December 2017

SportsTurf provides current, practical and technical content on issues relevant to sports turf managers, including facilities managers. Most readers are athletic field managers from the professional level through parks and recreation, universities.

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Page 26 of 51

www.spor 27 December 2017 // Paluch says, explaining his dedication to the turf. "I don't chase pussy, dude. I don't have any hobbies, habits of any sort. You got to live this [life]." He points to the banners. "This is how I get off. Watching TV and your grass is on every channel? Oh yeah." Paluch parks his truck. Before getting out, he spritzes himself with some sort of pink liquid from a Victoria's Secret bottle. "Alabama bug spray," he says, by way of explanation. "Works better than OFF or DEET, which you'd have to drink. Forty- fi ve dollars a bottle and you smell like a lady, but most the guys down here are sissies anyway. Come on." He wants to show me the grass. Actually, not grass, Paluch clarifi es, as we walk onto a patch of the stuff. "Value- enhanced athletic turf." Unlike most sports turf growers, Bent Oak grows sod only for stadiums. Paluch doesn't dabble in residential installations or even golf course grass. But what really sets his operation apart, he explains, is the manner in which he grows it: on sheets of plastic. "I'm not in the dirt business," he says. "I only grow grass on plastic." Paluch lifts the corner of a strip of sod to reveal what looks like a black tarp or thick garbage bag underneath. The grass is literally grown on plastic. "You can take one percent of the grass and roll over three hundred percent," he says, emphasizing the strength of the sod, its ability to withstand the sharp movements of 350-pound linemen. "It's bulletproof. Boom. Now look at that piece of felt right there." I have never seen anything like it. The sod itself is about two inches thick, the bottom as fl at as a piece of fl oor tile. Paluch's bulletproof sod doesn't begin life in Alabama. Bent Oak is more like its fi nishing school. First Paluch grows his grass the traditional way—in the earth—at a farm in Georgia. After the better part of a year, he harvests that grass and ships it down to Foley, where it is laid down on plastic and fattened up for another year by raking in sand—because the sod is sand- based, it is less likely to come apart in the rain; or as Paluch puts it, "There is no mud in it." The care programs are customized so that each fi eld has been treated with the same cocktail of fertilizers and fungicides being used at its stadium destination. Richard Wilt, a former groundskeeper for the Miami Dolphins and Marlins who now works at Bent Oak, explains how the plastic impacts the growing process. "Typically, grass grows down, right? The roots grow down. We don't grow down. We grow up. Once the roots hit the plastic, they turn back up, and it grows within itself." That is why the sod is so dense and heavy, he says. "The root-to- shoot ratio is twenty times more than any other grass. You can make a hammock out of it." Another advantage to growing grass on plastic, Wilt says, is that there is zero stress on the sod when they ship it to a stadium. "When we cut and roll it up, you're not hurting the grass at all. All you're doing is rolling it up. Basically moving it. Other guys that sell grass, they harvest it. They cut it off dirt, and they're cutting half the plant off." Paluch nods, because now we are hitting on the heart of his business model. "It's carpet, dude," says Paluch. "It lays like carpet, and you can play on it in the morning. When you put it down, you can play on it immediately." Because the sod is so thick and heavy, it won't slide around, he says, not even under the stress of NFL game action. Why does this matter? "Because the money is in the concerts," Paluch says with a smirk. "Not ball fi elds." He's right. Of the twenty-plus groundskeepers and turf industry insiders I interview for this chapter, each one identifi es the increasing number of event days at stadiums as a growing issue for fi eld directors, who have to maintain a surface that is both aesthetically perfect and safe to play on at all times. As Steve Wightman, the retired head groundskeeper for the San Diego Padres and Chargers, puts it, "You live and die with that fi eld. It just tears you apart when they start putting all this stuff in there, and then they expect you to have that fi eld the way it was before the event." /ST/ Full Infield Rain Tarp For price quotes, sizes, fabric specs and samples, visit • 800-445-6680 We make and print covers for all athletic surfaces: Windscreens, EnviroSafe Stadium Padding, Growth Covers Standard Spot Cover with Stakes Infield Turf Protector Roller Cover FieldSaver. ® Save your field from rain and wear, and promote your brand with the Power of Branding ® .

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