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Major League Turf Design Tips

By David R. Mellor, Director of Grounds, Boston Red Sox




Creating even a simple striped pattern requires driving the mower in straight lines, and that is much more difficult than it sounds. “It takes a lot of concentration,” Colorado Rockies head groundskeeper Mark Razum told the Colorado Springs Gazette. Coors Field “takes about three to four hours to mow, so for that time you really have to spend a lot of your time concentrating on keeping it straight. “Some guys focus on a point (in the distance). Some guys look down and see what their last line was and kind of go off of that. It takes practice.” Photo: webshots.com, Scheib657
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In Major League ballparks across the country, simple green grass in the outfield has become a thing of the past. Replacing boring turf are intricate patterns and designs that only a few years ago were just for special occasions such as all-star games and the World Series. These patterns have become a necessary component of the stadium experience, and in turn a necessary tool in the Landscape Superintendent’s bag of tricks.

The First Rule of Pattern Making

When creating patterns on playing fields, first make sure to avoid any damage to the grass. Next, and just as important, patterns should not affect how games are played, or create any types of hazard for players. Designs should enhance the magic and aura of the facility, without taking away from the game.

A beautiful mowing pattern can be the perfect way to express your pride and workmanship. The extra effort you put into your field by mowing a special design will be well worth it. And what better canvas to use than lush, healthy turf to create an artistic image? Whether it’s a simple, basic blueprint or a creative, complex design you can use mowing patterns to enhance the image that your landscape management program projects.

While they look intricate and complex to fans, mowing designs are not as difficult as they seem. The rollers bend the grass blades in the direction you travel. The light and dark lines are created by the light reflecting off the grass.

A light colored stripe is made by mowing away from you, a dark stripe by mowing toward you. These simple rules are the foundation, and once you have them down you can explore and learn many simple techniques to produce dazzling mowing designs.






To make designs, like the one used for the 2006 All Star game in Pittsburgh, groundskeepers typically will use a small picture with a grid of perpendicular lines over it as a guide. Then they will make a grid of similar proportions — except much larger — on the field with string. Photo: webshots.com, nbnavarro


Soil Test

Before you create any designs, you need to make sure the canvas is in the right condition. Have a soil test done to determine what your grass needs at each site to become healthier. The healthier your grass, the better your field will play and respond to patterns. Use iron (Fe++) and manganese (Mn) to fine-tune the color of the turf. Both folier and granular applications can be used.

A complete overall sports turf maintenance program with proper fertilization, aeration and irrigation helps a highly used turf to play better, keeps it safer and adds to the spectacular appearance of the turf patterns. Try to use fertilization products with potassium, as they will give turf a deep green color that helps with the contrasting of stripes. Extra potassium helps provide both heat and drought tolerance plus durability to handle any possible stress from the patterns.






Fenway’s grass has seen a new pattern before every home stand since David Mellor joined the Red Sox in 2001 as the director of grounds. For a long series of home games, he might roll in a second pattern, or tweak the original one with a few extra plaid lines here or a diamond pattern there. Aside from eye appeal, it’s healthier for the turf to alter its direction every 10 to 14 days, Mellor says. His crew can create a field pattern in as little as 45 minutes, while more intricate designs take two or three hours. Photo: webshots.com, kmcgill07


Variation

Changing mowing pattern designs often is very important in preventing potential problems associated with weak turf. While not only improving turf vigor this variation prevents possible turfgrass disease. Another benefit to changing up the designs is ensuring a truer ball bounce and roll, while preventing a grain/ripple that can form in the turf. Ripples adversely affect the playability of sports turf, making it very difficult for players to pick up balls, as they may “snake” or zigzag back and forth across the grass.

This is even more prevalent in warm season grasses but can happen on cool season grasses if you are not careful. The general rule of thumb is to never remove more than a third of the grass blade at a time. This will help keep the grass plant from the shock of being scalped should more of the blade be removed.






Mowers can only do so much when creating designs. For instance, very simple techniques such as using a push broom, a linoleum floor roller, or spraying hose water can bend grass in certain spots to enhance a design.


Patterns

Successful field patterns add an elegant touch to a well-manicured field while at the same time having no effect on the playability of the surface. Patterns are extremely useful in hiding damaged turf, while still giving you the ability to display healthy areas. A literal calling card demonstrating your crew’s attention to detail, they can serve as a high impact way to improve the image of you and your facility.

A number of patterns are created using different widths of lines. For example, a double or triple wide line can be combined with single lines or even thin walk behind lines. To give the pattern extra depth or contrast, disengage the mowing reels and go back over and reroll the lines. This allows you to establish a pattern to intensify the contrast of the light and dark green colors or add dimension to an attractive pattern.

The time it takes to crate patterns on Fenway Park’s 100,000 square feet of turf can range from 45 minutes up to three hours. More intricate patterns require extra attention to detail, therefore adding to the amount of time needed to create them.






The Red Sox logo sits in center field of Fenway Park. Mellor told the Boston Globe he finds inspiration in many things both mundane and complex. An Argyle sweater he had at home became the template for a centerfield swath, and the signature “B” in the outfield that became famous in the 2004 playoffs came straight off the team’s cap. Photo: webshots.com ixray4u


Tools

Patterns can be created with equipment ranging from reel type mowers, drag mats and sweepers to rotary mowers with rollers. Even a common roller squeegee made for water removal can be used. You can make your own roller to use in the yard by filling a PVC pipe with cement, bolts anchored in the ends, and then attach an old lawn mower handle to it. The weight of the cement in the PVC pipe will add down pressure.

After using your rotary mower you can go back to the roller, increasing the effectiveness of each walking pass over the grass and roll in a beautiful design. Be sure your rotary mower blades are kept razor sharp to ensure a clean cut. Dull blades tear and shred the grass, leaving it open for disease that can lead to brown spots.






Even something as simple as a garden hose, being used here by the Busch Stadium grounds crew to wet the infield in St. Louis, given sufficient pressure and the right nozzle can bend grass into an eye-catching design, said Mellor. Photo: webshots.com, sharonmyphotos


Designs

The ideas for designs can come from computer sketches, scribbles on a piece of scratch paper, or simply by conjuring them up in your imagination. No matter where the idea comes from, make sure to take your time as you go and have fun. The creative process can be very exciting.

Be aware that where in the park patterns are viewed from can affect how well the details are visible. Different angles, logos and numbers can be seen more clearly from above. What works on paper doesn’t always work on the turf.

Some patterns look better than others and everyone has their preferences.

Each pattern has its own challenges. Make sure to correct “banana lines” or mistakes as you go or the problem will only become more noticeable. Some complex patterns can be set up using a tape measure and line strings. Once a pattern is etched in the extra definition will almost make the grass design seem to glow.

Try as many different designs as you can think of. The more you create, the more proficient you will become. Always remember, safety first. You don’t want to cause any damage when making your works of art.






This star pattern was created for the 2003 All Star game at Comerica Park in Detroit. Not all clubs are interested in letting their groundskeepers use their outfields as a canvas, however. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the San Francisco Giants mow the grass in the outfield at AT&T Park in one direction to give the park an oldtime feel. The Chicago White Sox keep the same pattern of stripes that run from second base to center field. And Eric Hansen, the head groundskeeper for the Los Angeles Dodgers, keeps the field at Dodger Stadium striped. Photo: webshots.com, michigan353


Field Safety

Safety and playability should be the first priority of all sports turf managers. It takes serious dedication and skill to ensure each playing surface meets the highest standards every day. Once you reach this goal, it is important to continue to offer your participants and the viewing audience the best overall package you can.

There is only one opportunity to grasp the attention of your guest as they see your field when they walk to their seats. The aesthetics of a field play a vital role in making a memorable first impression. Part of a safer sports turf is a vigorous, healthy growing grass strong enough to withstand possible overuse and provide good footing, yet soft and resilient enough to prevent injuries.

David Mellor is the Director of Grounds for the Boston Red Sox and author of “Picture Perfect Mowing Techniques for Lawns, Landscapes and Sports,” published by Sleeping Bear/Ann Arbor Press.

Captions compiled from MLB.com, Colorado Springs Gazette, and the Boston Globe



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