Sports Turf Maintenance Categories

With such a wide range of maintenance variables which can be practiced to achieve a desirable playing surface, it can seem an almost endless task in trying to categorise these variables in a way that captures the general outcomes and returns from inputs: The following is one approach:

  • Baseline Maintenance,
  • Core Maintenance,
  • Augmented Maintenance,
  • Supplementary Maintenance.
Football Pitch

Football Pitch

Baseline MaintenanceĀ 

This category is what is needed to maintain a playing surface that is no longer in use but which is likely to come back into play some time in the foreseeable future. Normally a surface has been taken out of use due to political, social or economic reasons. In essence it is being temporarily mothballed. This situation could readily arise in many local authority situations, although typically, in practice, maintenance would drop below the baseline maintenance level: The opportunity is certainly available for many local authorities to keep mothballed sports surfaces in a suitable condition ready for when conditions, especially economic ones, improve.

Minimal maintenance will be required, but it will be able to be brought back to a usable level (which I call a core level of maintenance) following some form of routine renovation work, within a relatively short period of time, possibly 1 to 3 months, depending upon the time of year.

Mowing at a higher than usual height of cut will be the main activity, with the increased height of cut reducing stress on the grass and encouraging deeper rooting but will result in a more open sward which can be liable to weed invasion, so a balance will need to be made as to the most appropriate height of cut. Occasional, infrequent aeration would also be needed as the area would no doubt still typically be subject to foot traffic causing compaction. Other occasional work would also be required, depending upon the sport and surface type.

The ground will not have been left to become overgrown and in need of a major overhaul and major reinstatement as this would be categorised as below the baseline maintenance level.

Core Maintenance

This is the maintenance needed to achieve satisfactory playing conditions for the level of use expected, and not exceeding the carrying capacity of the surface. It will cover maintenance needed in all of the performance quality standard levels.

All maintenance activities would be carried out at a suitable frequency (and to a level of good craftmanship) to maintain a surface within its desirable parameters. A range of material inputs will also be needed depending upon usage and standard desired.

There will typically be an expected gradual reduction in surface and playing quality as the playing season progresses. Presentational qualities will not be a high priority at the core level, although a general standard of tidiness and visual appearance will be produced.

Core maintenance activities will provide optimum returns for inputs made.

Maintenance Categories

Maintenance Categories

Augmented Maintenance

Additional physical-mechanical and material inputs and fine-tuning will be undertaken, and these will primarily only significantly improve surfaces where a better understanding of the management of turfgrass surfaces is applied. Increased efforts without applied understanding will not necessarily improve the desired outcome.

There will be a reducing return for the inputs made at the augmented level, but surface and presentational quality will, however, be significantly noticeable. Another aim of augmented maintenance is to achieve maximal carry capacity of a surface on a consistent basis throughout a playing season.

The use of augmented maintenance will typically be due to meeting the needs and expectations of users and countering the effects of usage from play.

Supplementary Maintenance

It was difficult to choose a term for this level as I also see this as what I have called elsewhere “over-engineering”, so there can actually be a fine line between my two terms.

This type of maintenance will be an extra added activity, often going outside of optimum conditions for grass growth, but which is primarily and extensively focused on meeting specific presentational expectations. Examples for a football pitch, especially where it is based on a sand profile – reinforced turf surface, would be:

  • intensive divoting of football or rugby pitches following a game,
  • cleaning a surface following a game (typically with rotary mowers set high to remove surface grass debris),
  • additional nutritional inputs, possibly more spoon feeding on a regular basis,
  • more frequent irrigation where sand dominant profile constructions, and/or
  • additional mowing, including at lower than optimum heights of cut may also be practiced.

There will be minimal and very small marginal additional returns in quality made for the additional, often very high, inputs, when compared with the high end of the augmented maintenance, yet visual differences will still be clearly noticeable.

Reflecting on the maintenance categories and the returns on inputs may better help to manage surfaces sustainably. Reducing, or minimising, material resources is an important factor in any sustainability plan, although this is often overlooked by the desire to have the ‘best surface possible’. What this latter term really means in practice is debatable, and the focus should really be on effectiveness and efficiency of resource use, combined with quality and sustainability. The ability to stand back and take a more systematic and holistic approach to turf management can result in significant benefits.

Chris Gray, 8th August 2019