Magazine article Parks & Recreation

On a Firm Footing: New Methods for Sports Turf Managers to Ensure Good Field Conditions

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

On a Firm Footing: New Methods for Sports Turf Managers to Ensure Good Field Conditions

Article excerpt

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With 86 playing fields at 48 sites, not to mention 20 lawn areas and 6 clay tennis courts, Sports Turf Manager Vince Henderson with the Henrico County, Virginia, Division of Parks and Recreation would seem to have his hands full.

"If I had to, I could actually drive to every site that I have in the county in a day, but I couldn't get out of the truck and look at them all," Henderson chuckles. Yet for his most heavily used sports fields, Henderson can tell you exactly what their conditions are like, because he uses a tool called the "Playing Conditions Index" to track their usage and condition before each sports event.

"It's a way to assess your fields so that you could convey that message to the media and to your user groups to tell them the condition of the field," Henderson explains. "It's a good systematic approach to make sure that you're seeing everything that you should see and you're taking into consideration all of the different factors that may play a part in what kind of condition that field is in."

The Playing Conditions Index (PCI) was developed by the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) to assess the playability of athletic fields used for everything from youth soccer to professional football at any given moment in time, according to Certified Sports Field Manager Dave Pinsonneault, CPRP, operations manager for public works in the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts.

"You can look at a field that might look perfectly green but once you start playing on it, it doesn't have deep roots and the turf is ripping out," Pinsonneault says. "We really want to promote getting a sound, playable, well-maintained surface. That's really the goal and if it looks good after that, that's great. You want to make sure you're doing what you can to provide that firm footing when you need it and the give when you need it on a field."

The PCI is relatively new and still being tried out by experts in the field. It consists of a three-page worksheet, available to STMA members on their website, with questions about long-term issues such as what the field is used for and the extent of field turf manager's experience, as well as short-term questions such as when the field was last used and how much rain has fallen in the past 48 hours (see accompanying article, "Key Variables"). The field is then rated as "excellent," "above average," "average," "below average," or "unplayable." Although use in the field is still limited, Pinsonneault hopes that as use grows the index will be adapted and evolve to meet users' needs.

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"You're able to convey to the people you work for that here's the condition of the field and here's why," says Henderson in Henrico County. "That might help you as far as getting additional funds to get the field back in the condition that it needs to be in, or, on the other side, maybe that will help you with scheduling of that field."

The PCI can also assist with three growing challenges in sports turf management: environmental stewardship, cost efficiency, and safety for both participants and maintenance staff. Henderson explains that the PCI can be used as justification for fertilizing--or not fertilizing--particular fields. His agency has been conscious of fertilizer usage for decades due to its location in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Investments in fields and maintenance structures can lead to future savings in the use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides, as well as to a higher PCI and more playing time for athletic fields, according to Pinsonneault. Rather than building the field on native soil (often filled in with construction debris from building schools or other projects), sports field managers are bringing in "manufactured" soil with a high sand content that allows for good drainage, deeper root zones, and quicker recovery after ram events. …

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