In the midst of a 25 percent water reduction mandate for the state of California, creativity is key to the success of the field at StubHub Center, home of Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy.
Since California Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent mandate of a state-wide 25 percent reduction in water use, golf courses in California have been stripping their turf. Sports fields don’t have that option. So how can natural turf sports field managers save every drop of water they can while also maintaining a safe, playable field?
Shaun Ilten, director of turf and grounds at the LA Galaxy’s StubHub Center and Sports Turf Managers Association member, has risen to that exact challenge.
“I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen it rain in the past three years, which is kind of scary,” Ilten says.
Because the natural grass playing field can’t take the hit, Ilten says he and his team must strategically find areas throughout the 125-acre facility that can go without water to make sure they hit that 25 percent.
“We’ll go out and find areas that are less seen by the public and we turn the water off in those areas, and when it becomes an eye sore, we’ll turn the water on, but then we’ll turn it right back off,” he says.
Deciding on the specific areas isn’t just a job for the grounds crew, StubHub Center’s assistant general manager, Kyle Waters, and general manager, Katie Pandolfo, are also included.
“It’s definitely a combined effort by all of us to find an area where we can do without the water and still make the place look good,” Ilten says.
With water restriction crackdown in California within the last six months, and heading into the future, putting in precision nozzles at the stadium was a wise decision.
That’s one solution Ilten has implemented. Others include using recycled water and switching the bedding areas from top, overhead sprays to a drip system. But sometimes those solutions may also be seen as problems.
“All of the junk that’s in recycled water — the high sodium, high nitrates, high bicarbs — makes it really challenging to keep the grass alive,” Ilten says. “I’m not getting that acid rainfall to flush that stuff out.”
Pleasing the players
Ilten, a born and bred “SoCal” boy who became the director of turf and grounds at age 27, maintains the main stadium field, which is Bandera bermudagrass overseeded with perennial ryegrass, as well as nine practice fields. Two of the practice fields are Bandera bermuda, and the rest are all bermuda-based overseeded with perennial ryegrass.
Not only is it a challenge to adhere to the government-mandated regulation, there is also the daunting task of pleasing the LA Galaxy team, namely David Beckham and Steven Gerrard.
“Even before [Beckham] our standards were pretty high, but he came in and everything got a little bit more magnified,” Ilten says. “I would just pick his brain because he’s played on some of the best fields in the world.”
Having access to a player who’s played on surfaces all around the world is an asset. It may be frustrating sometimes for players in the summer, a time when the field has to be resodded and played on two days later.
“Having someone [Beckham] with that understanding was awesome,” Ilten says. “He never once complained about it to me.”
The grass is(n’t) always greener
Although it seems groundskeepers in California may have it rough, Ilten still thinks optimistically.
“In one way we’re lucky that it doesn’t rain because then I can do the preparation the day of the game,” he says. “Others around the country have to look at the weather and check if it is going to rain on game day, but I’m luck enough where we can do it on a game day and be just fine.”
Photo courtesy of the STMA.