Turfgrass researchers at universities across the U.S. are exploring issues that will impact sports field management strategies at all levels. Here’s a look at current research projects at some of the country’s top institutions.

Dr. Ebdon’s perennial ryegrass research plots for measuring ET are cut at 1.25 and 2.5-inch heights.

University of Arkansas


Dr. Doug Karcher reports development of a research program to improve the functional and aesthetic quality of turfgrass through the refinement of cultural practices, especially those pertaining to soil management. He says, “We’ve developed statistical analysis and reporting techniques for subjective rating data that are independent of the rating scale and have developed digital image analysis techniques to quantify turfgrass cover and turfgrass color. We’ve undertaken a large-scale project, working with graduate student Josh Anderson, on researching alternative turf establishment methods on sand-capped sites in terms of rooting strength, infiltration rates, soil moisture and turfgrass quality.”

University of California – Riverside


Dr. James Baird reports on a long-term research project in collaboration with the USDA-ARS Salinity Lab on campus. Baird says, “We’re constructing an 11,000-square-foot research area to evaluate the interaction between drought and salinity. Irrigation lines will alternate between potable and saline water sources to provide a continuum of salinity in one direction. In the other direction, we’ll vary irrigation run time to create precipitation rates varying from 60 percent of ET (deficit) to 120 percent of ET (leaching). We’ll maintain the perennial ryegrass under athletic field/golf course fairway conditions. Treatments will be replicated, and moisture/salinity/suction lysimeters will be installed underneath the plots. Over time, we’ll evaluate variables including traffic, diseases, soil microbiology, leaching fractions, etc. We’ve also planted the NTEP ryegrass study and have been selected to subject the entries to the simulated sports events traffic.”

Cornell University


Dr. Frank S. Rossi reports that research is focused on the ecological aspects of turfgrass science with the goal of improving the environmental compatibility and economic feasibility of turfgrass management systems. Projects center on nutrient management, improved mowing technology and nonchemical pest management programs. He says, “With New York’s ban of all pesticides on school grounds, we’re researching the most effective insect and weed control options and renovation strategies.”

University of Kentucky


Dr. A. J. Powell says that Dr. David Williams and graduate student Michael Deaton are conducting an ongoing study on commercially available seeded bermudagrass cultivars. They are seeking to quantify the differences in the germination rate and number of days needed to establish 100 percent cover, and to quantify the wear resistance of summer-seeded cultivars when trafficked in early fall. A second study focuses on a variety of seeded bermudagrass cultivars evaluating tolerance to simulated traffic on sand-based and native soils as related to treatment with the plant growth regulator Trinexapac-ethyl (TE) during summer establishment.

University of Massachusetts – Amherst


Dr. J. Scott Ebdon has been involved in the first year of a three-year study seeking to reduce energy input and associated costs in the maintenance of turfgrass systems. Research focuses on understanding mechanisms of turfgrass tolerance to environmental stress, with emphasis on low temperature, drought, water use and wear stress at the whole plant level. Testing concentrates on evaluation of turfgrass germplasm to identify superior, stress-tolerant grasses and the development of cultural practices, including irrigation and fertilization, to improve stress tolerance. Ebdon says, “We’re seeking to develop research-based crop coefficients for cool-season turfgrasses at different mowing heights derived from weather-station predicted ET and actual turfgrass ET measured using weighing lysimeters. Data will help turf managers establish effective IPM programs that reduce the use of water, fertilizer and pesticides.”

Michigan State University


Alec Kowalewski reports on his Ph.D. research while a graduate assistant under the direction of Dr. John N. “Trey” Rogers III and Dr. James Crum. That research, detailed in the extension bulletin, “Built-Up Sand-Capped Athletic Field System,” showed a cost-effective renovation process for failing native soil athletic fields. Drain tile installed at 13-foot spacing and combined with a 1-inch sand topdressing layer substantially improved athletic field drainage and surface stability. Data includes a renovation time line and cost-benefit analysis.

New Mexico State University


The subsurface drip irrigation installation at New MexicoState University. This area is now used for soccer play andevent parking.

Installation of subsurface drip irrigation is shown on a highschool sports field in New Mexico.

Dr. Bernd Leinauer is involved in ongoing research to identify turfgrasses that can withstand the region’s cold winters and hot summers and the salinity of non-potable water. Leinauer says, “Our research with cold-hardy bermudagrasses focuses on developing maintenance strategies to extend fall color and promote early spring green-up.”

“Continuing research on subsurface irrigation methods for sports fields includes installations on campus and at area high schools. With no wind impact, there’s greater uniformity in water distribution within the rootzone. We eliminated sprinkler heads on the playing surface and reduce vandalism. We’ve worked with Netafim and the Toro DL 2000 drip systems and a product from Australia, the Kapillary Irrigation Sub-Surface System, now available from KISSS USA, called Below Flow FLAT, which works by capillary action to wick water into the soil.

“We’re using the Toro Turf Guard wireless soil monitor system to measure moisture, temperature and salinity to more accurately deliver irrigation water, implement leaching for salinity remediation, determine preemergence herbicide application times, and use the growing degree model for insect control strategies.”

North Carolina State University


Dr. Grady L. Miller researches how paint influences turf growth from a physiological perspective, primarily photosynthesis, with studies beginning on water relations. Ph.D. student Casey Reynolds will continue a project testing specific colors and application rates. Miller says, “We anticipate this data, along with our work with paint companies, will help develop less-damaging paints and lead to better painting techniques.

“Our research on colorants has focused on side-by-side product evaluation of a dozen colorants and specialized testing of a half-dozen experimental colorants. We’re now addressing application issues, like turf height, degree of dormancy, leaf wetness, etc., to assess best product utilization.”

Pennsylvania State University


Thomas Serensits, manager of Penn State’s Sports Surface Research Center, and Dr. Andrew McNitt are involved in multiple projects on sand-based and soil-based fields and synthetic surfaces. Research on how athletes interact with the playing surface includes traction testers on synthetic and natural turf fields, and studies by the PSU biomechanics department utilizing human subjects to explore methods to improve safety and performance on different surfaces. Testing includes different shoe and cleat types. Another project focuses on techniques to reduce surface temperatures on synthetic turf fields.

Rutgers University


Dr. Brad Park reported that in late summer 2010, new NTEP trial locations were established to investigate the wear tolerance of mixtures of Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue cultivars; low-input mixtures of white clover and cool-season turfgrass species; and entries in a Cooperative Turfgrass Breeders Test (CTBT) tall fescue wear trial. Monostands of perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue were established to compare the traffic/wear effects of the Rutgers Wear Machine, Cady Traffic Simulator and Brinkman Traffic Simulator.

University of Tennessee – Knoxville


Dr. John Sorochan reports progress at the Research Center for Safer Athletic Fields including construction of research areas with 72 miniature football fields and eight larger football fields all individually irrigated and lined so leachate can be collected and tested. “Dr. James Brosnan, Ph.D. candidate Adam Thoms and I, along with many others within our turf-related departments, will conduct interactive research on warm and cool-season natural grass surfaces and multiple synthetic turf systems covering all aspects of sports field management. We’ll be working with the biometrics specialists, equipment suppliers and human test subjects in testing to determine the best combinations of traction interaction and physical movement for athletes of all physical sizes, shapes and performance levels on the various natural and synthetic surfaces in differing conditions. We’ll research the correlation between those factors and turfgrass management strategies to lessen both potential injury for the athlete and the degree of stress on the turf. We’ll also be looking at the ecological benefits of athletic fields to the environment, including carbon sequestration.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.