In the three years I’ve been on the staff of SportsField Management, I’ve learned a lot about the sports turf industry. One of the things I’ve learned is that sports turf managers are always proud to show off their creative and unique mow patterns. This practice has become so popular — among both spectators and those within the industry — that the Sports Turf Managers Association now has two annual contests centered around mow patterns.
As long as they don’t impede on field playability or safety, creative mow patterns are commonplace and are now encouraged, especially on baseball fields.
But that’s not the whole story.
I’ve talked with certain folks within the industry that say some mow patterns have gone too far. They feel that the more “wild” patterns turn the playing field (and subsequently the field manager) itself into an attention-seeker.
Let’s also recognize that a poorly executed mow pattern design can adversely impact field playability, especially ball roll.
But there’s no doubt that to many folks, mow patterns are part of the job and a serious art form involving skill and craftsmanship — which is why the news I came across in August really put my antennae up.
Before the start of the current soccer season, the English Premier League (EPL) announced that “pitch patterns and designs will no longer be allowed in the Premier League in 2017/18. Rules state that the playing surface must contain no markings other than the traditional horizontal and white lines.”
The EPL cited playability reasons as its reasoning behind the decision. “Assistant referees find that the traditional cutting of the grass in horizontal lines aids them in their decision-making for offsides,” the website says. “This amendment brings the Premier League Rules into line with UEFA’s (Union of European Football Association) regulations for its competitions and follows consultation with the Premier League Club groundsmen.”
Just like in the U.S., groundskeepers in the United Kingdom routinely wow fans with their mow patterns. Take the example pictured above, which is a pattern done by John Ledwidge at King Power Stadium, home of Leicester City FC.
In 2015, Ledwidge mowed a Leicester City crest into the center of the field, celebrating the club’s EPL championship that season. “The patterns over the last few years have been superb,” one Leicester City fan wrote to The Guardian newspaper. “Time and time again, they … produce stunning pieces of work.”
The EPL’s statement says that the decision to ban the “pitch patterns and designs” was made in “consultation with the Premier League Club groundsmen.” While I have no doubt that the EPL sports turf managers will fully comply with the rules and will exhibit professionalism in their duties, as they always do, it has to be a bit of a disappointment.
In a way, this rule saps some of the creativity from EPL sports turf managers and reduces some of the aesthetics for the playing surface. One could make that point that if the patterns aren’t impacting ball roll in a negative way, they should be permitted.
There’s another side to the coin, though.
Far be it for me to dispute trained and experienced EPL referees and officials, as they’re the experts. Let’s remember that playability and safety always take precedence over aesthetics.
Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if bans on “elaborate” or “unusual” mow patterns make their way to U.S. soccer venues, specifically those of Major League Soccer.
Is this the direction we’re trending in? If so, consider it a blow to one aspect of creativity in sports turf. But there are other, more important considerations to made as well, as evidenced by this ruling from the EPL.
As with all aspects of life, every story has two sides. The entire picture must be seen, not just a part of it. It’s important we understand and accept that.
I’d love to get your take on the subject. Tweet us @SFM_Magazine.