Monitoring and assessing a turf grass surface can often be seen as a chore, however, used properly the data from monitoring and assessments can provide valuable, objective information to help improve decision making in the best use of, often very limited, resources.
Whilst there are a large number of potential performance data which can be collected and assessed, a sensible approach is to consider what specific data might provide the most value for the type of turf surface you have.
If you have a five star surface at the very top level of professional play then I think it is reasonable to assume that you would want to undertake a high level of monitoring and assessment – meaning high quantities and high intensity. If you had a surface which might be called one star and was used by general amateur players then a selected number of data points will be more suitable for what is required in making the most from your resources.
I’m only going to look at a couple of examples of what would be useful as an initial starting point, but even with a very limited number of data points you can actually be provided with extremely valuable and helpful information. An important message from this is the technical ability to be able to interpret the data which is collected. The use of an intelligent turf management model can be used to help support all levels of knowledge and understanding within the industry, from amateur to professional, but that’s another story and blog article, although I’ve already covered elements of this before and will expand on this in future articles.
For now though and for example, without taking cores to measure root depth (as well as root abundance) the ability to judge the effectiveness of a number of maintenance activities will be limited. Cores will also be used to easily measure the depth of any thatch layer as well.
The photograph below shows a soil core from a typical heavy soil which is found on many general football or rugby pitches. The core is pretty solid, but how much root is there and what is the thatch depth like?
Aeration, Mowing and Watering are three key activities on which a large amount of effort can be applied, but if you found you were wasting 50% of your time, from an effectiveness perspective, then you would be able reassign some of that time to more useful and productive work. Taking cores helps provide information on such effectiveness.
Aeration: You want the soil profile to be neither too dry nor too wet for effective aeration activities to take place. Under the wrong conditions, or those that are less than optimum, then you can waste time and effort, reduce carrying capacity due to smearing of tine penetration and smearing on the surface, increase compaction, reduce the potential for good root development, reduce grip available for players, and more. Where the soil is too dry then tines will not, or have difficulty to, penetrate the soil profile, readily damage tines, and possibly create a disturbed and damaged surface as the surface effectively splinters. Taking a core will demonstrate the potential effectiveness of an aeration programme.
Mowing: The most visual and frequent activity on most or all natural sports turf surfaces. The rule of thumb is to remove no kore than 33%-40% of vegetation per cut, otherwise the grass is ‘shocked’ and food reserves (which are mainly stored in the roots) are depleted to compensate for the stress caused by incorrect mowing practices. The depleted roots will take time to recover. Regular poor mowing practices will result in shallow rooted turf which is more easily kicked out and provides less grip (i.e. traction) for players, all of which reduces their playing experience. Too short a mowing height for the grass species will also significantly stress the grass plant and the consequences are a significant reduction in root growth.
Watering: This is another major activity where shallow watering encourages surface rooting in grasses, as well as encouraging the establishment of undesirable annual meadow grass. Watering to depth and then letting the soil profile to gradually dry downwards will encourage a deeper rooting turf. This will make the surf more wear resistant, drought resistance, and will also allow for more games to be played.
The taking of cores on a regular basis can significantly help to inform on how effective the maintenance activities have been. By regular monitoring, a trend can be built-up and positive action taking to amend or tweak maintenance work accordingly so as to continually improve and make best use of available resources.
Another good set of data to monitor and assess regularly is that of ground cover, which is a good measure of the speed of wear on a turf grass surface and this provides an indicator of overuse of a surface. The photograph below shows an example of a ground cover grid (a quadrat) showing 100% ground cover. A simple rule can also be used to quickly measure the grass height at the same time.
Ground cover can be used as a form of basic monitoring which can allow for pitch rotation, pitch rest through match rearrangement, or unfortunately pitch cancellations in advance to help preserve (or sustain) pitch quality.
Failure to manage usage and wear will often result in a heavily worn surface much too early in the playing season. The consequence of this is an extended period of poor playing experience and dissatisfied customers (i.e. players, managers, spectators, and parents) for the remainder of the season. The short term pain of managing pitches to provide a gradual and natural deterioration in ground cover, is much better than a mismanaged pitch which ignores unsuitable playing conditions early in the season and which through inappropriate games being played will suddenly result in a sorry state of affairs for the bulk of a season. This will then also result in additional pitch cancellations due to muddy, poorly drained, worn and unplayable surface conditions.
Being able to get the most from your pitch, whilst retaining an acceptable level of surface quality for as long as possible is the aim of monitoring and assessment; but use data which can be easily collected and you find of practical use, especially to start with and build-up from there. It can be done without too much effort, so there is really no excuse, and you never know you might just enjoy it and start to become a data junkie!
Chris Gray, 27th June 2018