ATA Turf Times – Barry Stewart, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Mississippi State University
Athletic field managers combine science, art, and long hours of hard work to provide playing surfaces that are safe, playable, and aesthetically pleasing. As Alabama Turfgrass Association members know, there are numerous “standards” that give guidance to sports turf managers as to what minimums should be for athletics fields. Textbooks like the excellent “Sport Fields: Design, Construction and Maintenance” by Puhalla, Krans and Goatley, and Standard Test Methods, Specifications and Guides, like those published by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) provide guidance for what practices should be used to create safe and playable athletic fields. Awareness of these standards becomes important if the management of a field ever comes into question such as could happen in a dispute over liability.
The STMA (Sports Turf Managers Association) has recently released “Best Management Practices for the Sports Field Manager: A Professional Guide for Environmental Sports Field Management” which represents a new standard. A great thing about this publication is that it is available for free. It was developed by many volunteers serving STMA from industry and academia, as well as the STMA staff. If you are a sports field manager, you should read this manual before you head into your 2022 field management season. You may find an idea or two you can implement, and it would be a good refresher for even the most seasoned professional. For years I have used Puhalla, Krans and Goatley as a textbook for my PSS 4443 Athletic Field Management Course at Mississippi State University. I will still recommend it as a supporting book for this class, but this semester I am going to use STMA’s “Best Management Practices for the Sports Field Manager” as my “textbook”.
The manual was designed to provide guidance, but be adaptable as a general use guide, as well as for use at individual facilities. You may choose to adapt STMA’s BMP Manual for your own facility and possibly include parts for your employee manual. STMA’s BMP Manual will also help sports field managers educate a variety of stakeholders. These include decision-makers such as athletic directors, facility managers, municipal managers, regulatory agencies, recreation committees, parent organizations, and the interested public. This will educate them on what athletic field managers do; why they do it; and how their management affects playability, sustainability, and the environment.
The manual consists of 137 pages plus appendices and is divided into 10 sections: 1. Introduction, 2. Planning, Design and Construction; 3. Turfgrass Establishment; 4. Cultural Practices; 5. Pesticide Management; 6. Sustainable Landscaping; 7. Synthetic Turf; 8. Maintenance Operations; 9. Emergency Preparedness; and 10. Regulatory Information. Section 4. Cultural Practices covers 51 pages and is broken down into: mowing; nutrient management; irrigation; cultivation and surface management; and integrated pest management (IPM). Each section ends with a discussion of best management practices for each topic. This is a very comprehensive publication and covers every aspect of athletic field management except for the management of people.
With STMA being a national organization, the manual has information on both warm and cool season grasses. When tailoring this for regional, or facility use, it could be adapted for your specific grasses and practices. Much of this guidance is relevant nationwide. This starts with growing the thickest, strongest, healthiest turfgrass you can grow and the practices that allow a field manager to do this. That is what section four is all about. Successfully incorporating these BMPs requires an experienced, educated sports field manager, and the dedication to see them through.
Turfgrass fields are dependent on an adequate supply of water to perform well. Water is the medium that carries nutrients from the soil to the plant, provides some of the raw materials for photosynthesis and cools the plant through transpiration. There is an emphasis placed on water conservation and protecting water quality. Being good stewards of water will be an area of emphasis for all turf managers moving forward. Climate change will add uncertainty to the availability of water to be used for turfgrass. With some public opinion saying turfgrass uses too much water, it behooves us to manage it wisely. Proper irrigation scheduling, selection of water efficient turfgrass species, and cultural practices that allow better water infiltration and increased water holding capacity are highlighted in the manual. A tiered approach to water quality protection is presented, in which water quality is protected to keep problems from occurring. Water is controlled to mitigate potential problems, and water quality is monitored to ensure that fields are having a minimal effect on the environment.
The use of assessment tools is highlighted to allow field managers to know where they stand, monitor the effects of their management, and assess how things may be improved. From simple tools like soil tests to more advanced methods such as the Playing Conditions Index (PCI) developed by STMA, data collection, documentation and analysis is emphasized to give the field manager a picture of current conditions and outcomes. To use these tools: records must be kept; observations must be recorded; field use should be documented; and pictures should be taken. As Dr. Wayne Wells told me many times “The best tool many turf managers have is their eyes.” The data generated will provide a basis for assessment of needs and justification for resources to counteract the degradation that field use causes. Many fields today are experiencing more use than ever before, so documenting the effects of this increased use is a key to justifying increased maintenance. Having numbers and pictures that stakeholders can understand may be influential in getting those groups on board to help you make your case with those who control your budget.
ATA members will appreciate that an integrated pest management (IPM) approach is also emphasized. Again, growing the thickest, strongest, healthiest turfgrass is the best defense against pests. The first line of defense in an IPM approach is to limit the amount of stress on our turfgrass. To do this, impediments like soil compaction, poor drainage, and nutrient deficiencies must be addressed. With this line of thinking we are proactive and not reactive. For example, using an aerifier to relieve soil compaction will help our turfgrass out compete goosegrass. Or perhaps by improving the drainage of an area, it will be less prone to pythium in the spring. Of course, there will be times when chemical application must be made to combat a disease flare up or a pest like armyworms that can cause severe damage if not acted upon quickly. Chemicals are one of the many tools we have to provide safe, playable and beautiful athletic fields.
To summarize, “Best Management Practices for the Sports Field Manager: A Professional Guide for Environmental Sports Field Management” is a very useful and timely document that every ATA sports field manager should have. The manual can be used like a textbook and guide to provide BMPs for many aspects of athletic field management. It can be used as a template to write a BMP manual, or it can be adapted to be a guide for a specific facility or be the basis of an employee manual. It can be downloaded for free at https://www.stma.org/knowledge_center/bmps/ . While you are there you should consider joining STMA, many ATA members belong to both organizations.READ THE ISSUE