Michigan High School Fields
A.R. Kowalewski, J.N. Rogers III and J.R.Crum
MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer. Michigan State University Extension programs and materials are open to all without re-
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
gard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, Michigan State University
family status or veteran status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. De-
partment of Agriculture. Thomas G. Coon, Director, MSU Extension, East Lansing, MI 48824. This information is for educational purposes only.
Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those not mentioned.
Printed - 03/09, $10.00, for sale only. www.turf.msu.edu
At this time it is important to correct any low spots sand profile. This option is considerably less ex-
(wet spots) in the existing slope by leveling them pensive than the first three options. It will likely
The typical Michigan high school athletic field serves as a focal point for social gatherings and adds to a
with topsoil; soil removed during drain line instal- take more than one year to get 2” of material built
lation would be perfectly appropriate or you can up, but you also have the option of adding more
sense of community pride. It is typically one of the few fields in town with lights, making it host to a variety of
plan to use the same sand root zone to fill the low than 2” if the situation calls for it in the future.
after school and work events including football, lacrosse, soccer, cheerleading, and band. Therefore, having
an aesthetically pleasing and functional high school athletic field is often important to a variety of members in areas - the idea is that these need to be leveled.
Subsequent repair to any irrigation line damage is
necessary or install a new, more efficient system The SCBUS is a natural extension and combi-
the average community. Research
well-graded, particles distributed across a range at the time. Then begins an aggressive sand- nation of two currently proven applications. First,
In order to have a significant number of events on of sizes, to maximize soil stability, and should based topdressing program during the summer the use of repeated sand topdressing in order to
a natural grass playing field and provide reason- contain approximately 90% sand. The turfgrass with a “specific high sand-based material” (ap- develop a sand-based profile has proven to be
able playing conditions throughout the fall, re- is then reestablished from seed. proximately 90% well-graded sand). successful in the golf course industry for over 30
gardless of weather, the root zone must be years. Second, sand-based athletic fields are
primarily sand based. Unfortunately, the majority It is critical to use seed rather than sod, because Sand topdressing would be coupled with your an- widely used in Michigan and proven to provide a
of Michigan’s high school athletic fields are con- sod placed over sand will create a perched water nual field renovation program (including reseed- superior playing surface in comparison to native
structed on native soil. These fields rely on sur- table, which will significantly inhibit soil infiltration. ing, cultivation, etc). The goal would be to add at soil fields.
face drainage during periods of heavy rainfall, Installing an extensive drain system with drain least 2” of topdressing as fast as possible without Research on this renovation process is currently
failing to provide adequate drainage of surplus lines running the length of the field spaced every compromising fall time playing quality. This be conducted by Alexander R. Kowalewski, PhD
water. Saturated field conditions substantially re- 8-20’ is also necessary. (New irrigation systems means that the topdressing program would begin student, to provide additional scientific justifica-
duce soil cohesion, adversely affecting traction are usually automatic additions in these new in early June and go only through early August. tion for the procedure. Funding will be sought
and stability. Reduced stability in combination fields, and are highly recommended because of Adding 1” would not be an issue to surface stabil- through sources within the state to carry out his
with heavy use in the typical fall athletic season, the reduced water holding potential of the sand- ity in this time frame. During this period it is also specific research project. If you choose to move
results in turfgrass failure, decreased overall based system.) This option also takes a field out important to regularly clean and maintain irriga- forward with a project of this nature please con-
playability and diminished visual aesthetics. of play the same amount of time. The major dif- tion heads to prevent sand from damaging the tact John N. Rogers, III or Alexander R.
ference in cost between the conventional sand- system. The topdressing stops in early August to Kowalewski for progress monitoring through up-
based field and the sand cap is due to hauling off allow settling prior to usage in the fall. dates and possible visitations.
Current solutions to this problem include com- of the extra material during excavation as well as
plete field conversion to a synthetic or sand- the total amount of material to bring the field back During the first year your field may not reach the
based turfgrass system. to grade. level of sand necessary to prevent saturated sur- Preliminary findings from research conducted in
Preliminary Research Findings
face conditions, particularly in low lying areas. 2007 show that as much as 1/3” of topdressing
Synthetic Field: The first, most expensive, op- The drain tiles will prevent standing water from can be applied in a single application without
tion is the installation of a synthetic athletic field. The fourth, least expensive, option for sand developing providing you with a system that is being detrimental to turfgrass health. However,
Sand-Cap Build-Up System [SCBUS]
Costs range ranges from $600,000 – 1,000,000. based fields is a “sand cap build-up system” better than your original conditions. The next lighter more frequent applications (½” of top-
(SCBUS), which can be done in four simple steps spring the topdressing process would begin again dressing applied over a one month) will increase
Sand Based Field: The second option is a con- steps for $45,400-91,000 [price includes irrigation to add the rest of the material, further increasing surface stability. Up to 4” of sand topdressing
ventional sand-based field with a gravel drainage system installation ($15,000), 6-20’ drain tile drainage capacity. At the end you would have a sand applied over a two year period, while not im-
layer that will cost from $400,000 - 600,000, and spacing ($60,000-14,400, respectively), and 2” well drained, stable, sand-based field at a fraction proving stability, will increase turfgrass coverage.
take your field out of play for half of the year. sand layer ($16,000)]. of the cost required for other renovation
This involves excavating 12-16” of soil and in- processes. A drain tile spacing of 13’, which will substantially
stalling drain tile, a 4” gravel layer and a 12” sand The concept behind the SCBUS is to combine the reduce installation costs ($22,400-28,000), is ad-
based root zone. It will also necessitate the es- advantages of the sand cap system (drainage The SCBUS will not only reduce the annual repair equate to provide sufficient drainage and stability
tablishment of turf either by sod or seed. and sand root zone playing surface) while provid- costs required for a native soil field, but also re- when 1” of sand topdressing ($8,000) has been
ing almost uninterrupted field availability. The duce the initial cost of field renovation. To install applied. However, 2008 results suggest that if 2”
Sand Cap Model: The third option for sand idea is to cut drains in the existing field [running the drainage and backfill a field with 6’ centers of sand topdressing ($16,000) has been accumu-
based athletic fields is the sand cap model, which lengthwise on 6 - 20’ centers depending on the (would approximately have thirty 400’ x 4” drain lated and an adequate surface slope is available
has been employed many times in Michigan surface grade and slope (see Renovation Flow lines @ $4-5/linear foot) would cost $48,000- (minimum of 1%) drain tile spacing can be in-
under the direction and guidance of Dr. John N. Chart), put drain tile in the lines, back fill with pea 60,000 installed, while a field with 13’ centers creased to distances greater than 20’. Drain tile
Rogers and MSU in the last 7 years, and can cost stone and then sand, or a coarse sand alone would cost $22,400-28,000, and 20’ centers installation at 20’ spacing would cost approxi-
from $150,000 - 300,000. This method is less ex- would cost $14,400-18,000. Then topdressing mately $14,400-18,000. It is important to note
pensive because only a small layer of topsoil (2- would begin on the field during the summer with that drain tiles are necessary to prevent standing
(See Grand Blanc installation, page 6).
5”) is removed from the field, and replaced with a each inch of material costing about $8,000 (labor water from accumulating along sidelines and
5-6” layer of specifically blended high sand-based and materials). The sand is added on a weekly other low lying areas and therefore should not be
root zone material. This sand material should be basis and the existing grass grows up through the completely excluded from the renovation process.
Sand Cap Build-Up System Renovation Flow Chart
The following flow chart is designed for making renovation decisions,
Renovation Timeline based on a variety of field conditions, prior to installation of a
Sand Cap Build-Up System
• Install Drain Lines • Repeated Sand Topdressing • Standard Athletic Season
• Repair Irrigation System Management
• Renovate Field
April - May June - July August Surface Slope ≥ 1.0% and Even Surface Grade
• Standard Annual Renovations • Repeated Sand Topdressing • Standard Athletic Season NO YES
Cope with slope < 1.0% Amend slope and / or
and / or surface undulations surface undulation Drain Spacing
April - May June - July August
Drain Spacing 6’ Drain Spacing 13-20’ 13-20’
Following drain tile installation, repeated sand topdressing Irrigation System
will produce a sand-based system capable of rapid drainage. NO YES
Intsall irrigation system at a Pipe depth < 15” Pipe depth ≥ 15”
depth ≥ 15”
Irrigation System will No repairs
Sand-based Topdressing require repairs required
12-18” Coarse Sand
2-4” Turfgrass Coverage ≥ 60%
Cost Analysis • Cut drain lines at 12” depth - Cut drain lines at 12” depth
Drain Tiles: $4-5 linear foot Total Renovation Cost: • Install 4” drain tile - Install 4” drain tile.
6’ drain spacing: $48,000-60,000 per field (football field) 6’ drain tile spacing and 6” sand layer: $96,000-108,000
• Backfilll with coarse sand or pea stone - Backfill with coarse sand or pea stone
10’ drain spacing: $28,800-36,000 per field (recommended prior to research)
• Topdress ¼”
• Repair irrigation system - Seed drain lines ¾ rate perennial rye.
13’ drain spacing: $22,400-28,000 per field
- Seed field ½ rate Kentucky bluegrass/perennial rye mix.
20’ drain spacing: $14,400-18,000 per field2 13’ drain tile spacing and 2” sand layer: $38,400-44,000
(after 2007 findings) • Seed field at full rate Kenturcky bluegrass/perennial rye mix -Topdress 4 times @ ¼”.
Topdressing Material well-graded sand: • Let turfgrass establish 1 month
• Topdress 3 times @ ¼”
1” sand layer: $ 8,000 per field 20’ drain tile spacing and 2” sand layer: $30,400-34,000 • Reseed drain lines if needed
2” sand layer: $16,000 per field (after 2008 findings)
4” sand layer: $32,000 per field
6” sand layer: $48,000 per field
Sand Cap Build-Up
In the Field
FAQ # 1: I have a field that drains actually a little easier to manipulate,
poorly, what are the current reno- simply by the nature of the method of There are several excellent sources in the area to service your athletic field needs.
vation options? application (topdressing rates can be in- They are provided below. When you call these companies, they will direct you to a specific sales person in your
creased or decreased), and therefore is area. These resource contacts are of particular importance because they are familiar with the specifications and
1) Synthetic Field – $600,000 - 1,000,000 even less of a concern. Preliminary recommendations stated in this document and/or are in regular contact with Dr. John N. Rogers, III.
2) Conventional Sand-Based Field – findings also suggest that as little as ½
$400,000 - 600,000 inch of cumulative topdressing sand will MSU Contacts
3) Sand-Capped Field - $150,000 - substantially decrease surface soil Dr. John N. Rogers III Alexander R. Kowalewski
May 2007. Cutting drain
lines, installing drain tiles,
300,000 moisture, therefore improving surface Michigan State University Michigan State University
4) Sand-Cap Build-Up Field $45,400 - stability. However, greater sand depths Crop and Soil Sciences Crop and Soil Sciences
and backfilling lines with a 160A Plant and Soil Science Building 162 Plant and Soil Science Building
sand-based root zone mate- 59,000 [price includes irrigation system will not only improve drainage, but will
East Lansing, MI 48824 East Lansing, MI 48824
rial, Grand Blanc High installation ($15,000), 13-20’ drain tile also provide a deeper, none restrictive (517)-355-0271x1136 (517)-355-0271x1137
School, Grand Blanc, Mich., spacing ($28,000-14,400, respectively), rooting media. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Water Management Inc., and 2” sand layer ($16,000)]
FAQ #5: Has this been done to Renovation Services
FAQ #2: Will this renovation process take athletic fields in Michigan? Davey Tree: Sports Turf Sports Turf Manage- Turf Services, Inc Country Club Turf Contractors Landscape
my field out of play? Auburn Hills, MI ment of Michigan LLC 17205 148th St. 4137 W. Michigan Ave. 3681 Frost Road
248-475-9155 281 Taft St. Spring Lake, Mi Jackson, MI 49202 Webberville, Mi 48892
Yes, currently two high schools (Okemos
Zeeland, MI 616-842-4975 517-750-7513 517-775-8787
No, your field is never totally out of play. and Grand Blanc) began this process in 616-886-7395 firstname.lastname@example.org
This process does not remove your ex- 2007, but this process has been going
isting turf, but rather amends it. How- on with native soil golf course putting Turf Supplies etc.
ever, it will require regular topdressing greens for the last 30 years. For this Rhino Seed and Turf Turfgrass, Inc Verdicon, Inc
for more than a year to produce a suffi- reason, the feasibility is not a question. Brighton, MI P.O. Box 667 Dave Polen, Sales Rep
cient system. It makes sense and it has been done in 800-482-3130 S. Lyon, MI 48178 586-839-8930
May 2007. Grand Blanc High 248-4371427
School athletic field after other areas of turf for many years. One 1-800-521-8873
the drain line installation FAQ #3: Who can do this renova- big plus is the specific sand based root
process, Grand Blanc, tion process? zone which will be topdressed on the Turf Equipment Suppliers
Mich., This is a job someone on staff can do, fields. This specific sand has been pro- Toro Equipment John Deere Equipment Jacobsen Equipment
Water Management Inc., acting as the general contractor and viding exceptional performance on Spartan Distributors Weingartz W. F. Miller
sub-contract out the drain installation Michigan fields for the last 10 years. Auburn Hills, MI 39050 Grand River 25125 Trans X
and irrigation repair. They can order the The advantage of this process is that in 800-822-2216 Farmington Hills Novi, MI
sand topdressing from a reliable source the end you have transformed your
(provided below). poorly drained native soil field to a sta- Sand Topdressing Sources
Finally, the act of applying the topdress- ble, well-drained sand-capped field. Osborn Industries J.W. Surge Industries Sunrise Aggregate ,LLC
ing can be done by in-house staff (with Since 2007, the Okemos school district 5850 Pardee Muskegon, MI 2100 Swan Rd.
minimal training) or contracted out. has initiated this process on two more Taylor, MI 48180 231-799-9123 Dansville, MI
fields due to the improved playing con- 313-292-4140 517-623-1000
FAQ #4: What about the drain spacing ditions of their first field. A Michigan John or Tim Warrel
and depth of root zone specifications? State University Intramural Recreational Drainage Specialists
Are we a guinea pig? field has also recently initiated this ren-
Water Management Chattaway Excavating, Inc.
ovations process, July 2008. 1596 S. College Rd. 899 S. Onondaga Rd.
August 2007. Four sand- The drain spacing of 6’ centers is about Mason, MI 48854 Mason, MI 48854
based topdressing applica-
extensive as possible and should be FAQ #6: Will any type of sand 517-628-8001 517-628-2828
tions applied to a newly
established turfgrass stand
more than adequate. A research project work with the Build Up System?
over a one month period at to investigate the optimum spacing was
¼ inch per application, started in 2007. Investigation is explor- We know that the 90/10 sand used on
ing wider spacing in an effort to provide our sand cap fields works great. We are Steve Lathrop Mr. James P. Adams II
providing a 1 inch of sand- Okemos School District Director of Operations
based root zone material, potentially lower costs to installation, currently evaluating several other sands Okemos, MI Grand Blanc Schools
research plots at the while maintaining adequate drainage. to determine their performance in a 517-344-2783 ext. 2033 810-591-6012
Hancock Turfgrass Preliminary research has shown that Build-Up System.
Research Center, East when 1 and 2 inches of topdressing has
Lansing Mich., been applied 13’ and 20’ drain spacing The bottom line is; we know one root
(respectively) will provide the same ben- zone works and that a safe route. Until
efits as 6’ spacing at a lower cost of in- we have tested the other sands, using
6 stallation. The depth of root zone is them poses a risk. 7