By Mike Jiggens
The 2014 season was a busy one for Greenhorizons Sod Farms. The Cambridge, Ont.-based company not only responded to the needs of a number of southern Ontario golf courses which were looking for bentgrass to replace their seriously winter-injured poa annual greens, but were working with the Toronto 2015 Pam-Am Games committee to supply and install turf for the Games’ natural turf venues.
After having already sodded the greens in September 2013 on the south course at Markham’s Angus Glen Golf Club in preparation for the Games, at which the best amateur golfers from the Americas will compete this July, Greenhorizons turned its attention in 2014 to two other venues which required its product.
New Kentucky bluegrass was installed at both the newly-constructed President’s Choice Pan-Am Ballpark in Ajax and at the CIBC Pan-Am/Parapan-Am Athletics Stadium at Toronto’s York University.
The ball field project included two different diamonds.
Steve Schiedel, Greenhorizons vice-president (http://www.greenhorizons.net), said the work done by his company wasn’t simply a matter of delivering and installing sod, but was rather the implementation of a “system.”
“It’s a little bit complicated,” he said. “It’s not just sod. It’s kind of a combination of products, including an establishment program and getting it to the point of playability rather than just supplying sod and installing it.”
Schiedel said it was actually establishment via a stabilizing compound—the same as what the field is made out of and adapted into the turf system.
He said the system comes with bare roots and is soil-less so that there is no interface problem.
“Then we incorporate the same growing medium that the root zone is made out of which is only required on an engineered sand root zone that is a USGA-spec, engineered sand system, such as what golf greens are made of.”
The ball diamonds were constructed in the fall of 2013 as a legacy project, built with the Pan-Am Games in mind but to serve a longer-lasting purpose for the community once the games have concluded. The construction was a partnership arrangement among the Pan-Am Games, Toronto 2015 and the Town of Ajax.
Sod at the two ball diamonds was installed last July and maintained until the end of the year.
“We provided our establishment program until the end of the year.”
The newly-sodded fields did not see any game play the entire year except for some test events. Schiedel said there are no plans to use the fields until the baseball and softball contests are set to played during the period of July 10-26.
Sod was installed at the Ajax fields on one of the hottest weekends of the summer last July. Schiedel said the project was beset with a number of delays due to uncooperative weather in both 2013 and 2014.
Originally slated to be sodded in the fall of 2013, a wet season postponed the work until the following year. Then a wet spring pushed the work back until July, “and it just kept getting delayed and delayed and delayed.”
A test event was finally scheduled for the third week in August to see how the fields would fare in actual game play at a high level. Only three weeks after the sod was installed, the Toronto Blue Jays’ farm club played on it under the watchful eyes of Games officials.
“We were a little bit scared to death as to how it was going to stand up so quick (so soon after it was installed),” Schiedel said. “But it passed. Everyone loved it, and it got rave reviews from everybody who came and played.”
Upwards of five acres of Kentucky bluegrass sod were installed at the two ball diamonds.
The sodded field at York University, site of the Games’ track and field events, was also built on an engineered sand.
“We can’t lay traditional sod on top of that, no matter what the sand content is.”
Schiedel said that’s what the Greenhorizons system is all about. The bare-rooted, soil-less sod is installed with the incoporation of the same material used to build the field into 1 1/2 inches of surface, “so there is no layering, and we get the same percolation rate, same drainage, compaction and health. It really, really works well.”
Although the stadium at York University has been around for several years, the field itself was completely rebuilt with a new track and a new field. Schiedel said he didn’t know what had been ripped out from the field. The mix for the field is also brand new.
Sod was installed in early October last year and maintained through the remainder of the year. Upon installation, the field underwent a couple of applications of Greenhorizons’ stabilizing compound, was watered, mowed, provided with nutrition and generally maintained.
The perimeter track needed to be rubberized, but the procedure didn’t begin until late in the year. The track work was done independently, but caused some concern among Greenhorizons’ officials.
Because of the late-season work to rubberize the track, a protective tent system was needed, but it overlapped the outer edges of the field by about a metre, “and that got us all scared big time because the rubberization process needed to be heated,” Schiedel said. “That got us all stressed out, and the turf got discoloured a little bit and there was a little unevenness.”
The rubberization work has yet to be completed.
Schiedel said Greenhorizons is working with the general contractor at the York University stadium. Some detail has yet to be completed, and then it’s expected Greenhorizons will work with York’s staff to ensure the field is in pristine condition in time for the Games.
A number of training sessions have already been conducted with Town of Ajax staff responsible for the ball diamonds’ ongoing maintenance.
“We have a vested interest in these fields to ensure that they will perform at peak performance, so we will be there as much as we need to be,” Schiedel said.
He said the process of working on both sites with soil-less sod is always a challenge.
“It’s extremely sensitive to water in the beginning. It needs to be hand-watered.”
Irrigation systems are designed for maintenance and not necessarily for installation, he said. The bare root installation required timely watering at multiple times per day until establishment was achieved. Once established, the fields actually use the same or less water, he added, but noted until then the fields must get enough water.
Schiedel said it is important each of the newly-sodded natural fields come off without a hitch, “that they do perform over and above everyone’s expectation.”
He said there is no obligation for Greenhorizons to remain involved from this point on, but said from an industry standpoint he wants to make sure the fields perform.
Installation of the fields for the Games was done by Greenhorizons’ specialty turf crew who work mainly on golf course projects. Golf work is typically done in either early spring or late fall which created a window of opportunity to get the Pan-Am Games work done in between.
Schiedel said 2014 was a busy year for the specialty turf crew with its post-winter golf work and Games’ projects. Those on the team worked long days throughout the season.
“It takes a unique set of skills, a very different set of skills, than our typical sod delivery and installation process.”
Specialty sod is grown in Burford, but Greenhorizons also has production facilities in Cambridge and Hamilton.
Greenhorizons will custom grow a product for golf course greens or a sports facility such as Toronto’s BMO Field if such projects are planned ahead with 18 to 24 months of time to grow the product to custom specifications. When custom grown on exactly the same sand as the intended venue, interface problems can be avoided.
“We’re really trying to compete against the perception that an artificial field is a premier facility. We believe that natural turf installed properly on an engineered sand base can perform so much better than an artificial field.”