Open Minded

Having an open mind is important when it comes to evolution of a turfgrass maintenance program.  The European market is full of technologies that stem from open minds that are always improve the quality of the pitches.  The following ideas are things that I viewed:

Desso Grassmaster: A reinforcement system with synthetic fibers sewed into the sand profile of a natural grass field.  A few fields in the US use the technology, but it has not caught on because the fibers make it impossible to sod into, so seeding is required for renovations.

Fiber sand:  A reinforcement system with synthetic fibers mixed into the sand profile to reduce compaction potential and provide stability in sand.  Our stadium pitch at SoccerPlex has fiber sand and we have fantastic results.  Again, this is not a system that is common in the US.  But the potential for it is big.  The success stories are endless with using the product and managing it correctly.

Crumb rubber on sand for cushion:  Many facilities use crumb rubber topdressing to attempt to soften the goal mouths and goal keeping practice areas.  I have considered crumb rubber for the same, but also to help to reduce compaction and to add heat to bermudagrass fields more quickly in the spring.  Mixed results are being found with crumb rubber… so the jury is still out.

Fescue into ryegrass: Turf type tall fescue genetics have created a superior plant that is able to be used in a ryegrass and/or bluegrass stand.  Some of the fescues that I observed are absolutely fantastic, especially blended with ryes for more wear tolerance.  With that, we used fescue to overseed our bermudagrass last fall/ this spring, and it is by far the most durable overseeding we have ever had

Performance testing:  During several visits, testing officials from the Sports Turf Research Institute were on site doing performance testing of the turfgrass stand. Infiltration rates, compaction/ hardness testing, ball speed, tinsel strength, root depths, etc, etc.  I know of a few tests that we have done/ can be done in the US, but I know of no one testing religiously to give an established baseline of conditions during the season.  It is a perfect way, in conjunction with tissue and soil testing, to know how well changes in a maintenance program work!

These, and many other open minded ideas, were common place in discussions and maintenance programs around Europe.  Other technologies like SubAir, glycol heating, and most importantly- grow lights- make growing turfgrass in challenging conditions more successful.  Combine those ideas with the aggressive nature of the complete renovation each year-  It would see that here in the US we are lagging behind on creating new create, open minded ideas.  With that, do we have things to learn from our European counterparts?  I say YES.  All the possibilities make the sky the limit!

Self Sufficient and Efficient

Thank you to everyone who has been engaging me in thought-provoking discussion over each of the points of focus from my European trip.  So many good ideas continue to flow…  and already they are making a difference in our maintenance program here at SoccerPlex.

The 3rd point to discuss is the manner in which several of the European sports field operations run so self-sufficiently and how they are highly efficient in all of their tasks.  With training grounds similar to the size of the 22-field Maryland SoccerPlex, several of the operations that I observed are similar to ours.  However, ultimately, their operations run very differently.

Many of the major maintenance and renovation techniques that take place in Europe are done in-house by field maintenance crews.  Specialized contractors are still involved, but many operations have their own equipment to do the tasks on their own as well.

The European operations are more self-sufficient partially because they are so efficient as well though.  Tractors in the 100 hp range are not uncommon.  A 63″ aerator (our biggest)  is small by Euro standards.  From a man power stand point, they are able to get many more tasks completed with fewer people because fewer hours are spent in operation of equipment.  The extra time equates into the ability to accomplish more tasks “in-house”.  It seems so simple, but yet it seems so ingenious!  Especially with the security of completing tasks such as aeration more quickly- 1 aeration cycle takes up to 2 week for our SoccerPlex crews to finish.  Staggered staffing and overtime make up the time to finish each cycle because 2 weeks un-interrupted by weather or play does not exist.  Increased efficiency reduces those challenges.

This discussion ultimately connects us back to my previous post on confidence and aggressiveness.  Taking on such tasks such as renovation in-house is a large undertaking!  As is the operation of larger equipment.  But in the end, it establishes a maintenance program that is absolutely always on “offense”!


Confidence and Aggressiveness

It’s a common theme in American sports- “Offense Wins Games, Defense Wins Championships”.

But is that really true?   The 2000 St. Louis Ram (the Greatest Show On Turf).  The 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  And even the 1992 “Dream Team”.  I tend to agree more with Bobby Knight when he told Dan Quayle “There is nothing that a good defense cannot beat a better offense”.  Sure, defense is great.. until you meet a better offense.

Now that you are thinking “offensively”…  you are now in the mind-set that I am in after visiting with so many fantastic European groundsmen.  There is such a confidence, assurance, and matter of fact approach to management.  There is no fear. Or if there is, they certainly do not show it!  To strip off a field and re-seed instead of sod seems like insanity to us; its common place for them.  Here playing tennis on grass seems impossible;  They do it all the time.  Here roofs on grass stadiums are few and far between; There every stadium there has a roof.  Here extra events on a field causes stress; they welcome it as an opportunity to try something new.  They seem to always be on the offensive, working towards the next goal.  Never slowing down. Never complaining.  Never doubting.

Before my trip, I felt my management philosophy for turfgrass was agressive and simple:  The grass has 2 choices- 1) Grow 2) Die.  After visiting Europe and getting an outside perspective , I realize its is not as simple as I thought.  Many decisions are from a “defensive” or conservative stand point.  These decisions are still GOOD decisions. But they are made from a “what if” perspective with anxiety, uneasiness, hesitation, and even lack of confidence play into the decision-making process. The process is complex.  It’s “Defensive”.

So thinking with confidence, defined by Merriam-Webster as: belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance: and in a positive frame of mind.. “Offensively”.. decision-making becomes less complex.  These GOOD decisions then become GREAT decisions!  GOOD fields become GREAT fields.  Mother Nature provides challenge, but the strong turf can overcome.  We sleep better at night with less stress!

A shining example of great decisions, Steve Jobs, described it perfectly:  “That’s been one of my mantrasfocus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

I don’t know about you, but an offense to move the mountains of challenge sounds fantastic to me!



I want to expand on the stated highlights of my trip, with professionalism being the 1st topic that I talk about.  Ironically, multiple situations since my return have had the topic of professionalism on my mind.  So I am glad it is the 1st topic.

To be a professional, according to Merriam- Webster is to “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace“.  Wow that absolutely sums it up doesn’t it?!?  No wondered Merriam-Webster are the definition experts!!

The traits I saw exhibited by all the Groundsmen I met on the trip is amazing.  The “technical or ethical standards” of our profession are being created by these Groundsmen.   Placed under such impossible demands from weather and from traffic, they are setting the standards the rest of us are “characterized by or conforming to”.  Pitch quality continues to rise, and less than perfect is absolutely unacceptable- even if the weather or challenge could be used a plausible excuse for them.  

And the “courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace”  that I saw exhibited was even more captivating to me.  Theses professionals understand that extra traffic on a field is reality.. so they spend their time working to figure out how to produce the best turfgrass possible with a positive, “get it done” attitude.  Negativity does not exist.  The challenge is respected.

With the examples that I observed from the European experience, I continue to think about how I can help our operation at Maryland SoccerPlex set a stronger example of professionalism.  And I challenge anyone reading to consider each and every part of your day- from goal setting to communication.  Then think about the definition of professional:  “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace“.   Does Merriam- Webster describe you and your operation as well?  If not, I hope that reading this provides some motivation and insight.  Writing it has added even more into my very own.  Thank You to our European friends yet again!!!

The European Renovation from the American Perspective

The reason for the timing of my trip to Europe was that the playing season was wrapping up and the renovation season for the pitches is beginning.  I wanted (or better stated, NEEDED) to see the renovation process taking place to get a better understanding of how it works and all the positive pieces of the process.  My perception from the pieces of the process I had heard and read about were that the UK groundsmen must just really like to make themselves extra work! haha.  Why would you want to cut out your fields every year and wait for them to grow back in from seed?  Madness!  Well- I certainly got to see it 1st hand… and it was nothing like I imagined.  Instead of madness, I say now that it is genius!  Quite a change huh?!?  Let me try to explain the process and the goals…..

Why renovate?  To remove the poa annua plants and their seed bank (lack of chemical options for poa removal and control due to regulations). To remove the organic matter that has begun to build up during the growing season to completely avoid any layer that could cause a slick surface (core aeration and heavy topdressing can not be done frequently during the dead of winter during the season because the plant will not recover).  And to create a more hardy and durable stand of grass plants (Plants that re-generate are stronger and resilient)

How to renovate?  1-  Remove the top 1/8 to 1/2″ of the pitch (termed “Fraze mowing”).  2- Proceed with a deep aeration (deep tine or Shock Wave) 3- Apply a layer of topdressing and/or run a Recycling Dresser ( to freshen up the soil base and create some loose material.  4- A harrow is then drug across the surface to move around the loose material and fill in the low spots before the seeding takes place.  5- Seed, work in the seed and lightly topdress again.  6- Fertilize.  7- Grow.  Four weeks later, the seed has germinated and is growing, and the hardy plants have regenerated and filled back in.   ARTWORK.

Sounds like quite a process huh!?  Well, it absolutely fascinating…  and amazing.

So then the question becomes… does any of this process make sense in the United States.  Your initial reaction is likely the same as mine-  No!  But then realize that no matter how good the poa controls supposedly are, the still don’t really work- and that we could be facing the same bans on pesticides in the future that they do in the UK . Think about renovating a football field in the spring (that needs spring time renovation anyway)/ to Fraze Mow Bermudagrass in the south that is overseeded heavily and needs transitioning/ Renovate soccer fields that are used for spring and fall play/ Fraze mow the lips around the edge of baseball infield skins after the season…  And we could sit and talk and come up with more and more where pieces of this process could fit in.

The boldest part, without a doubt, is to re-seed and not to sod.  Adding the layer of soil in sod is obviously a challenge.  And with a tool like the Recycling Dresser, that layer can be reduced much more quickly.  But if and when a field has 6-8 week open for a renovation, why not seed instead of sod?  I am considering that very thing…  we are renovating our stadium field (because of poa) the last week of August.  I can seed by the end of that week and have 6 full weeks before our next event.  When I stop and think, of course it can be done-  but wow, that sure does take guts right!?!  But to save $50k.  HHHmmm…  make you think right!?

Home Sweet Home- Time for Reflection

Returning to DC this afternoon, its like I never left.  Inconsistent weather continues!!  Examining the pitches at SoccerPlex this evening, we are still fighting the same inconsistent growth on cool season and bermudagrass.  Its all good though..  we need the rain, and the sun looks to be coming by Wednesday!

Now that I am back home, the time for reflection and creating ideas begins.  The key categories I have established to work through the many new topics and ideas currently are:

1) Professionalism-  The professionalism exhibited by all the Groundsmen I met on the trip is amazing.  They understand that extra traffic on a field is reality.. so they spend their time working to negate it.

2) Confidence and aggressiveness-  During the renovation process, most all fields are grown back from seed in 4 weeks time.  If someone in the USA did that, we would think they had gone mad!  I respect the confidence to do the “right thing” in using seed-  to eliminate the layering and to save money

3) Self Sufficient and Efficient- From doing renovations “in house” on a rotating basis to achieve the end goal to using larger size equipment…  Most all operations I observed were all about “getting things done” in an impressive manor

4) Open Minded-  New technologies (Desso, Fibre Sand, Crumb rubber, Fescue and Bluegrass w/ rye, performance testing, etc) and being tried and implemented on a daily basis

These 4 topics are a great start-  I look forward to expanding on them more at length to create many, many new ideas!

Real Madrid

Well what a change from Manchester to Madrid.  WOW it is almost HOT here!  But I am not one to ever complain about heat… so bring it on.  It is refreshing!

Arriving in Madrid Friday night, many many Thanks to Mr. Paul Burgess for taking the time to make a trip to the airport and then to show me around on Saturday.  With preparation taking place for tonight’s final La Liga match- after which Real will be presented with their 32nd league championship trophy and with renovations taking place at the training ground, Mr. Burgress is very, very busy man!

Saturday Paul was gracious enough show me around on the pitch at the Bernabeu.  WOW what a stadium.  And WOW what a fantastic pitch.  Absolutely great stuff.  Following, Mr. Burgess gave the tour of the Real Madrid Training Ground.  With the number of fields and tremendous amount of play that takes place on each pitch, it reminded me even more of home.  The observations and conversation created a wide range of new ideas for me.  Thank You, Thank You, Thank You Paul!

Now tonight, the fixture between Real Madrid and Mallorca…  What an experience it shall be!  Real is in the hotel here currently preparing for the match… and what an atmosphere it is outside.  So I can only imagine what it will be like at the Bernabeu tonight!Image

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