Groundskeepers hope to satisfy equipment needs in the year ahead

Christmas has come and gone, but hopeful sports field managers are continuing to refine their wish lists for the coming year. We asked a few what equipment they’re hoping to purchase in the coming year – or, at least, what equipment they would love to see appear in their maintenance buildings. Unlike Santa, we can’t deliver this equipment, but we were interested to hear what tools sports field managers are looking for to help them do their jobs even better.

Toro blower.

“We have a new five-plex reel mower on our list,” says Brian Bornino, sports turf crew chief at Purdue University in Indiana. “We need that mainly for our soccer fields. We had been using a tri-plex, but we’re converting a practice field from bluegrass to bermudagrass, which is what our game field is. So, now we have two fields to mow, and a bigger mower would make that process go a lot faster.”

The smaller triplex mower will be moved to the school’s softball fields, which is a smaller complex. He says the field maintenance staff uses mainly John Deere equipment and, in addition to the five-plex mower, two new ProGators will also be added this year for general shuttling around of crew members and materials.

“We’re also planning to purchase a walk-behind aerator,” adds Bornino. “We’ll use that on goal areas on the soccer fields, and on the aprons of the baseball and softball fields.” Currently, he borrows a unit from the school’s turfgrass center. He says it works well in tight areas, but the hope is for the grounds crews to have their own unit that can be used whenever aeration is needed.

Bornino would also like to purchase a box blade and laser level. “I know I’m not going to be getting that this year, but it would be great to have for the ball fields,” he notes.

“It would also be nice to have a zero-turn mower that we could use to mow around the common areas surrounding the athletic buildings. We’re currently using a larger front-deck mower, and it’s tough to maneuver in tight areas and around trees. It’s designed more for use on the fields themselves,” he adds.

Finally, Bornino says he would love to have a new walk-behind greens mower. “We use that for the infield on our baseball field, and the one we have is on its last legs!”

David Pinsonneault, CSFM, public grounds superintendent with the Town of Lexington (Mass.) and secretary/treasurer of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA), says he was fortunate to have just taken delivery of two new pieces of equipment, so his shopping is mostly done for the time being. “Last year we got a new Toro infield machine and a new mower, so we’re not budgeting a lot for equipment this year,” says Pinsonneault. “But a few more people would be helpful!”

He says the town has been very supportive of the grounds maintenance program as far as regularly replacing heavily used equipment, which he says is often more valuable than adding a single piece of specialized equipment here or there. “That way we’re not putting a lot of money into costly repairs and maintenance just to keep equipment running, plus we get a pretty good trade-in value on the equipment,” explains Pinsonneault.

A carefully constructed capital plan lets the town’s capital committee know exactly when different pieces of equipment need to be replaced.

A Toro infield groomer.

Nick McKenna, CFSM, president of the Texas Sports Turf Managers Association and athletic fields foreman at Texas A&M University, is also fortunate to have a solid fleet of turf maintenance equipment in place, thanks to a lease package with Toro. However, he’s always on the lookout for other types of equipment, as well.

“The primary thing I’m keeping my eye out for is a good 1-ton roller to use on our baseball field. That would help on the skinned surface of the infield, and it could be used in other areas as well,” he explains. “All of our fields are sand-based, so we don’t have to worry as much about compaction. Sometimes after we aerify we’ll rent a roller and take that over the grass to smooth the surface out.” The hassles of renting equipment limit how often that is done, and McKenna says it would be great to have his own roller out in the garage.

He’s also hoping to purchase a new topdresser. “A lot of the new broadcast topdressers let you go out and do a really light application of a sand topdressing. Right now we’re still using one of the old belt-driven drop-type topdressers,” notes McKenna. “With one of the new broadcast units we’d be able to go out the week of a football game and, depending on the weather, just do a light dusting of sand topdressing. And the same on the baseball field, where we could put down a light coat and you’d never even be able to see we had done it. We’d be able to use that on just about every field if we had it.”

While McKenna is happy with his current aerifier, he’s eager to try out some of the new tine technology on it. “There’s a lot of new aerification tines on the market lately that I’m keeping my eye on to experiment with,” he states. “They’ll fit the existing machine and might provide a little more versatility beyond the standard tines.”

He just recently picked up one item that had been on his wish list for a long time: a pull-behind turbine blower. “We got a Toro Pro Force model and we’re going to use it for clearing water off the tarp on the baseball field and for core collection – to windrow the cores – after aerifying,” McKenna explains.

A new deep-tine aerator is on the list for Devin Wetzel. “We have an old greens-type aerator that goes about 1 mph and is only about 60 inches wide,” says the park supervisor with Lee’s Summit (Mo.) Parks and Recreation and secretary of the Missouri-Kansas Sports Turf Managers Association.

Greenleaf sprayer.

“Toro has models now that go a lot faster than that, and they’re built to handle native sports fields [soils] instead of sand-based fields. We have native soils here and it breaks the joints on it; it’s just not made for sports fields,” Wetzel says. It can take a day just to deep-tine two sports fields, and he has 40 fields to maintain. Faster, more durable equipment would make a big difference, he adds.

Wetzel would also love to add a new topdresser to his equipment fleet. He’s currently using what he says is “technically a manure spreader” to topdress the fields. Wetzel comments that a Dakota pull-behind topdresser would add a great deal of precision and speed to that task. “We could put tons of material in it and topdress very quickly. We have about 70 acres of bluegrass fields, and there are only three or four of us working here, so efficiency is very important,” he explains.

Don Savard, CSFM, is a member of the Sports Field Managers Association of New Jersey board of directors and athletic facility/grounds manager at Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del. He says one piece of equipment he would like to purchase this year is a tamper to pack the clay on pitcher’s mounds and batter’s boxes.

“A gasoline-powered machine really speeds that process up. I rent one quite often and it’s very handy, but renting is very inconvenient. You have to pick it up, use it that day and then bring it back; and if you need it again the next day, you have to repeat the process,” says Savard. “Plus, the rental shops charge $60 to $80 per day, and after a while that starts to make the case for owning one.”

Another item he is looking at is a Kifco water reel. Savard already has three water reels, but says one more would really help out. “I would like a larger unit that puts out more volume and allows me to get a lot of water on a field really quickly,” he explains. “I’ve found one that size can be very helpful in watering the infield on the baseball field. If I set it up just right, I could water the entire infield skin in about 10 minutes and wouldn’t have to stand there with a hose.”

A Dakota topdresser

One final tool Savard says would help his operation tremendously is a boom sprayer: “Most of the maintenance, such as mowing, is contracted out, but we do game-day preparation and we try to do our nutrient management using an older PermaGreen ride-on spreader/sprayer. But a machine like that is kind of limited; it’s designed for smaller properties rather than athletic fields. I think a boom sprayer would make that process much more efficient.”

David Schlotthauer, sports turf manager at Brigham Young University in Utah, has a somewhat different type of equipment on his shopping list.

“What I’d really like to add is a unit to help us maintain our synthetic fields. We had a power broom that broke, so now we’re looking to get a new piece of equipment,” he explains. The tough decision, he says, is whether to purchase something that does just the sweeping or a multipurpose unit that can also disinfect, which would help in maintaining the school’s indoor synthetic field, as well as outdoor fields. “The challenge is that most of that equipment is pretty expensive,” he notes.

Kifco water reels.

Schlotthauer is very happy with his fleet of aerators and topdressers used to maintain the natural grass fields. “We just added a new turf roller that works very well,” he adds. “We use that on all of the different fields, and we also use it when we install new sod to roll that down as well. That’s been a very helpful piece of new equipment for us.”

Here’s hoping you have the same good results with the new equipment you purchase this year.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 16 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.