A new sport comes to town

An overview of Infinity Park, showing the stadium pitch and the synthetic practice pitch.

Glendale, Colo. is a small city with big ideas. We cover a .75-square-mile area within the greater Denver metropolis. Seeking something to unite our urban community with a common interest and create a central gathering spot, our leadership set their sights on an outdoor sports arena. They briefly considered soccer, the top international sport, but the Denver area already had about 40 soccer venues. So, they focused on the second most-popular international sport: rugby.

Players meet the turf in this open field tackle during the 2009 Churchill Cup.
A scrum in action on the pitch of Infinity Park during the2009 Churchill Cup.
Rugby is a high-action sport. Here, a player catches a kick.

The scope of their vision expanded with the goal to build a world-class venue that would attract national and international play while fulfilling all the requirements of municipal green space. That goal was achieved with Infinity Park at Glendale, the first municipal rugby stadium in the U.S.

“The Pitch,” a sand-based, natural grass field, was designed by Dan Almond, owner of Millennium Sports Technologies, Inc. of Littleton, Colo. The field measures 120 meters by 70 meters (395 feet by 226 feet), and the inground drainage system within the gravel layer runs the length of the field set on 15-foot centers. That is topped by a 9-inch layer of straight USGA sand. The sod, from Graff’s Turf Farms, was 90 percent bluegrass and 10 percent perennial ryegrass.

The field perimeter is surrounded by nearly 300 feet of native soil (clay/loam) berms, mounded to a height of approximately 5 feet and extending to a width of 18 feet. They serve as protection for the players when they run out of the pitch boundaries.

We use Rain Bird 7005 heads on rectangular 46-by-50-foot spacing on the pitch and 1800 Series pop-ups on the berms. All of the city’s irrigation is run by a Maxicom central controller. We switch to nonpotable water in April, then back to the city water system in late October.

The stadium work was completed early this year, as was construction of the dual-purpose complex, the Infinity Park Event Center and the Infinity Park Sport Center. In addition, Glendale formed a partnership with the YMCA to use the facilities.

Work is now underway on Infinity Park South, an 8-acre park on the block adjacent to the rugby stadium and civic campus. On May 9, installation was completed of the 80-by-120-meter synthetic practice field. It’s the first North American installation of the Desso Rugby Pro turf system, and it’s sanctioned by the International Rugby Board (IRB).

The game

In rugby, each team fields 15 players, with all taking part in offensive and defensive action, running, passing, kicking and catching the ball. Like football, you score by touching the ball down within the “try” zone or kicking it for a field goal, but while running at breakneck speed. The goalposts have the same width and crossbar height as NFL football, but they’re taller, reaching to 46 feet. Play has the continuity of soccer, with frequent possession changes during each half without stopping the action.

Graff’s Turf Farm removes sod from the center of the rugby pitch.

The playing period for both men’s and women’s teams spans the seasons. Men’s games start in the fall and extend through November; break for two months, then start again in February, wrapping up with the championship in May. Women start their games in February, take a summer break, start again in August and finish their championship in November.

The teams practice on Tuesday and Thursday, with youth on the field from 4 to 6 p.m. and adults from 6 to 9 p.m. Men and women practice at the same time and in some drills, even scrimmage each other. A typical Saturday game day starts with an under 19 game at 9 a.m.; a women’s A side (the top players) at 11 a.m.; the men’s A side at 1 p.m., the women’s B-side at 3 p.m.; and the men’s B-side at 5 p.m. There are seldom games on Sunday, though the coach uses the field for conditioning practice for about 45 minutes.

The Infinity Park goalposts are the same width as NFLgoals, but tower at 46 feet tall.
This night shot of the Infinity Park gives a good view of therugby pitch marked for action.

With so much activity on our main pitch, I need an aggressive field maintenance program. I start preparing for the season in February, with practices starting the third week of the month. I remove the tarps, mow the pitch to a 2-inch height with a rotary mower and apply urea at the rate of .5-pound of nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet. I find the corner pins, lay out and paint the field dimensions and our Infinity Park logos and install the goalposts. I put down the tarp through March if there will be no snow and no field use for three consecutive days.

I drop the turf height to 1.75 inches in March, then to 1.5 inches May through September, mowing with a reel mower. I move back up to 1.75 inches in October and end the season in November back at 2 inches. I start applying a PGR every two weeks in May, using either Primo or T-NEX, at the rate of .25-ounce per 1,000 square feet and continue at that rate and interval through August.

Aeration is an ongoing process. I start in March, using 5/8-inch solid tines on 2-by-2-inch spacing during bye weeks. In April, I use .75-inch spoon tines on the same spacing during bye weeks and sweep up the cores. I repeat that process once in May, once in August and after the last game in November. Every other month from June through October, I solid-tine once, adjusting the timing to fit field use.

I want seed in place, ready to go, at all times. That starts with overseeding once in March with straight bluegrass at the rate of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet, followed by topdressing with 1/8 inch of sand. In April, I overseed with 50/50 blue/rye at 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet before every game, letting the players cleat it in. In May, I overseed the 50/50 mix once at the 6-pound rate, and I overseed again with 10 pounds of straight blue and topdress after the Churchill Cup in June and once in August, then drop the seeding rate to 4 pounds for the last application after the final game in November. Divot patrol takes place on Monday after every game, applying seed mixed with sand. I use straight bluegrass in March, 50/50 blue/rye in April, straight rye in May and June and go back to straight blue from August through October. With all the overseeding, our ratio of blue to rye is now about 60/40.

Josh Bertrand has a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Northern Arizona University and became a certified turf professional through the University of Georgia.