Minimum Maintenance Specifications for Turfgrass Sports Fields
By Peter Leroy
Is there a need for such a document?
We must always aim to encourage young people into the industry, and one way is by offering "Plain English" information through a credible source on what is required for the minimum maintenance of a sports field, so as to achieve the minimum requirement by the parent sporting body for play.
I am sure that groups such as the I.O.G. and Pitchcare are well meaning and, in the case of Pitchcare, that meaning is being put in the faces of those who should be taking notice.
The sports field industry is a multi-billion dollar business world-wide and so, as the people who are the absolute front of this industry, it is up to us fellow Groundsmen to become far more proactive.
The influence of multi-disciplined industry corporations has long been felt as we are all "told" which fertilizers, machinery and even brands of netting or stumps we are to use. Some refer to it as "recommendations".
In the world of golf there is no longer any confusion as to the minimum standards required for the design and construction of those turf facilities.
U.S.G.A. specifications have taken years to develop, using large sums of cash to fund research at tertiary institutes. The resultant high quality golf courses around the world are a credit to that organisation.
And so to our branch of the sport turf industry.
F.I.F.A. is the parent body for Soccer (Football) in charge of that particular sport and it would seem is working with many globally to define the field requirements so that their sports people can perform to the best of their ability. I.C.C. is the cricket equivalent, as is the I.R.B. in Rugby.
There is no credible International organisation to set the minimum standards for quality or maintenance of the fields on which the professional and amateur player is to perform, at present.
The task of establishing such an august body is far into the future it would appear, and so for now we must look to the various National organisations who may have the facilities and credibility to begin to determine just what are the proposed specifications for the maintenance of multi-million pound sporting fields.
These specifications will apply to not only to the likes of Wembley but also down to the local small town field, where practical.
Mention has been made often that perhaps the future is that minimum standards in height, density, colour, wearability will be enforced by the sporting code using the venue. I for one can see no problem in such a future, especially at the International level.
If this is to become the future, then it is imperative that current and future professional Groundsmen become aware and familiar with the minimum requirement, and that can begin with having a specification document, freely available, which will outline that requirement and a procedure to follow.
There are a host of current organisations which offer sections of the proposed specification. Unfortunately, some are heavily weighted due to costs of publication requiring corporate support. And so many of these supposed specifications have a tendency to promote specific products such a brand A fertilizer or brand B machinery.
If it is the lot of the Groundsman to take the burden of being at the frontline of criticism of an organisation then he or she must be able to have sufficient information and skill to address the critics without being held back by a reluctance to mention corporate brand names. If brand A does not allow the Groundsman to meet the turf density required under the minimum specification then he should be able to say so.
However, if the specification mentions brand A is to be used, then the Groundsman, who has years of experience and good results using brand B, has a difficulty meeting the standard minimum specification then he is open to questioning by his peers and/or superiors as to why he did not follow the specification.
Hence, I strongly believe that if there is to be such a set document, that there be no mention of brand name products.
We do not have to "re-invent the wheel" as the proposal is not the construction specification needing modifying, that is already a "work in progress."
The proposal is simply to produce a document that offers specific guidelines as to how to achieve a specific field performance. As with all such documents it too will become a "work in progress" and hopefully develop and spread world-wide and possibly become the set piece for such sporting bodies as I.C.C., F.I.F.A. and I.R.B.
Sports politics does not just occur at the players level, as many of our peers are only too well aware, and so the question may arise as just who is going to produce this document ?
In the case of the American golf body, U.S.G.A., their construction specification was produced with the combination of a variety of credible agronomy institutes and university faculties. On many occasions Greenkeepers were surveyed or asked to allow trials to be performed under match conditions. And so eventually the first construction specification came into being. Since those early days a host of changes have been undertaken. The advent of synthetic materials reinforcing natural soils is one of note which has spread into the field sports industry.
I would suggest research body's such as STRI in England, the NZTRI in New Zealand and even perhaps the TGIF at Michigan University in America become the institutes of preference, although I am sure there are other such places who would participate if requested.
Again it should be the Groundsmen who first propose and define the requirements for the minimum specification. It would then be to the research institutes to design various projects which would support the mechanics of the specification. From there the document would be presented to the International sporting codes for perusal and ratification.
In the world of golf, there are specifics regarding length of leaf and soil moisture content etc. being developed so as to improve that game for all. We as Groundsmen are the leaders in our field and so we do have a vested interest in improving our own particular game.
It is this development that I am proposing for field sports and the beginning must be at least a discussion on just what would be in such a maintenance specification.
As an idea of what this specification should look like, e.g. under a section on soil chemical analysis, there is to be no mention of any chemical manufacturer Monsanto, DuPont etc., more along the lines of a typical spec such as 'The N.P.K. of the soil shall be with a ph of... "
Similarly with cutting.. rotary or cylinder with the number of blades set at X height..rather than mention any brand name Toro, Ransome etc etc.
As the Internet is obviously global then I think it is time for global minimum standards to become freely available to all who require such.
No, I am not suggesting that "trade secrets" be given away but surely the industry is big enough to create or set minimal standards for those wishing to enter the industry ?
So, what would an index have for such a specification ?
Perhaps along these lines ?
"Cutting Height, Aeration, Soil Moisture, Soil Temperature, Turf Type, Sport, Equipment, Usage, Fertilizer, Soil Profile, Weeds / Pests / Diseases" or are there other areas that would need to be addressed ?
Now is the time for discussion. Does this proposal have merit ? If so, how and why ? If not, then why not ?
It is not something to take lightly as both yours and the future generation of Groundsmen may one day be not required.
I hope that this article leads to open and frank discussion even if it happens to be informed constructive criticism.
Note: Peter Leroy has a wealth of experience in groundsmanship. Former Head Groundsman at the Sydney Cricket Ground and consultant to the Australian Cricket Authorities. While working at Sydney University he studied Agricultural science majoring in genetics. The purpose was to allow him to pursue his interest in the development of sports turf grasses. Peter is currently based in Calgary, Canada. He is a strong advocate for the training of both future Groundsmen and also the current, and believes that through education and experience the industry will only improve.