Published on
November 9, 2023 at 5:00:00 AM PST November 9, 2023 at 5:00:00 AM PSTth, November 9, 2023 at 5:00:00 AM PST

Tips From The Pros

Ross Kurcab is a Certified Sports Field Manager (CSFM) and a professional sports field consultant with 30 years’ experience
as a head turf manager in professional football. He graduated from Colorado State University’s Turfgrass Management program
and now operates and owns Championship Sports Turf Systems.


After the fall sports season has passed, or really at the end of any sports season, it’s a good time to evaluate and make any needed improvements on the surrounds of your playing fields and in facility operational plans in general. These are too often the neglected areas, as we rightly focus our limited resources on the actual field of play. But good management compels us to also consider the out-of-bounds areas and the guests areas when maximizing safety at our facilities.

The out of bounds areas on many sports fields is where I see many safety issues, in my experience. First, take a look at any game equipment used on the fields. This includes things like soccer goals, goal posts, blocking sleds, foul poles, ball field fencing, team benches, any netting, batting cages and other associated BP equipment, dugout railings and any other equipment used by the games or practices on your fields.

Maintenance on these types of items is pretty straight forward, the owner’s manual will stand as your guideline. It’s not a good idea to fabricate anything on these types of game and practice equipment pieces for improvement or repair. You might create new safety hazards without knowing it. If you ever want to change the piece of equipment, get approval in writing from the manufacturer. For example, always check with your manufacturer before drilling new bolt-holes in your goal post sets to better stabilize them. If you don’t check first, you might void a warranty or even create a new safety hazard. A properly applied coat of new paint on your goals or foul poles every off-season is an inexpensive way to prolong life and really elevate the appearance of the fields you deliver.

You’ll want to make any repairs to any cracks or others areas showing signs of fatigue before you paint. Keep your goal nets in good shape. Wash them in the off-season and order new ones as needed. There should be no sharp or protruding edges on the goals. Check your inventory of back-up parts on all your game equipment. You don’t want to lack the right bolt, net clip or something like that, which will prevent an in-game repair and delay games. A good zip-tie kit is a good idea to have on hand for quick, temporary repairs on goal and facility netting. Check any concrete anchors that may be used to anchor goals, fences or poles and make any necessary repairs. Concrete anchors should not be above grad and should be appropriately padded if players could be exposed to them. Like all equipment, your game equipment management will go smother and be less expensive in the long haul if you maintain as-you-go during the season with regular inspection and immediate repair of all your game field equipment.

Players need adequate room out of bounds to safely slow their speed in certain situations. Most of the sport governing bodies have some sort of standards or guidelines on minimum distances from the field of play to any hard, fixed objects or surfaces, usually near their field specs and maps sections of the rule book. ASTM has some papers and guidelines available, specific to the different sports, not leagues or associations. The off-season is a good time to do regular check-ups on your out of bounds areas. Find the right guideline and now is a good time to make any needed changes and make sure you have your out of bounds areas safely configured with adequate space.

Inspect any and all fencing you may have at the facility and around your playing fields. Again, the manufacturer is your source for proper maintenance and repair. Make sure there are no gaps or tears in the fencing. Check all bolts and anchoring. Check any concrete footers or foundations. If tension wires are used, are they in good repair? Do you have adequate post padding and top-rail protection where needed?

Larger ballparks and stadiums typically use some type of wall-padding system. Just like in municipal fields, this is where we see some issues, in my opinion. Going cheap really isn’t a good idea and you’ll want adequate thickness and densities to protect the players that may crash into the wall at high speed. Same with football goal posts. These need to be in good shape and of adequate thickness and density to protect players. Beware cheap padding alternatives. They don’t do the job and typically wear out and need replacement much faster. Inspect any seating or guest areas you may have at your fields. Stands need to be in good repair without any loose fasters or sharp edges. Your manufacturer is the source for all proper maintenance on any grandstands or other guest seating areas.

The off-season is a good time to evaluate the cleanliness of your facility. Do you have an adequate number and placement of trash receptacles? Do you have a good rubbish removal and guest area cleaning plan during large and/or long duration events?

Do you have adequate signage around your field explaining any applicable rules and regulations about facility use. How about ambulance entrance ways, ingress and egress plans? The off season is a good time to get the first responders out to take a look at the set-up of your fields and facilities. Have your police and fire departments out and maybe do some practice on how you will get their equipment around your facility to where they need to be, in case of emergencies. My experience is that these first responders are more than willing to come out and advance plan. Do the same with the ambulance service that you may use for games or practices. Do you have a severe weather alert system in place to advise guests, players and working staff of possible severe weather threats?

Another good plan to review in the off-season is your system to keep guests protected and away from any hazards that may be caused by ground repair or other repair operations that may arise during the season.

These are just a few of the types of things that should be reviewed during your off-seasons, when any needed changes can be implemented with the smallest disruption to the facilities operation. It’s not the glamorous side of the job, but good efforts on these fronts in the off-season can go a long way in making the games and practices safer and more enjoyable for everyone involved. It’s also a good way to keep the facility business humming along during the season.


November is a time in the colder northern climates that can be rough on turfgrasses in some years. By now, many have shut down and blown out the irrigation systems in order to prevent freeze breaks in the pipes when ground frost sets in this winter. Yet in some years and in some regions, the climate doesn’t follow trends and a warm dry spell occurs. Meanwhile, the cool season grasses may still be fairly or even very green on top and still transpiring water. The result can be a grass in drought stress going into the winter. If the winter is also dry, it can bring a lot of stress on to the grass and really set things back for next year.

A regular problem out west and less so in the wetter climates of the east, it’s a tough problem to deal with when it hits. Here’s a couple of strategies I’ve used that can help.

Note: Do not irrigate turfgrass on frozen soil. It will not be absorbed well, will run off and tend to puddle then freeze, and you might risk ice encasement damage to the turfgrass.

Delay winterization of your irrigation system. Too many turf managers will schedule this work by the calendar, not the weather. Unless you have an irrigation perfectly sloped to drain, you will most likely need a large air compressor to blow the water out of the pipes. As there is typically little other use in the operation for such a large capacity compressor, most managers will out-source the work or rent a large compressor. There can be a run on rental units in October/November and so it’s “get it while you can”. I always found people in the area are too eager to get this done. Don’t procrastinate, right? Well, sometime procrastinating works well. I use the time to irrigate deeply over time to build good deep soil moisture in the turf stand. This can usually be done in one big shot, especially in our heavier textured soils typical out west. Rather, you need a week or two of irrigating above evapotranspiration (ET) rates without runoff to set the moisture deep.

Freeze breaks in buried irrigation pipes rarely happens in early winter. The bigger risk is any above ground pipes, perhaps in above ground back-flow prevention valves. The ground will usually give you a few weeks at least of protection after the first frost of the year. Above ground pipes can be easily insulated against shorter duration light frosts, in most cases, by simply wrapping a couple of layers of insulation material around the pipes and finishing off with a good waterproof plastic sheeting to keep dry. Take notice that this arrangement is only a measure against lighter, shorter duration frosts and not a substitute for proper irrigation system winterization.

The next risk is usually in the valve boxes that may be set to grade with a flat lid. The valves in this arrangement are often less prone to freeze damage than truly above ground components, but it is still worth the effort to install plastic-wrapped insulation in your valve boxes when practical. I’ve even run some plumber’s heat tape and an extension cord out to the valves to delay winterization.

By correctly insulating the air-exposed components of your irrigation system, you can extend your irrigation season up to a few weeks. This is a good time to get that deep soil moisture so crucial in dry winters. Then, after the large capacity air-compressor rental rush is over, you’ll be ready to winterize properly. Most rental stores will take reservations and I suggest you get this on your schedule as soon as you know it’s getting close to time to winterize. If you outsource, make sure you set the date, not the contractor. If you get early on their busy schedule, you only increase your chances of getting caught with your soil moisture levels down.

A few notes of caution. I suggest you do this type of irrigation (Late fall) during the daytime, which is opposite what we try to do for efficiency in the warmer months. This way, you can turn off main gate valves before you leave at night, reducing (but not eliminating) any flooding impacts from a possible pipe freeze in the landscape or on the field. Also, you can better avoid icing any paths or walkways because of warmer daytime temperatures. It may not be practical to irrigate only daytimes, but whenever you do this late fall irrigation, you’ll want to monitor the operation, especially for any walkway icing. With higher risks, you can’t just set it and forget it like you can during the warmer irrigation months.

When you do blow out the system, avoid this mistake. You will have to run many zones for several minutes, often in several cycles, to get all the water out. If you don’t, water will tend to settle on low spots in the lines and could gather enough to be prone for pipe damage when the ground freezes. But it’s important, especially on gear-driven rotor heads so common on sports fields, to not run any one cycle too long. Pneumatic (air) pressure is different than hydraulic (water) pressure. Once you get most of the water out, you’ll notice how fast the rotors are turning compared to their normal turn rate during normal irrigation cycles. This can overheat and burn out some of the gears in my experience, and should be avoided by using more short runs while blowing air.

Later this winter, I’ll address some of the strategies you can use to combat late winter turfgrass drought. As the most interesting man in the world says “Stay thirsty, my friends”.


Different kinds of mites can damage turfgrasses, usually with the damage first noticed in late winter or early spring. Winter drought stressed turf, in the warm and sunny areas mites prefer, can add up to more than just nuisance damage. The University of Nebraska has a good piece on mites in turfgrass.

UNL also put out a good Turf Info bulletin last winter about winter irrigation of turfgrasses.

The STMA and its SAFE Foundation have produced a short video about the basics of facility and equipment safety,


“In life, as in football, you won’t go far unless you know where the goal posts are.” – Arnold H. Glasow