Imagine if views of the turfgrass you maintain were broadcast to millions of viewers and had to be picture perfect—while also absorbing the impact of cleats and tackles from the famed Kansas City Chiefs football team. Did we forget to mention it’s also December in Missouri? And the field was just used for a sold-out concert and now requires a total transformation?
As Head Groundskeeper of GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Travis Hogan knows these challenges are just another’s day work. Yet last week he graciously let Turf magazine staff and a large group from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) trod on the same hallowed ground as Patrick Mahomes.
Hogan and his staff are responsible for the 87,000 square foot field at Arrowhead Stadium as well as all practice fields. Each are planted in NorthBridge Bermudagrass from Sod Solutions. Hogan’s primary reasons for this choice, which has been used since 2013, include:
- It has high dormant traffic tolerance. Approximately four to five games of the Chiefs season are generally played on dormant grass.
- It is cold tolerant. Games are played in November , December, and January.
It’s not only cold that affects the grass quality. Hogan said temperature swings from -8˚F to 108˚ F can hit within a five to six month span. Fighting shade is another major issue.
A Heated Field
But Hogan and his crew aren’t alone in the fight. A three-year project to install a $2.2 million heating system under the field was completed in the Spring of 2016. Thousands of feet of pipe were installed underneath the playing surface which snake back and forth from sideline to sideline at a depth of 9″ below the sand. Four-inch pipes run to the field from boilers that sit under the bleachers. Like a thermostat, the temperature of the field can be set as desired, though it may take several days to reach the optimum level.
The heat helps keep the soil at the temperature required to grow grass or keep the soil soft. As a warm-season grass, Bermudagrass likes a soil temperature of above 70˚. Since the field is overseeded with Rye as the season progresses, the temperature is turned down a bit.
Besides the heating below the turf, tarps and grow lights are used by Hogan and his crew to heat the surface air. Yet despite their best efforts, they can still find unpleasant surprises when the tarp is lifted due to the unpredictability of weather. Hogan expressed his frustration in the seasonality of the process. In other words, if something works one spring, you have to wait another year before knowing if it will work the next spring. And even when using the same methods, different years can produce different results.
A visit to Hogan’s workshop revealed some of the other tools in his tool box. John Deere Gators, Stihl trimmers, Greenworks blowers, Bad Boy and Toro mowers, as well as other Toro equipment were all in view. But frankly, it was Hogan’s dog who stole the show!
Luckily, despite the challenges, Hogan has years of experience to rely on. He has been Heads Groundskeeper at Arrowhead since 2016. A graduate of Rutgers University in NJ, he was a full time employee for the Chiefs as far back as 2000, but left for Pebble Beach Golf Links in CA. He returned to the Chiefs in 2010.