Dec 29, 2012

At Rose Bowl, the grass really is greener

Specialists import turf from Palm Springs, treat it with nitrogen, potassium and TLC.

The Rose Bowl turf that will be trounced by Wisconsin Badgers and the Stanford… (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer )
The Rose Bowl turf that will be trounced by Wisconsin Badgers and the Stanford…
(Tim Berger/Staff Photographer )

Tiffany Kelly - Pasadena Sun - December 29, 2012

Two to three coats of paint. Constant mowing and fertilizing. Plenty of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus.

That's the recipe for making sure the turf inside the Rose Bowl is ready for its Jan. 1 close-up.

Tournament of Roses crews have been caring for the stadium grass on a daily basis since it was imported from Palm Springs and installed four weeks ago.

Martin Rodriguez, who has worked at the stadium for 13 years, said cultivating a football field requires more than meets the eye. “People who come to the stadium don't have a clue [what] it takes to maintain this field,” he said.

The gridiron is made of overseeded Bermuda rye grass, shipped from West Coast Turf in Palm Springs, a long time Rose Bowl vendor. Rodriguez and other members of the maintenance team said the grass from West Coast Turf grows fast, holds paint well and is strong. The latter is especially important — when the Wisconsin Badgers and Stanford Cardinal play on Tuesday, the field will take a beating.

The grass must look pristine for the fans and the television cameras, said Will Schnell, the stadium's turf superintendent. But the Rose Bowl also strives to provide the best possible playing surface.

“You see some fields where the cleat goes in and shears off grass,” Schnell said. “We don’t want that for the Tournament.”

Many times, Schnell said, he has seen first-time players walk out onto the turf and ask if it's real. But obsessive care and maintenance are required to get it to that point. Nitrogen is pumped in to give the grass a bright green color. Phosphorus helps the roots grow. Potassium makes the blades rigid, making them easier to paint with the logos of the game and the teams, the yard markers and the sideline boundaries.

Unpredictable variables, including rain and growth spurts, make it easy for the field to fall into disrepair.

“It's a living plant out there, and it doesn't take hardly anything for it to go wrong,” said Schnell. “It's kind of like a high-performance race car. If you don’t stay on top of it every day, it can go down really fast.”

Schnell has a microscope that shows grass blades at 60 times their size. Once the turf for the game is laid out, he checks on the grass and make sure it doesn't have a disease. Last week, he spotted some dark blades and sent a sample to a plant pathologist in New York.

It turned out the grass had a fungus, likely the result of moisture and cool temperatures over the last few weeks. Crews treated it promptly, and expect the field to look perfect on Jan. 1.

“We're getting frost and it's 38 degrees here in the morning,” said Schnell. “But on game day, it will look like it's been 80 degrees out here. The grass will look lush and ready to go.”