Denver Broncos Football Club

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DENVER BRONCOS FOOTBALL CLUB.
Ross Kurcab, CSFM, stands in the end zone of INVESCO Field at Mile High.

1. What is your current job title, and what are your responsibilities in this position?

As turf manager for the Denver Broncos Football Club, I’m responsible for everything that takes place on the playing surface of INVESCO Field at Mile High. My staff and I maintain and prepare the field for games and special events.

2. What attracted you most to your current career, and how did you prepare for it?

It was an evolving process, mainly directed by following my major at Colorado State University. I tried engineering for three days, then moved into something I knew I enjoyed, having worked in the landscape business in the summers. I tried botany briefly, then switched to horticulture. The areas of concentration were nursery management, landscape design or turf management. I chose turf management because the professor, Dr. Jack E. Butler, had an excellent program and a 100 percent job placement rate for his students. In the early ’80s, golf and landscaping were established career paths; sports turf was not, but I’d always loved sports, so when the Broncos position became available, Dr. Butler encouraged me to take it. I was hired as turf manager in 1984. When I met the best sports turf manager in the business, Steve Wightman, and saw what he did at Mile High Stadium, I was hooked.

3. What materials and systems were incorporated into the construction of your field?

I researched grass-stabilizing systems seeking to avoid the troubles that were occurring on the heavily used sand-based NFL and college fields in the cool-season turf zone and decided on the GrassMaster system.

Our underground heating is a hot water pipe hydronic system developed with the mechanical contractors specifically for this field. It uses 21 miles of piping set 10 inches deep on 9-inch centers. There are five zones, each with two temperature sensors. I can control it remotely via computer.

We started with a Hunter irrigation system with the ACC controller and recently upgraded to their IMMS system. I can control irrigation on the field and the entire landscape remotely via computer to manage water use more precisely.

The original soil profile was 90 percent sand, 5 percent peat and 5 percent ZeoPro. It’s much higher in organics now. We installed a high-quality, sand-grown blend of Kentucky bluegrass sod from Graff’s Turf Farm. The GrassMaster fibers were stitched through the sod after it was in place.

4. What other changes have you made to the field since the initial construction?

In 2008, we installed the Toro Turf Guard wireless sensor system. You use a cup cutter and place the probes into the undisturbed soil at the side of the hole. That gives a more accurate reading than probes covered with backfill. This allows me to track moisture, salinity and temperature on the field remotely via computer.

I’ve made a concerted effort to study new technology as it becomes available and incorporate it into the decision-making process. I don’t let the computer make decisions for me. It’s no substitute for personal on-site analysis. I still want to see, touch and smell the field, but this technology allows me to chart trends over a period of hours, days, weeks, months and years, make comparisons, and adjust my program accordingly. If I can use it to reduce use of the heating system or hold off on irrigation for just one more day, I can be more sensitive to the environment, cut costs and manage the turf at the top levels of safety, playability and aesthetics.

5. How do you lay out the typical annual field maintenance program?

You have a base idea of the maintenance program after two or three years with a field, but are constantly making adjustments. Just hitting the best nitrogen levels on a sand-based, high-use field is tricky. We use soil and tissue testing and catch our clippings so we can evaluate our yield, and it’s still a very subjective process.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROSS KURCAB.
The view from end zone to end zone shows INVESCO Field at Mile High with the end zone pattern from the 1960s and the three 50th Anniversary logos. This shot was taken the afternoon of October 7. Despite the snow and cold leading up to the nationally televised game on October 11, the field looked and played great for the Broncos 20 to 17 victory over the New England Patriots in overtime.

I track everything—maintenance procedures, applications, field use schedules, daily appointments. For example, when we topdress, I log in the material, the rate, the setting, the ground speed, the weather conditions, field use before and after and the results. I’ll research all the work items for topdressing before determining how to handle it the next time.

6. What are the biggest challenges on your field and how do you approach those challenges?

Weather is our number one challenge. We can handle the events and manage around them and have some measure of control. The Rocky Mountains influence every weather pattern here. Even expert meteorologists often find it impossible to accurately predict what will happen on the downstream side of this huge mountain range. We use a local meteorological service, Sky View Weather, to get the daily local forecasts, as well as severe weather notification. We check in with our local weather forecasters, and dial up and study the models from the National Weather Service. Still, we generate scenarios rather than plans. If this happens we’ll do A; if that happens we’ll do B, and even then it’s all subject to change.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROSS KURCAB.
This view across the end zone of INVESCO Field at Mile High shows painted diamonds in the crosshatch pattern, replicating a pattern from the 1960s. The Denver Broncos are one of the eight teams that played in the first season of the American Football League in 1960.

7. What’s the best field management tip you’ve learned from someone else?

This is an incredible industry for sharing information. I’ve learned so much from others over the years at conferences, on visits to other facilities and when other turf managers have come here. One tip, passed along by a sales rep who saw it in action on another field, was using a cordless drill to wrap up the string lines after painting. We’ve been doing that for 15 years. Another came from a Scottish groundsman in the London area when I was checking out GrassMaster fields. He said, “Just keep the rubbish off the surface.” That tip on avoiding the organic accumulation really stands out. It was just a casual comment, but it’s made a huge difference on maintaining this field.

8. How do you communicate with others?

I’m continually working on communication, giving presentations and reading to sharpen my language skills, becoming more proficient with PowerPoint; practicing on more precise, succinct e-mail messaging.

Effective, accurate spoken communication is essential in communicating with our crews and those out on our fields. Written communication is important to me in presenting information that others can read, consider and respond to, and in documenting that correspondence.

9. How do you see the sports field management profession changing in the future?

The technological revolution will continue with newer, better and more sports-specific tools, equipment and techniques. Athletes will continue to get bigger and faster, and we’ll need to keep raising our standards to accommodate them. I believe we’ll see a reasoned approach to the installation of synthetic and natural turfgrass fields, with improvements in both systems serving future athletes.

I see a greater recognition of the environmental advantages of turf. As Dr. Frank Rossi of Cornell University noted in his presentation at the 2009 STMA Conference, businesses will put a value on the carbon sequestering of landscaped areas, including turfgrass, and we’ll be a part of that.

10. What one piece of advice do you want to pass along to other sports field managers?

Never stop learning!