Let There Be Light!

SGL MasterClass 2015

70+ Sports Field Managers representing 12 countries around the world gathered in Manchester, UK for SGL Master Class 2015.  Manchester City Football Club hosted to the 2-day education event with attendees from places as distant as Ukraine and Singapore.  Etihad Stadium Head Grounds Manager Lee Jackson and City Football Academy Head Grounds Manager Lee Metcalfe both opened their state-of-the- art facilities at Manchester City FC to the Master Class.  SGL specific sessions included updates on SGL developments and to collect user feedback.  But uniquely, most of the Master Class focus was not just on SGL products and light technology.  The curriculum focused on evolving natural grass sports field management over all and explored new solutions for the always increasing demand of more events in stadiums world wide.  From grass genetics and plant feeding to renovation approaches and techniques world wide.  Special presentations came from Ray Cheng of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Jerad Minnick of the Natural Grass Advisory Group (USA).  An informational panel discussion with SGL Founder Nico van Vuuren, SGL Territory Manager Simon Gumbrill, Lee Jackson, and Jerad Minnick summarized and closed out the event. Additionally as part of the Master Class at City was an all access tour through Etihad Stadium by Lee Jackson and the newly opened City Football Academy by Lee Metcalfe.  

A visit to City cross town rival Manchester United also took place during the Master Class.    United Head Grounds Manager Tony Sinclair opened his pitch at storied Old Trafford, home of Manchester United since 1910, to Master Class participants.  Like both Mr. Jackson and Mr. Metcalfe at City, Mr. Sinclair generously shared his experiences and knowledge with the group.  

Throughout Master Class 2015, sharing and collaboration amongst presenters and participants was endless, from morning coffee through evening social time.  As sharing and collaboration are the building blocks of growth and innovation, there is no doubt participants of the Master Class walked away with new ideas and excitement.  

Supplemental Light:  Just for shade? 

A theme that developed during Master Class was turfgrass and light requirement. Previously, supplemental lighting for turfgrass growth is commonly considered a tool just for natural grass surfaces with extensive shade inside large stadiums.  Yet in reality, shaded stadiums house only a small fraction  of the turfgrass in need of supplemental light.  A 2004 study release from Clemson University on TifEagle greens highlights the need for supplemental light without even calling for it. An August, 2004 GCSAA article by B. Todd Bunnell, Ph.D., and Bert McCarty, Ph.D. (1) provides an in-depth look at the study.  When tying the research and article content to the need for supplemental light, the article summary with the title says it all.  “Without a full day of sunshine, TifEagle bermudagrass greens do not thrive”.  Their study on TifEagle finds the bermudagrass needs a daily light integral of 32.6 mol m-2 d-1.  Using light data collection,  Atlanta, GA for example sustains 32.6 mol m-2 d-1a of light from April until October.  (See chart from Karl Danneberger, Ph.D, Ohio State).  TifEagle then is under light stress and can not grow efficiently nearly half the year.  Why the lack of light?  The limited light is simply due to shorter days and lower sun angle in the sky during the fall, winter, and spring season.  Dr. Karl Danneberger gives a detailed description of the impact of in-adequate light has on turfgrass growth in his Ohio State article “Pour Some Light On Me”(2) “Turfgrass plants in response to shade or low light levels become more upright in growth habit including a thinner, longer leaves, less tillering, shallower rooting, and less total root mass (3,4,5). Overall, the turf is subject to a decline in both density and quality. If the winter months are more cloudy and rainy than normal, the detrimental changes would be more dramatic.”  In the south, overseeding with ryegrass into bermudagrass helps off set the decline in bermuda quality due to lower light amounts.  But dormancy in the bermudagrass is promoted because of a decreased light.  And ryegrass overseeding blocks light to the bermudagrass, adding to the reduction of light.  Thus an overseeded stand of bermudagrass in Atlanta, GA faces stress due to inadequate light for nearly 6 months of the year.  That same light stress is equal for nearly all bermudagrass across the USA mainland, only increasing the more north the grass is growing.  Light requirement for cool season grasses is lower, but still their light requirements are equally not met in fall, winter and spring in north regions either.  

This type of research and data collection illustrates how grass in shaded stadiums is not the only grass suffering from light stress in need of supplemental light.  In fact, data supports nearly that all grass could benefit from supplemental light for extended periods during the year.  

Birth of SGL

Webster’s dictionary defines innovation as “making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products”.  Innovation is exactly what Nico van Vuuren, a Dutch rose grower and Founder of Stadium Grow Lighting, provided with the introduction of SGL to the natural grass industry in 2001.  The first supplemental turfgrass grow light trial ever fittingly took place at the Stadium of Light, Home of Sunderland FC in Sunderland, UK.    The complex new introduction of light into stadiums was a simple advancement of the supplemental growth lighting in Mr. van Vuuren’s 22 acres of rose growing green houses.  As a core building block for rose growth, light is essential for healthy turfgrass growth too.  With shading from large stadium structures and the sun angle change by the season, consistency of light for grass in a stadium is erratic at best.  Supplemental light units immediately supplied the consistency of light needed to sustain healthy, consistent grass growth nearly year round.  Innovation! The “change in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products” is one of he most dramatic changes to take place in the history of natural grass field maintenance.  

The Future Of Supplemental Light

Since the introduction of supplemental light at Sunderland in 2001, SGL has grown to supply light to over 160 swards of natural grass around the world.  And still most all intense light research and innovation is coming from SGL’s lab in Holland.  

Originally the interest for supplemental light was with soccer stadiums in Europe.  Those stadiums are challenged with maintain natural grass surfaces through a soccer season that stretches from fall, through the entire winter season, and into the late spring.  Those stadiums face both shade and low sun angle.  Now with the “growing” understanding that nearly all natural grass surfaces need light, supplemental lighting has spread into the USA in the NFL, MLB, MLS and even college sports with the introduction at University of Tennesse’s Neyland Stadium.  With supplemental light for healthy, consistent turfgrass growth, these stadiums can increase their number of events while reducing maintenance and expensive sod repairs.  Especially in the fall, winter, and spring season.  With the growing demand for high quality natural grass fields nearly year round, there is no doubt the number of applications of supplemental light in sports and golf will continue to grow.  Innovation truly is making a “change”.  

  1. http://www2.gcsaa.org/gcm/2004/aug04/pdf/augtechsunlight.pdf

(2) http://buckeyeturf.osu.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1126:pour-some-light-on-me&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=170

(3) Bell, G.E. and T.K. Danneberger. 1999. Temporal shade on creeping bentgrass turf. Crop Science 39:1142-1146

(4). Danneberger, T.K. 1994. Light, as a resource. in Turfgrass Ecology and Management. G.I.E., Inc. Publishers. Cleveland, Ohio. p. 25-35.

(5) Wherley, B.G., D.S. Gardner, and J.D. Metzger. 2005. Tall fescue photomorphogenesis as influenced by changes in the spectral composition. Crop Science 45:562-568. 

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