Jerad Minnick has never calculated the point of diminishing returns as it relates to the cost of seed at the Maryland SoccerPlex, but he knows he hasn’t come close to reaching it yet.
Minnick, head groundskeeper at the 22-field complex in Boyds, Md., since 2009, renovated the facility’s main stadium field last year, with Barenbrug’s Turf Blue Kentucky bluegrass that is enhanced with HGT technology. At $4 per pound, the seed, he says, is worth every penny.
The selection of HGT, which stands for Healthy Grass Technology, along with Jump Start Kentucky bluegrass and a regimen of agronomic practices that he learned overseas, have helped Minnick, 34, produce mid-season playing conditions that he didn’t realize were possible on cool-season turf.
“Grass can take a lot more traffic than we give it credit for,” Minnick said.
“We’ve played 120 events on the stadium field, and you can’t tell it’s been played on.”
Barenbrug’s HGT (Healthy Grass Technology), which entered the market in 2011, was developed from naturally stress-tolerant plants. Its traits include improved heat and wear tolerance, rapid establishment and quick recovery.
The stadium field at the Maryland SoccerPlex was ready for play 35 days after seeding. Thanks to a program of aggressive agronomic practices, he’s been able to keep it in like-new condition.
Within 60 days of seeding, the complex had hosted several tournaments, including the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s championship that was decided on the stadium field 75 days after seeding. Minnick now uses HGT on the other cool-season fields at the complex as well.
Hundreds of games each year are played at the 160-acre complex that includes 10 cool-season turfgrass fields, nine Bermudagrass fields and three that are carpeted with synthetic turf. The complex near Washington, D.C., is open every day except New Year’s, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and keeping the fields ready for play at all times is critical.
“If it snows in December, January or February, we have to clear it immediately and get it open,” said Minnick, who has managed the fields at the Maryland SoccerPlex since 2009.
Producing championship conditions is as much about agronomic practices as it is turf selection.
“Aggressive cultivation is the key,” Minnick said. “Each field has something done to it every two weeks. We have an aerifier and a verticutter running all the time. That is how we keep grass on our fields.”
Minnick earned a bachelor’s degree in turfgrass science at the University Missouri and was in his last semester of graduate school in 2002 when he accepted a job with the Kansas City Royals. He spent 2007-09 across town prepping with Sporting KC, Kansas City’s Major League Soccer franchise.
Since heading the soccer complex, Minnick has visited dozens of European soccer facilities. While overseas, he met people like Simon Gumbrill from Campey Turfcare and Barclays Premier League groundskeepers Paul Burgess of Real Madrid and Steve Braddock of Arsenal. Each taught him various things about the European way to manage turf, which includes regular agronomic practices throughout the playing season.
For example, Braddock said he runs a deep tine aerifier over Arsenal’s practice fields on a monthly basis, alternating between depths of 6 inches to 10 to 12 inches throughout the playing season. When the season is over, he scrapes the field clean of its cover using the Imants Koro Field Topmaker in a process called Fraze mowing and establishes a new field for the next season.
This process removes all organic matter from the surface and each year results in improved drainage at the surface, Braddock said. It’s a philosophy that is not taught at U.S. turf schools, but it is something that is widely used by turf managers in other parts of the world.
“All my practices have been self taught using what I believe is common sense over the years.” Braddock said.
“My belief is that practical experience is more beneficial as the person can see what tasks they are carrying out will have a positive impact on the surface and learning about how important timing can be when conducting tasks.”
Minnick wasn’t a believer at first, but he is now. His program in Maryland includes aggressive agronomic practices throughout the playing season, including almost constant aerification except during the most extreme summer conditions. He renovates the stadium field each year and uses the Fraze mowing method on actively growing Bermudagrass. The process removes thatch, ryegrass, Poa annua and leaves Bermudagrass stolons exposed. Scarifying in two directions promotes better lateral growth of the Bermudagrass. Minnick rotates through the other cool-season and warm-season fields, renovating several each year. He doesn’t yet renovate all every year, but, as he says, “we are moving in that direction.”
“I didn’t think it was possible either seven or eight years ago,” he said. “The fields we do the most to always look the best.
“To me, the biggest mistakes people make are too much water, too much nitrogen and not enough aerification. Granted, I’m not going to do it if it is 105 degrees outside. We were still solid tining to open the organic layer when we broke a record for most consecutive hours above 80 degrees.”
It has come as no surprise to Erik Ervin, Ph.D., who was a professor at Missouri when Minnick was a student there, that his former pupil has adopted such revolutionary tactics.
“Jerad was not your usual undergrad,” said Ervin, who is now a professor at Virginia Tech. “He was a polite young man who introduced himself right away and asked insightful questions. He was a leader in our turf club, and I was not surprised to follow his success as we both moved from Missouri to the East Coast for promotions. Jerad is willing to try new things, but reads, discusses and experiments before going all in with his unique turf care practices.”
Minnick maintains the stadium field at nine-sixteenths of an inch and the other cool-season surfaces at heights of 1 to 1.75 inches.
“I like to manipulate the turf,” he said. “If you add a quarter inch, that’s 25 percent more photosynthetic surface.
“I try not to mow as much, but I don’t shy away from cultural practices.”
The Bermuda fields at the complex, which include Patriot, are overseeded with a mix of Barenbrug’s SOS and RPR ryegrasses, are maintained at a height of about one-half inch during the summer when they subjected to 40 hours of play per week.
“We load them up in the summer,” Minnick said. “Summer camps are big for us. Kids are on those fields from 9 to 5, and the Bermuda is perfect. It doesn’t wear out.”
Adopting new methods of doing things is nothing new for Minnick. He currently is evaluating HGT Kentucky bluegrass as an overseed option, and also is evaluating performance characteristics of several vareities of Bermudagrass, including Patriot, Latitude 36, NorthBridge and Riveria. He believes looking for better ways to produce healthy, stress-tolerant playing surfaces quickly should be the norm, not the exception.
“Why are we still talking about all of these old ideas? We need to get rid of them. If we continue to learn new things, thinking like this will be the norm in five years.
“Some people say it is far-fetched, but others in other parts of the world have been doing it this way for a long time. In Europe, it’s been mostly on ryegrass. In Australia it’s been on Bermuda. When we take it to bluegrass, yes, we’re setting new trends. I like to think of the day when people will look back and think of when they thought grass couldn’t take a lot of traffic.”