NEWS RELEASE   December 07, 2022

Turf is the 'stage' for world sporting events, year-round, there's not much downtime to be had

Crestmead, Queensland (7 December, 2022) — When you're the turf manager for one of New Zealand's most famous rugby and cricket fields and preparing to host FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer matches in 2023, with other public events in between, there's not much downtime to be had.

Luckily turf legend Karl Johnson has been working in the industry for 35 years and takes it all in his stride. These days there are no real breaks between sporting seasons, he says, and customers – the Clubs, players and fans – are more invested in the state of the pitch and its influence on the game.

"There's a real science to what we do and over the years we've seen customers develop higher expectations – they want to know how fast the field drains, how hard the turf is," Karl said.

Karl is the Manager of Seddon Park Cricket Ground and, 500 metres away, FMG Stadium Waikato, home of the Chiefs Super Rugby team in Hamilton on the North Island. Both grounds have a rich tradition, with Seddon Park dating back to 1914 and the original Waikato Stadium built in 1925.

"Leading up to each match, our team will mow the pitch every day, remove the clippings, complete aeration depending on the weather, monitor moisture levels for irrigation management, apply liquid fertiliser, apply dew control product, add any logos and sideline advertising, prepare for any scheduled training sessions and complete the line markings," Karl said.

"The bonus is that the hybrid turf systems that we have now can withstand a lot more events than they used to."

In fact, Karl said the biggest advancement in turf has been the hybrid technology.

"FMG Waikato Stadium is a turf system called Desso Hybrid, with 5% artificial fibres and 95% ryegrass. The fibres are stitched 180mm into our 300mm sand profile and are 20mm above the surface.

"Of all the codes, rugby union with its two 800kg-plus groups of athletes pushing against each other in a scrum applies massive pressure to any surface, but the hybrid turf's ability to absorb that pressure is amazing," he said.

Karl sees turf as a 'stage' for great sporting events, and relishes his front-row position.

"One of the things that's driven me is the great people that you get to meet and hang out with in this industry. I get paid to be involved in sport, work outside and see special events, so I consider myself pretty lucky," he said.

The grounds host numerous festivals and concerts throughout the year as well as other sporting events, such as the Kiwi Bowl Gridiron and Crusty Demons freestyle motocross show. And with the advent of television and live streaming, there's always someone watching.

"There's a lot of pressure, a lot of televised events, meaning we live and work in a fishbowl. If we have an Indian test match or one day cricket, there can be millions of viewers watching what we do," Karl said.

"We're very fortunate to have a passionate 'family', a team of people who come to work because they want to, and that these are pretty special venues."

In 2014, Karl's skills in turf maintenance saw him invited to the UAE for 12 months to build The Sevens Stadium in Dubai, a series of purpose-built fields designed to host the global rugby sevens competition as well as Gaelic football, Australian Rules football, netball, basketball, cricket, tennis, track and field and concerts.

Building seven rugby pitches and six cricket pitches on a desert site was a whole new challenge.

"We used local sand for the outfields but clay was brought in from Pakistan, which was logistically challenging," Karl recalled.

"We planted couch grass and irrigated it with recycled water pumped in from Dubai, a 45-minute drive away. Everything, including the irrigation system, was dug and laid by hand by around 50 labourers.

"Only three of them spoke English so the language barrier was challenging, but we made the most of the opportunity. The climate was different too – the day we left it was 53oC in Dubai and we arrived to -2 in New Zealand!"

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