College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture

Clemson Ag Service Lab promotes game-winning turf for athletic programs


Soil tests are conducted on McWhorter Stadium to get the turf ready for softball season.
Soil samples from the McWhorter Stadium field are analyzed in the Clemson Ag Service Lab to help get the turf ready for softball season.
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The reports generated from these tests show what nutrients need to be applied to the soil so that the turf can remain healthy throughout the season.

Shannon Alford, Clemson University Agricultural Service Lab director

It’s spring and sports talk turns to baseball, softball and golf. But before a bat cracks or a club swings, Clemson University Agricultural Service Laboratory staff help prepare the fields and courses for play.

Walker Golf Course
Soil samples from the Walker Golf Course are analyzed each January.

Shannon Alford, lab director, said soil samples for all campus athletic fields and golf courses are analyzed each January. Clemson Athletic Grounds and Fields staff use this information to maintain these surfaces. Bermudagrass is grown on all Clemson University sports fields.

“We conduct standard soil tests to determine mineral and pH levels,” Alford said. “The reports generated from these tests show what nutrients need to be applied to the soil so that the turf can remain healthy throughout the season.”

Soil tests can be used as a management tool to help in decisions related to fertilizer and limestone applications for commercially grown crops, home gardens, fruit trees, ornamentals, lawns, as well as athletic fields and fairways.

Each soil test provides a scientific basis for maintaining optimum soil fertility levels and proper soil pH values. Soil testing also protects against environmental hazards resulting from excessive fertilizer applications.

The bermudagrass turf on the field in Doug Kingsmore Stadium is overseeded with ryegrass to protect the turfgrass against harsh winter weather, as well as allow for better appearance and play.
Bermudagrass turf on the Doug Kingsmore Stadium field is overseeded with ryegrass in October to protect against harsh winter weather, as well as allow for better appearance and play in the spring.

Crop codes are used for recommendations based on what is determined from each soil test. Separate codes are provided for athletic fields and crops.

“These codes have developed over time,” Alford said. “We are able to give specific recommendations based on what is being grown.”

K.C. Bell, Clemson University director of grounds, said soil tests are necessary so that his team will “know where to start for spring.” One part of the soil test that gets special attention is the pH level, or level of acid, in the soil. The ideal pH level is 7.

“We need to know if the pH is correct or if we need to add lime,” Bell said. “If the pH level is off, people can put whatever they want to on their plants, but the plants still won’t grow.”

Bell and his team start preparing the baseball and softball fields each October when they overseed with ryegrass. Bermudagrass is a warm-season grass that goes dormant and turns brown after the first frost. Dormant bermudagrass does not provide an aesthetically pleasing playing surface.

Ryegrass provides a cover for bermudagrass to prevent damage from harsh winter weather. Overseeded bermudagrass allows for a better appearance and play, as well as better turfgrass quality. Appearance is important.

“Television is an important part of the sports industry,” said Lambert “Bert” McCarty, Clemson professor emeritus of turfgrass science and management. “Images viewers see on the field or course and on their television screens require the turf to be aesthetically pleasing.”

McCarty and Grady Miller at North Carolina State in Raleigh have written a playbook for managing sports fields. Best Management Practices for Carolina Sports Fields contains research-based information and serves as a reference guide for sports field managers, students and regulatory agencies worldwide.

In addition to sports fields, the Clemson Agricultural Service Laboratory also conducts soil testing for lawns, crops, ponds and more. Information about how to collect soil samples, submit soil samples and understand soil test reports is available in the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) Soil Testing Fact Sheet 1652.

Once clients receive reports from their soil tests, they can call the staff at the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center, (888) 656-9988, or their local Cooperative Extension Service county office for consultation.

Other tests provided from the Clemson Agricultural Service Laboratory include tests for feed and forages, plant tissue, irrigation water, animal waste and compost.

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