertilizers? If so, how will that impact field maintenance?

“Our state (New Jersey) has passed restrictions but they haven’t hindered us a whole lot,” says Holm. “I wish that lawmakers would focus more on homeowners than professionals like us. For example, here in New Jersey, as a licensed professional we can’t legally apply fertilizer until March. But when I walk into my local building supply store in February, the first thing by the door is a bag of lawn fertilizer, which is almost all quick-release — which an unlicensed and likely uneducated homeowner will throw out on a nice day even if the ground is still frozen.”

Zachary Holm | Assistant Groundskeeper with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer

“Unfortunately, I do think North Carolina will have some restrictions at some point. I know the states just north of us have some and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time here. I hope we can get lawmakers to understand that turf managers are responsible users of chemicals and fertilizers and we can avoid any regulations.” But, the quest for great fields will continue regardless: “We talk with sports turf managers who are working where there are already restrictions. They’re still doing a great job maintaining their fields, so I feel confident we can too.”

Casey Carrick | Director of Athletic Grounds and Turf Management at the University of North Carolina

Croft takes the same viewpoint in the event that more restrictions are passed in his state of Florida. “We’ll adapt, overcome, try new practices and conquer,” he says, “just like we have to do every day!”

Dale Croft | with Orange County Public Schools in Florida

“I do feel that the restrictions on pesticide use and fertilizers will continue to spread to more cities and states in the near future,” predicts Thedens. “I think it will impact field maintenance in a way that we’re going to be challenged to educate our users on the reasons why we use these products and the importance they play on maintaining safe, quality surfaces for our athletes to play on.” He adds that sports turf managers need to continue doing their best to use Integrated Pest Management programs and cultural practices to help reduce the amounts of inputs that are used.

Brad Thedens | CSFM, Groundskeeper for the City of Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Parks and Recreation Department