In golf course maintenance, the practice of rolling greens smooths and firms the playing surface, speeds it up and gives the greens a needed break from the cutting reels of the morning mow. Some golf courses are now even rolling fairways, which can improve playability and reduce incidents of dollar spot — a common golf course (and athletic field) turf disease.

But what about rolling as part of athletic field maintenance?

Back in June of 2015, Glenl Wear, the director of grounds at Brigham Young University, extolled the virtues of field rolling to SFM. He reported that rolling the university’s baseball, football and soccer fields “mitigates problems brought on by Rhizoctonia.” The athletic fields at BYU are 90 percent bluegrass and 10 percent ryegrass, which is susceptible to Pythium. “Rolling seems to help reduce disease pressure,” Wear told SFM. Wear also reported that rolling before each soccer home game “improves the playability of the grass.”

According to Cornell University’s turfgrass program, “Rolling is used to smooth out uneven surfaces caused by heavy traffic and can be used to press uprooted or heaved plants back into the soil to prevent desiccation. Like all field practices, it must be done correctly so it won’t do more harm than good. If the soil is too dry there will be no response to the rolling. If the soil is too wet, excessive soil compaction can occur.”

Rollers typically range from 300 to 2,000 pounds (or more). According to Cornell, “the maximum weight which should be used for a native soil is 2,000 pounds (1 ton). The amount of stress a particular soil can withstand depends upon its ability to resist compaction, which depends upon soil texture (sand or native soil) and moisture content. So, make sure the roller is not too heavy for your situation or it can rut up and overcompact the field.”

Keep in mind that the need for rolling varies from field to field. Factors to consider include, according to Cornell, “athlete safety and playability, soil moisture, recovery time and turf quality.”

If you decide that rolling could be beneficial on your fields, frequency is crucial. Cornell advises that in most situations, rolling should only be carried out as-needed, not routinely. “When rolling sports fields that are already prone to compaction, remember to always counter-balance rolling by conducting a strong aeration program,” Cornell explains.

David D. Minner, turfgrass extension specialist at Iowa State University, reports the following on rolling:

  • “Rolling does not improve turf quality. In fact, overuse [of rolling] results in turf thinning.
  • Soils that are too dry will not benefit from the impact of rolling. Rolling should only be carried out if grass is actively growing.
  • Fields with 100 percent grass cover and a moderate thatch layer are less likely to be affected by rolling as a method to increase field ‘speed.’
  • Never roll fields that have disease problems, particularly infectious diseases like gray leaf spot, Pythium or brown patch.”

Be sure to weigh all pros and cons before attempting field rolling at your facility. University researchers and local extension professionals may be available for consultation; don’t hesitate to reach out to one of them.