The word turf has people automatically thinking about fake grass. But did you know that the opposite is actually true? Turfgrass is a science that’s taught on the university level. There are so many varying factors that play into turfgrass: weather, traffic, soil, insects, and more. Each blade of grass is living and breathing! Kind of crazy when you think of it like that isn’t it?
When I started on the grounds crew of the Carolina Panthers, I didn’t know anything about football. I had been preparing game fields for years on the private high school level… inspecting and ensuring every square inch of the field was playable and safe for the players. On game days, the Panthers grounds crew would stand on the field in the end zones and raise and lower the field goal net. I remember being so nervous because I had no clue when to start pulling that net up or not. Heck, I didn’t even know what a first down was. Needless to say, after five years on the crew, I know a little bit more about football now!
Every line, logo, hashmark, and sideline was precisely measured, marked, and painted in preparation for the game. I think turfgrass managers should actually hold the title of the meteorologist as well. Our job is 100% dependent on the weather. Is it going to rain? What are the humidity levels? Are they calling for gusts of the wind? All of this plays into our job of properly preparing a field. Once we’ve planned around the weather, then we have to negotiate with the grass… maybe I’m the crazy person over here, but I’m known for conversations with the ground!
The super bowl is still on my bucket list of fields to prep. The preparation for a game of that level can start months ahead of time, depending on the field’s schedule. If there’s a lot of wear in some areas, the need for thick-cut sod would be priority. Cleats dig and tear into the ground to gain traction to propel the player forward during the game. If there’s no traction, the player could slip and risk serious injury.
Painting is really an art. So much of my creativity was expressed through painting logos, numbers, and walking a perfectly straight line without a string line to guide me. “Straight as a snake!” we would always joke whenever someone’s line wasn’t very straight! Painting takes immense accuracy and lots of practice. Free-handing the entire end zone was a coveted job and you had to work your way up from holding the hose of the machine to being dubbed a masterful artist with your own hose-holder.
There is something so satisfying about painting an entire field, surround by thousands of empty seats, knowing millions of eyes would be looking at your masterful work and even criticizing it without ever stepping foot on it. Aesthetics aren’t everything (safety is!) but it is certainly a high priority.
While we sit back and watch the big game today, take a moment to think about the men and women who worked their butts off to prepare the field! The sport would not be where it is today without the management, expertise, and skillsets of the grounds crew behind it. If turfgrass science interests you as a career, look into it. Maybe it’s not the science that your high school guidance counselor urges you to explore, but it has some seriously satisfying and rewarding benefits. If you like to be outdoors and work with your hands, consider the art of Sports Field Management. With more than 10 years in the industry, I can 100% say there is so much more to learn and explore! No two days are the same.