Managing Traffic Instead of Letting Traffic Manage You

Being that it’s Tuesday, it’s HOT, and… well… just because it sounds the most fun- we are starting with topic #2)  Managing the traffic instead of letting the traffic manage us,  in highlighting and discussing ideas to be increase the number of games on fields.

1st- Some will ask.. why would we want to INCREASE the number of games on our fields.  Well.. put simply.. that is our JOB!  More importantly, increased play serves the needs of our patrons and creates additional revenues for our facilities to operate.  Grass fields will take the traffic as long as we as managers are pro-active and creative!

This topic will mostly reference lacrosse, as it is the sport that is the most detrimental to our fields.  But lacrosse has 2 major positives when it comes to “managing the traffic”.

1) Field width is 60-70 yards wide- narrow for a soccer field

2) Majority of the traffic takes place up and down the center of the field and around the crease (goal) areas- I equate it to basketball on grass for wear

To start, let’s comparing “managing the traffic” to “managing the field”.

Managing the field“- To maintain the entire playing surface of the field in the same manner… fertilization, aeration, mowing, painting, etc.  (ex. entire field is fertilized the same each time, the entire field is aerated each time, the lines for competition are painted the same each time) 

Managing the traffic”- To maintain the playing surface according to the wear patterns of a certain sport. To move around the traffic wear patterns in order to diminish damage.  

With those differences in mind, and with the understanding that a lacrosse field (as soccer) has minimum sizes and maximum sizes, re-sizing and moving the playing field is the quickest and best way to maximize the number of events on a field during a competition (tournament).

Our soccer fields can play up to 78 yards wide safely.  With a lacrosse field sized to 60 yards wide and shifted to a side, there is 18 yards (54 ft) of open space on 1 side of the field platform- and the center of the playing field is 9 yards off the center of the platform.

After a certain number of games, the competition field can be shifted to the other side of the platform, moving the center of the traffic 18 yards…. 9 yards off the center to the other side.  The move is far enough that almost no traffic is overlapping.   The worn areas can be aerated immediately, along with a fertilizer or bio-stimulant spray..  recovery begins immediately, even during play.

Certainly this is significant work- measuring out a new field, painting green over the old lines, and painting new lines.  But the benefit of additional revenue with less field damage outweighs the amount of work required.  This past weekend, we required construction lights to work most of the night shifting over the most heavily used 10 fields, 2 days into the Club National Championships.

The only challenge we ran into was rain during the night that could have washed off the paint from the new lines (sprayed onto dew covered grass) and the green paint off the old lines.  Of course there was only a 30% chance of .1 of rain in the form of light sprinkles.  How did we know that a 1/2″ of rain would fall in 15 minutes?? (Insert the weather forecaster joke here)

Additionally to combat traffic wear, we bury the goal mouths in sand prior to the start of the competition.  Using a Pro-Gator full of sand, a scoop shovel, and a rake-  a 2 man crew goes around to all 19 grass fields and hits each goal mouth.  The layer of sand provides a layer of protection to the crown of the plant, and acts as a nice topdressing layer once aeration through the worn spot takes place following the event.

Protecting the un-used areas of the field is a big challenge as well.  The teams arriving for the next game want to use the large area for a warm up area.  Using signage, a restriction line, and education with tournament officials and with the patrons- it has become 2nd nature for the tremendous tournament officials that we work with to enforce out rules to protect the area out of play.  Kudos to them… it proves that positive education and working pro-actively to empower everyone around us to help keep the fields in perfect condition actually makes a difference!

Each tournament/ event, our traffic management techniques evolve.  Sometimes we try things and they just don’t work- or they aren’t worth the amount of time that they take.  In the end, the more tricks we can find and the more traffic we can sustain… the more revenue that is generated.

Now… what kinds of additional ideas click in your mind as we discuss this topic?!?

Upcoming Topics


Heat continues to prevail across most of the country…  Those cool season plant carbohydrate reserves are getting burned up quickly!  We are starting an aggressive aeration and renovation project this week on 9 cool season fields.  Gas exchange is more important than ever in such heat-  It’s essential to get the soil opened for the stressed plants.  We all CAN, and WILL, WIN this battle with the heat!

Today SoccerPlex is wrapping up the Club National Championship for lacrosse.  Over 500 games in 4 days- Cool season fields averaged 20 games a piece, bermudagrass averaged 32 games.  Yes. That is a bunch!

 And what a successful event!  We learn more and more each time we host such an event about how to bring fields through such heavy traffic.  Ask Matt Carroll (John Deere Landscapes in Atlanta) or John Torres (Head Groundsman at PPL Park in Philly) about our 1st lacrosse tournament in 2009.  We will never forget it.  WoW. The destruction. And from 1/2 the number of games.  It’s exciting to have success like this weekend in comparison to those events just 3 years ago.

That fact brings me to laying out the next batch of topics to explore with you.

What has played the biggest role preparing fields to be able to handle this many games?  Especially after 3 weeks ago hosting the 2-day Nations Capitol Cup lacrosse event (220 games) and 12 days ago hosting the All American National Lacrosse Classic (80 games w/ a day of practice and skills).

Ultimately there are 2 things that allow us to survive:

1)  Ultra strong, durable and healthy grass plants

2)  Managing the traffic instead of letting the traffic manage us

The strong, durable and healthy grass plants come from aggressive aeration, nutrient management, and bio-stimulant and growth regulator utilization.  The results are amazing: bluegrass w/ leaf blades the width of fescues and the density of bermudagrass.  As we work through these pieces, I look forward to the ideas and information we can share with each other.

 Managing the traffic is the most fun piece of the puzzle though.  There is no science involved-  no respiration.. no gibberellic acid or cytokinins.. no chlorophyl, bore-0-phly (haha!).  Just outside the box, creative, off the wall ideas to move around and combat traffic.  No answer is wrong.. no idea too far-fetched.  The limits for the possibilities are endless.

Stay tuned this week as we work through these topics to create ideas and help each other find new ways to host more events, generate more revenues for our facilities, and increase our expertise and job security!

Cheers to a successful Sunday

Poking Holes into Old Thoughts on Core Aeration

Following “Cultivated Thoughts on Thatch Management” and the results of core verifying our cool season turfgrass fields the week before a stretch of 100 degrees F (38 degrees C), I have spent more time examining the merits of core aeration.  Certainly we as professional managers know the importance of core aeration.  But with time constraints and all the other aeration options available to use today, coring is a bit less used.  After the last few weeks, I am convinced that it is time to buck that trend and get back to the basics of core aeration.

Why do we core aerate?  No- its not just to create overtime for ourselves and our work crews!  Removing the column of soil from the profile makes a direct, open avenue for gas exchange in the soil.  Water is able to infiltrate the profile easier, as well as the removal of thatch/ organic material/ soil that could be undesirable.  Certainly solid tines open columns similarly, but they do so at the expense of compacting the soil around the column.  Now-  do not mis-understand me-  ANY type of aeration/ venting that can be done at ANY time is essential to turfgrass survival,  especially in high traffic field situations.  But pulling cores is the most beneficial of all for gas exchange, thatch removal, and water infiltration into the top of the profile (deep tine aeration is a separate subject for deep water infiltration)

Basic teaching advocates core aeration 2 times a year.  I have spent most of my career buying into that thinking, especially because of the intensity of the process.  By now I am realizing that the benefits from core aeration are sometimes lost in the mess that is created from the aeration process.  By the time the clean up process ends, we find ourselves swearing that we will never do it again.  Last week alone we dulled a set of reels following clean up, then bent 2 reels from debris dropped during the coring and sweeping process.  If I walked into the office this morning and declared we are core aerating again this week, there would be mutiny!

But… outside on the fields… the results are evident from the flush of fresh air into the root zone and proper water infiltration.  Green, strong, healthy turf looks like it was 50 degrees last night- even though we spent the week in extreme heat.

Ironically as I was writing this, my colleague Mr. John Turnour made a similar comments about his aggressive core aeration program at Nationals Park in DC.  He too feels that the results are as dramatic as I do with the flush of air into the root zone bringing an immediate plant response with green, vibrant growth and health.  From a scientific standpoint, I am sure there is more to the response than just the air component- Nutrient availability especially.  I will research this and let you know… I am intrigued to know myself.

In conclusion, the question becomes… how often does it need to be done?  My new goal becomes 1 time a month in the growing season, skipping August unless it catches a cool stretch.  So a total 6-8 times.  That will total a removal of about 40% of the profile (@ 5% per time).  We are at 2 with us to July, so hopefully we can finish at 6.

4 more times-  oh boy- Don’t tell our work crews!!!

Cultivated Thoughts on Thatch Management

The past 10 days have seen an up and down weather pattern in the Mid-Atlantic-  A few cool, crisp days followed with hot, dry then hot, humid days.  Dry conditions have prevailed until today, allowing some aggressive cultivation to take place in conjunction with the wrap up of soccer league season and in preparation for summer club lacrosse season.

On cool season pitches, aeration pass number 6 took place with deep tine aeration at 8″ w/ an aggressive 15 degree kick, followed with pass number 7 w/ 3/4″ coring tines on 2×2 spacing.  With the combination, deep compaction relief took place along with air venting and thatch reduction in the top organic layer… both much needed following the heavy traffic of May and entering the summer stress period.  All aeration techniques will continue, just not as aggressively though into the heat….

Bermudagrass received an aggressive core aeration as well.  With it picking up growth… and starting into camp season next week, this is the last break during the week bermudagrass will see until the last week of August.  Deep tine aeration will follow suit next week in the evenings following camps

In reference to thatch reduction from core aeration, following the 1st sweeping of cores from the field we brushed the fields with a heavy brush to stand the grass plants back upright and fluff up any remaining cores.  Around Europe, brushing was common.. so I wanted to add it to our program immediately.  I assumed that the main benefit would be standing up the grass for better health and mowing.  Well I was right on that part, but the biggest immediate difference was the remaining thatch on the very top of the field that was fluffed up.  It was staggering!!  Piles of thatch were everywhere.  Certainly we expect to bring up some, but had no idea that it would be the amount it was.  Especially in a lighter growing period under growth regulation, following heavy traffic, and when we have mowed very little as we raise the height up a 1/4″ to 1 1/4″  If that amount comes up during light growth, I can only imagine the amount that will arise during aggressive growth.

As mentioned, brushing was a common practice around pitches in Europe, as it is in golf course management.  But in sports field management, its not something that takes place a lot.  After the observations of our 1st experience with it… it will become a weekly practice followed with mowing with baskets for collection.  I immediately am looking into tine harrows for additional fluffing and am sharpening the verticut blades as well…  We think our program is aggressive enough- but yet again we are wrong!






Final Day in the UK- Manchester

Friday marked the final day of my expedition in the United Kingdom.  COLD was the theme of the day. With temperatures not rising above 45 degrees F, a breeze, and some rain showers-  Wow.  What a challenge to grow grass!  Kudos to ALL the groundsman in northern Europe…  I have heard that its cold in those areas, and that is true!

The day started with a stop at historic Old Trafford.  Do I really need to say more?  It is absolutely everything that is hyped-  What a gorgeous and classic stadium.  Thank you to Tony Sinclair, Head Groundsman at Old Trafford, for showing me around and sharing some absolutely fantastic ideas and thoughts on the success of maintaining such a wonderful pitch in the cold, wet conditions of the Manchester region.  Tony’s professionalism and fantastic attitude towards the challenges they face were extra motivating to me as we look at tackling the challenges daily faced with 22 pitches and all the events at SoccerPlex.  The very best of luck to Mr. Sinclair and his tremendous staff with those upcoming challenges- including several matches for the Olympics.

Leaving Old Trafford, we headed over to Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City.  With both teams tied for the Premier League title going into the final weekend, it was absolutely amazing the experience the intensity and anxiety and the anticipation in the air around both clubs.  What a wonderful situation for Manchester as a city, no matter what side you are on-  The world is talking about Manchester through Sunday!

The Head Groundsman for Etihad Stadium, Mr. Lee Jackson, took time to visit with us and show me around even with preparation ongoing for their final Premier League match on Sunday.  Thank You to Mr. Jackson for doing that-  I would like to think that I would do the same for a total stranger from out of the country if they came to visit me even during preparation for one of the biggest events of a lifetime.  Mr. Jackson’s pitch is suburb…  I am amazed how successful its possible to be with growing grass through the dead of winter and into miserable weather conditions like they are experiencing in Manchester this spring.  There is so much to learn from these places that I have not even begun to comprehend it.

Manchester United’s Carrington Training Ground was the next stop of the day.  In what was one of the few disappointments of the trip, Head Groundsman Joe Pemberton was unavailable.  So sorry to have miss you Joe!  But Mr. David Lindop was very generous with his time to welcome us and show me around.  The training ground buildings are going through renovations and upgrades, as were many of the pitches.  “Busy” is only half a strong enough word to describe how things are around the training ground.  So Thank You David for still allowing me to spend some time with you and pick up many valuable lessons. Our conversations and seeing another piece of the renovation process was so helpful!

In route to the airport, our final stop in the Manchester area was at Salford City Stadium, a new rugby stadium.  Mr. Danny Huffman, Head Groundsman, was in preparation for rugby events this weekend.  With the stadium opening in the early winter, the pitch has been played on frequently during its few months.  Mr. Huffman has succeeded to maintain a fantastic surface all the while establishing the young field even more. The pitch has Fibre Sand, so the opportunity to talk about the technology and get feedback surrounding the reinforcement was very, very helpful.  Thank you for the time Danny-  it was extremely rewarding for me!

Friday evening lead to the departure of Manchester with a flight down to Madrid, Spain.  WOW it is HOT! Unseasonably warm weather is blessing Madrid and our trip… what a change from Manchester!

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to Mr. Simon Gumbrill of Campey Turf Care for the hospitality, the guidance, and the wonderful feedback and wide range of ideas and discussions over the period of Tuesday morning until Friday evening.  Traveling through 5 countries and several hundred miles, I am sure there are points he wanted to pull the car over or hit the eject button with all of the questions I was asking.  Thank you again Simon-  And Thank You to Mr. Richard Campey and the entire staff of Campey Turf Care for the respect, the time, the ideas, and the support.  Absolutely a class act of an organization!

St. George’s Park- Home of the FA

Thursday marked a visit to see Mr. Alan Ferguson, the Head Groundsman of the English FA- tasked with getting St. George’s Park prepared for its opening this summer.  The FA is in good hands, that is for sure.  Not only are the pitches absolutely gorgeous but Mr. Ferguson and his wonderful wife, Mrs. Carol Ferguson, have a vision for the park is grand and fantastic.  I can not thank either of them enough for taking time to see us today to show us around and share some stories over tea,  The conversation, the ideas, the attitude, the dedication I hope to be able see the park again next year to see the dramatic change it will go through.  The expanse of the park and the rolling hills reminded me alot of home at SoccerPlex-  and so did all the rain!!

Have a look at the park:

Prepared to be amazed!!

Thank you again to the Ferguson’s for having us- and to Mr. Simon Gumbrill for leading the escaped through London, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and now back to Manchester in the northern UK.

We visit the champions tomorrow-  Now which will it be… Man U or Man City!?  Image

Imants Demo Day- Reusel, The Netherlands

Wednesday was another tremendous day as we traveled from Belgium to Reusel, in the southern region of the Netherlands near Germany, for a demonstration day with Imants.  Imants manufacturers unique and high quality turf care equipment, along with specialty agricultural equipment, and was founded in Reusel over 125 years ago.

Hats off to Hans de Kort of Imants for assembling a wonderful demo day that was attended by nearly 50 groundsman from the surrounding areas in the Netherlands.  Thank you to Simon Gumbrill of Campey Turf Care and Hans for allowing me to attend.

The demo/field day was unique by United States standards, as the attendees got the see the machines in action doing an actual renovation on a youth soccer pitch in the park behind the factory.  The demonstration illustrated the European “renovation” process of which involves stripping a slight layer off the top of the pitch and re-growing the pitch from seed and rejuvenation from the crown of the existing grass plants.  (MUCH, MUCH more on this eye opening process to come).  Machines demonstrated included the Koro by Imants Field Topmaker to strip the top layer off, the Koro by Imants Field Sweeper to clean up any spilled debris, the Imants Shockwave deep aerated the soil, the Speed Dresser topdressed sand, and the Koro by Imants Recycling Dresser mixed in the sand and refreshed the soil air space.  I have so many thoughts and ideas from this-  It is going to take me some time to wrap my head around the possibilities!!

An additional highlight of the day outside of the machines was meeting Mr. Ko Rodenberg, the former Parks Superintendent for the City of Rotterdam and inventor of the Koro line of turf care equipment.  I enjoyed the time talking with Mr. Rodenberg in which I learned so much, so quickly; and I am indebted to him for being so generous with his time.

The day’s end came entirely too fast as we had to head up to Rotterdam to Europort for the boat back to the UK across the North Sea.  Sleeping on a cargo ship was an experience all in itself!  But we arrived safely back to the UK through Hull Port at 8am this morning-  set for another full and fun day!!


Whirlwind of a Day

Wow what a fantastic day with one of the UK’s finest gentleman, Mr. Simon Gumbrill. Starting at Wimbledon, progressing through horrendous London traffic to Emirates Stadium, off to the Arsenal Training Ground, and finishing with a pass through the Chunnel to Calais, France and Gent, Belgium for the night. Tomorrow we are off to the Netherlands near Eindhoven and the Koro by Imants factory for a demonstration day, then up to Amsterdam and Europort for the boat back to the eastern UK. Thank you to Simon, to Mr. Richard Campey who I got the pleasure to see at Arsenal today, and thank you as well to Ms. Julia Campey. I could not have enjoyed the day more!

Many, many Thanks to Head Groundsman, Mr. Eddie Seaward, for having me to Wimbledon today, along with Neil Stubley, Head Groundsman Designate. And to Grant for taking time from his tremendously busy day to show us around. Preparing for the Championships and the Olympics, i cant imagine the stress they are under. Grant and I got to talk a bit of hockey today as he is a native of near Edmonton. The way the Capitals sounded to have played in game 5, Oilers may see the Stanley Cup again before DC! I can not put to words the scale and beauty of the 41 grass courts at their club.

Thanks all the same to Mr. Paul Ashcroft for sticking around to say hello, even with us delayed in traffic and him having prior commitments. What a class act of an operation. No wonder he collected the award for Groundsman of the Year in the Premier League. Even with Cooperate events taking place, the pitch is tight and gorgeous green.

And Thanks to Mr. Steve Braddock, Head Groundsman at the Arsenal Training Ground. In the middle of renovations, Steve was very generous with his time to show us around and discuss the different ideas and successes they have through the challenges of such a large scale training ground. Steve’s reputation of perfection is well deserved!

The most amazing part of the day was the sheer kindness and hospitality that these grounds crews showed me- as an American coming in from the outside, I can understand skepticism… There was absolutely none. Amazing. Amazing. What generous and genius individuals that make up these groups. I hope we in America are the same for all our colleagues, large and small. Home and abroad. None of us can succeed without learning and respect. And respect and professionalism is what I saw exhibited the most today.

Thank you gentlemen.

More to come on each visit soon- but off to bed in Belgium for the night.

Hope all is well in the States! Cheers!


Re-Thinking Ryegrass

The main observation of Day 1 in London in GREEN!  For weather that is in the 40’s and 50’s (F), the fact that all the grass (and flowering plants for that matter) is actively growing.  Obviously I knew a trip to the UK would be filled with ryegrass, but observing it dramatically highlights rye’s ability to grow in cooler conditions than Kentucky bluegrass.  The ryegrass, even in the common areas that is not even regularly maintained, is growing and green.  Nearly every day of our “cool weather” during the month of April was warmer than even 1 day of the weather here in London.  And just this past week did we begin to see sustained growth similar to what I am observing here.

So- the debate re-news in my mind on the pro’s and con’s of using ryegrass in our Washington, DC climate.  Following a gray leaf spot outbreak last August, I swore I would never use it again.  Ever!  But now after the cool, inconsistent spring…  here I am back to re-thinking that.  One of the core times that we need to increase our play is in the cooler weather of Feb, March, Nov, and Dec-  and ryegrass is certainly an avenue to help.

The questions created now revolve around root zone in management of ryegrass-  On a sand based root zone, the “moist” conditions that cause disease on ryegrass on our native soil fields are greatly reduced.  And managing nitrogen and the use of basic chlorothalonil helps combat gray leaf spot.  So-  on a field that gets the most traffic from Feb- June and Sept- Dec…   isn’t overseeding ryegrass into the bluegrass stand a good idea???

Another question I have thought of-  is the disease pressure different on sand v native soil? Is the amount of soil borne pathogens in a native soil higher than a sand, especially a new sand on a new field?  It seems the population would be different-  On the “control” field we have each year where no fungicides are used, the soil biological activity is staggering.. so I ask——  how different are the pressures??