You know how they talk about the good old days? How things were easier back then and you had more time to get work done? For the most part, those good old days stories are just that, stories. Except, perhaps, in the case of spring renovations.
In the good old days, sports field managers actually had the time to properly renovate their fields. However, with the increase in traveling teams, and ever-expanding leagues and summer play, the amount of time available for spring renovation projects has shrunk. It’s created a time crunch for those trying to get their fields in top shape before the next onslaught of cleats.
Eric Holland, member manager with Precision Turf, LLC, in Atlanta, builds and renovates sports fields throughout the southeast U.S. He says his clients, sports field managers, are feeling pressure from the squeeze on renovation times.
“Overall use of field time, especially on college fields, even on high school fields, the window keeps getting narrower and narrower on the amount of downtime on the field,” Holland says. “As a result, you’re really condensed in the amount of time you have to get your field back into shape.”
The sports that have the highest demand for field time are baseball and football, Holland says.
“Specifically baseball fields, the amount of outside user groups has drastically increased with AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) tournaments and travel league tournaments. The collegiate coaches use those tournaments as recruiting tools and they don’t want to say no. It gives them exposure to their programs and their facilities,” Holland says. “It’s the same for football. The amount of camps these big programs are running through their campuses in the summer has drastically increased. We may have had one camp [each summer]; now you’re seeing six to 10 camps a summer.”
In the past, Holland says a sport field manager may have had six to eight weeks to sprig a new ball field in the spring, but that’s no longer the case. Instead, they’re switching to sod, which is more expensive than sprigging, but it only takes about 30 days for it to become established and ready for play.
“We’ve seen more and more times where groundskeepers who used to be able to grow fields in are just saying, ‘Come and sod it,'” Holland notes.
Precision Turf frequently works with collegiate football facilities. “Most of the spring games end middle to the end of April. So, basically, we have from then until the middle of May, a one-month window,” to do spring renovations on college fields, Holland explains.
In baseball, if a team does well, their season may be extended. “In baseball, spring renovations are delayed; it’s more like midsummer renovation,” Holland says.
For example, he frequently works with the staff at the University of South Carolina. “The University of South Carolina will be playing and make the College World Series every year. They’re playing all the way into the middle of June. So mid-June to August 1 is your only window on college baseball.”
Holland says that other sports, such as soccer, may have a little more time to perform basic spring renovations.
Art Bruneau, professor emeritus of crop science at North Carolina State University, writing on the university’s website, says, “April and May are preferred for renovating bermudagrass fields.”
Fall seeding is best for cool-season grasses, but other projects can be done in the spring.
In the book “Sports Fields: A Manual for Design, Construction and Maintenance” by Jim Pulhalla, Jeff Krans and Mike Goatley, field renovation tasks are outlined by sport:
- In baseball, renovation techniques include deep tilling of the skinned area, adding soil for drainage, seeding and sodding and lip removal.
- In football, rugby, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse, renovation techniques include aggressive aeration; filling in low spots; topdressing; and seeding, sprigging, plugging and/or sodding. In the North, dormant seeding, which is done in the late fall, is beneficial so there will be optimum seed germination in spring. In the South, it is best to seed in the spring to prevent cold temperature injury to bermudagrass seed.
- Soccer, hockey and lacrosse require additional attention to the goalmouth areas, as they become extremely worn and compacted. The soil needs to be broken up, regraded to match the rest of the field, and then seeded or sodded.
Croquet court renovation techniques include aerating and topdressing.
Tracy Lanier, product manager for John Deere Golf, says that during a spring renovation is a good time to do irrigation projects. Areas that did not achieve good coverage the previous season could be repaired to ensure proper irrigation on the field for the coming season. If a minor repair job grows into a major renovation on the irrigation system, professional help may be required.
Work done to the field is not the only work to be done during spring renovations, says Lanier. Equipment maintenance and employee training, as a new season approaches, are also beneficial practices.
“The most important thing is to make sure your mowers are operating properly. This means making sure you are starting off with sharp reels and bed knives, or blades in regards to deck mowers. Read your operator’s manual for each machine to make sure that systems have been maintained and are working properly,” Lanier suggests.
“A new season can also mean new operators, so it’s important to ensure your operators are properly trained on how to safely use the equipment,” Lanier adds. “We also recommend holding a discussion to refresh the more seasoned operators on safety.”
Stacie Zinn Roberts is the president of What’s Your Avocado?, a writing and marketing firm based in Mount Vernon, Wash.