Choose the right cultivar for your field

New turf takes the field in this West Coast Turf sod installation.
Photos courtesy of West Coast Turf, unless otherwise noted.

Your field is only as good as your turf. Make sure the variety you select is the best match for your region, the site conditions, level of maintenance and anticipated use. The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) develops and coordinates uniform evaluation trials of turfgrass varieties across the United States and Canada, rating performance across a broad range of categories. Sod producers analyze these results to determine which cultivars are best adapted to the specific areas and the multiple markets they serve.

Warm-season varieties

King Ranch Turfgrass has multiple growing locations in Texas and south Florida. Art Milberger, Texas-based senior sales and project director for the company, says, “Of the 28 varieties of turf we currently produce, only five are now being used for sports fields, with a sixth variety coming on the scene.”

King Ranch continues to grow common bermudagrass. Milberger says, “Common bermuda could be just about anything, but it still is used for some fields in low-maintenance situations. As expectations for sports field quality have increased, cultivar certification programs are becoming even more important for purity and most sports field specifications require it.”

West Coast Turf has multiple growing operations in California and Arizona. Danielle Marman, director of marketing, says, “Much of the sports field turf is specified as a sand-based sod. We grow a majority of our sod on a sandy profile. Typically, warm-season grasses are used for athletic fields in our area due to the rapid repairing ability of rhizomal stoloniferous grasses. Bluegrass is very susceptible to disease in Southern California. A primary factor in our cultivar selection for this market is their aggressive growth characteristics.”

Tifway 419 has been the dominant sports field grass and continues to be widely used. Marman says, “For markets from Mexico to San Francisco and east to St. George, Utah, we are using Tifway II, TifSport, Bull’s-Eye Bermuda and Tifway 419. Oakland Coliseum is Tifway 419. We recently sodded Angel Stadium in Tifway 419.”

Tifway II has a dark green color, medium-fine texture that is slightly coarser than 419, it stays green longer with shorter winter dormancy and exhibits a dense growth habit and strong recuperative ability.

A harvest of selected sod is underway at Tuckahoe Turf Farms.
Photo courtesy of Tuckahoe Turf Farms.

TifSport is taking over as the standard grass in Texas, according to Milberger. He says, “It has great density, can take low mowing, and [has] a little better color, a dark emerald green. We sodded the Dallas Cowboys’ practice fields in Valley Ranch this past summer. It’s been the turf choice for the moveable trays for the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium since the start of that program. We put it in the 2009 STMA Professional Baseball Field of the Year, Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas.” West Coast Turf reports increased use of TifSport, as well, with recent installations at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

Another licensed bermudagrass that King Turf is placing on sports fields is Celebration. Milberger says, “It has a unique shade of green and is very rugged and aggressive, with great wear tolerance and some shade tolerance. We installed it in a massive sports complex for the Brownville, Texas, parks and recreation department where it will be used almost constantly.”

King Ranch also grows CT-2 bermuda for sports fields. It was formerly known as GN1, the trademarked grass licensed from Greg Norman, and renamed when the patent expired. It’s a bit more coarse, but very aggressive.

The use of seashore paspalum has been growing on Florida sports fields because of its aggressive growth pattern and adaptability to soils with high salt content and/or use of effluent water. The city of Winter Springs, Fla., reports continued good results with SeaIsle seashore paspalum at its Torcasco Park fields, SeaDwarf at some of the Central Winds Park fields and Aloha at non-field areas of another park site.

West Coast Turf is a licensed producer for Sea Spray seashore paspalum, which holds up in hot, humid conditions and shows excellent drought tolerance. Marman says, “It’s beginning to gain popularity for sports fields in our market area. One recent installation was on a Cerritos Community Park (California) sports field.”

The shade factor

Another cultivar that West Coast Turf produces for sports field use is Bull’s-Eye bermuda, which combines the blue-green color of bluegrass with the durability of Tifway. It’s exceptionally tough, resists scalping and has thick-closed canopy. Marman says, “Bull’s-Eye also handles shade better than other bermudas, so it is often used in low-light-intensity situations, such as retractable roof stadiums. We sodded Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks, in Bull’s-Eye Bermuda. It was the turf selected for Louisiana State University’s football game field in Tiger Stadium and the new Alex Box Stadium, home of Tiger’s baseball. We are going to install Sea Spray at PetCo Park in San Diego for the infield and Bull’s-Eye everywhere else inside the ballpark during the All-Star break.”

King Ranch will be focusing on shade tolerance with its sixth cultivar for sports field use. They’ve become a licensed producer of TifGrand, which has been exhibiting Tifway quality in NTEP trials while maintaining excellent density in shade levels of 60 to 70 percent. Milberger says, “We planted a foundation field of it in south Texas in the fall of 2009. We will transplant that into a 100-acre plot at the Granbury farm in North Texas this summer. It will probably be a 2011 introduction for us.”

Cool-season varieties

James Betts, sales representative for Tuckahoe Turf Farms, Inc. of Hammonton, N.J., says, “Our sod is grown on sandy-loam, which gives it the capability to transplant on any type soil. We put a lot of study into our variety selections, monitoring the NTEP results and getting direct input from Dr. James A. Murphy and Brad Park at Rutgers and Dr. Andy McNitt at Penn State. Sometimes we’ll do our own mini-trial, especially with the turf-type tall fescues, with a couple hundred pounds of seed before picking up a new cultivar.”

Attention to detail during the installation process gets the chosen turf off to a great start.

Their Tuckahoe Turf Blend is a combination of three bluegrasses, selected for their aggressiveness and compatibility. The current core grass, 40 percent of the blend, is P-105. It’s a compact grower, dark green in color and tolerant to heavy traffic. Midnight Star makes up 30 percent of the grass, and was chosen for its good summer and fall density, extreme dark green color and good disease resistance. The remaining 30 percent is Brilliant for its year-round density, wear tolerance and disease resistance.

Betts says, “We plan to stay with the same mix for about four or five years because we supply so much sod in smaller batches for repairs. We’ve not seen a huge movement in the bluegrasses. When we make a change it’s to bring in strong attributes that enhance the blend’s overall performance. One of the cultivars we’re considering is Bewitched because of its reduced vertical growth rate and good wear tolerance when cut short.

The Tifway 419 looks picture-perfect in this pattern for an A’s game.

“We produce a super sod, our highly maintained, two-year-old bluegrass blend treated with Primo and topdressed specifically for use as a thick-cut application for midseason repair on NFL and major college fields. We can put down a full field over the existing turf in about a day and a half and it won’t move. We did full fields last season for the Eagles and Steelers and down the center for the Browns.”

Betts says they’re seeing a move to the turf-type tall fescues, especially by the high schools. They’ll usually mix two varieties of fescues with 10 to 20 percent of a bluegrass blend to produce a tight-knit sod without using netting. He says, “We’ve used Justice and several of the Rebels, including Rebel IV, Rebel Exeda and Rebel Sentry. We’re starting to work with some newer varieties, Tar Heel II and Wolfpack II.”


Todd Valley Farms, Mead, Neb., is a licensed grower of RTF (rhizomatous tall fescue), an advanced generation of turf-type tall fescue that produces rhizomes. The rhizomatous nature of RTF is similar to Kentucky bluegrass, which prevents clumps associated with regular turf-type tall fescues and allows it to form tightly knit sod as a single cultivar. Todd Valley views it as a good alternative for the sports field market and has several installations in place, including the University of Nebraska at Omaha soccer fields.

TifSport, Celebration and CT-2 bermudagrasses all exhibit some cold tolerance, which became important this past winter in areas where it hadn’t mattered before. Milberger says, “We anticipate the shade tolerance of TifGrand will allow us to push the bermuda boundaries a bit.”

Cultivar certification programs ensure purity and consistent turf across the playing surface.

That’s also happening on northeastern athletic fields. Tony Leonard of the Eagles used Patriot in the spring of 2007; Mike Boekholder of the Philadelphia Phillies has been staging his own testing on bermudas for possible use in Citizens Bank Park, with Riviera greening the earliest in his trials. Betts notes Tuckahoe Turf is growing some bermudagrasses for northern use, too, working with both Riviera and Sovereign. He says, “We’ve sodded a local multiuse field with Sovereign and it’s performing well. We’re also pushing our bluegrass blend further south, with a recent installation in St. Louis.”

Find the fit

Do your homework, urges Marman. “Consult your local cooperative extension turfgrass specialist and your sod producer for their input. Speak with other users of the turf type you are considering to find out how it is performing for them. Consider all the options and make the selection that best fits your field and your program.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.