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Sports Turf Company to Complete $4-Million-Dollar Natural Grass Installation

Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork announced August 2015 that there will be installation of natural grass on the Hollingsworth Field and one of the practice fields.

He said on OleMissSports.com: “That means that Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will return to a natural grass playing surface for the 2016 season. Natural Grass, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Hollingsworth Field, for the 2016 season. So that does have a ripple effect. That means we will have to close the stadium for the 2016 spring and summer. We will not be able to host a public Regions Bank Grove Bowl. We will not be able to host inside of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium because of the turf replacement. We think it is the right thing to do for our program on many levels. Natural grass is the preferred playing surface of our players and coaches. In the SEC West, we and Arkansas are the only ones with artificial turf, so we think this is the right move. We are on our last leg with that turf. We would either replace artificial turf for next season or make the switch to natural grass. It really is a wash for artificial turf to natural grass. The playability and durability of natural grass in this climate, we should be able to grow some great grass. We have a great crew and have confidence, so we think this is the right approach.”

Now that summer has well and truly begun in Oxford, the Sports Turf Company has been installing natural grass in the Hollingsworth Field and one of the practice fields.

Sports Turf has an extensive resume of natural grass installation, listing athletic facilities such as Atlanta Falcons training facility, Mississippi State baseball field and the National Infantry Museum.

Megan Roberts, who works with Sports Turf Company, said the grass is Tifway 419 Bermuda which is the same grass that Auburn University uses at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“Vaught-Hemingways Stadium will be ready in another two weeks. The sod just needs to root and knit together. June 2nd was when the sod installation on the field began,” said Roberts.

She added that one of the practice fields will have natural grass and the installation will be complete by July 8. The other practice field will have synthetic turf.

Roberts said this process began with a lot of planning.

“You have to consider proper disposal of the synthetic turf and the cost associated with it,” she said in an email. “The drainage for synthetic and natural surfaces are very
different, therefore we had to remove the stone layer and remove the existing drainage to install new drainage for the natural grass field. On this particular field we had to excavate deeper to make room for all the layers associated with the natural grass field. We also had to install an irrigation system in for the natural grass. Now that the sod is installed it will now undergo a growing period, which means it will root and knit together.”

This process takes five months and costs nearly four million dollars, according to Roberts.

A Sports Turf trailer is seen at the practice field next to the Pavilion at Ole Miss.
A Sports Turf trailer is seen at the practice field next to the Pavilion at Ole Miss.

Ole Miss Athletics selected Sports Turf Company through a competitive bid process. Roberts said, “The University of Mississippi evaluated the bids on the bidder’s qualifications in the industry, skill level, previous references and price. Once these stipulations were evaluated we were selected.”

The pros of converting the Hollingsworth Field back to natural grass is the temperature difference between natural and synthetic surfaces.

“Synthetic surfaces on average are 35-40 degrees hotter than a natural grass surface,” Roberts said.

She added that the natural grass has better Gmax rating that measures the surface hardness, saying that natural grass fields are softer for landings and collisions.

Roberts noted that the synthetic turf allowed for increased playability and could handle high traffic and needs less maintenance than natural grass. “There is also increased maintenance that will have to be implemented to maintain the natural grass field at a high level. Natural grass surfaces require a higher level of maintenance,” she said.

With the installation of natural grass, Ole Miss will be joining the majority of SEC in playing on natural turf: Alabama Crimson Tide, LSU Tigers, Auburn Tigers, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Mississippi State Bulldogs, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers and Texas Aggies.

Correction: The grass is from South Dallas Sod farm and not from NG Turf.

Callie Daniels Bryant is the senior managing editor at HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at callie.daniels@hottytoddy.com.

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