Crews lay new sod inside Lambeau Field earlier this year
With all the new amenities, it won't be the thing you notice when the Packers face the Cleveland Browns in preseason action, August 26, their first game in a remodeled Lambeau Field, but even the stadium turf got an overhaul this offseason.
In a recently completed project that unfolded over two weeks, all 87,000 square feet of Lambeau Field sod was removed, the sand and soil base re-graded and a new canopy of turf added, making it the most significant facelift of the playing surface since 1999.
That was the year the Packers decided midseason to abandon their experiment with SportsGrass, a natural and artificial grass hybrid, and return to Kentucky bluegrass. With less than two weeks to complete that project, the result was an improved turf but an imperfect grade. Consequently, there were portions of the field surface that pooled with water after heavy rainfall.
Thus, while not necessarily planned, this year's reconstruction was a welcomed opportunity to return the grade to a more perfect slope.
"Sometimes the turf survives the winter, other times it doesn't, and this year it didn't survive," said Packers fields supervisor Allen Johnson. "By the time spring rolled around there was nothing left, so it had to be replaced. Most people wouldn't be able to tell, but the field had some low spots, so we were happy to have a chance to re-grade it."
As before, the Packers will play on Kentucky bluegrass, albeit a specialized hybrid. If you're looking to plant Packers grass in your backyard you need a bluegrass that's 40 percent Princeton 105, 30 percent midnight, 20 percent aelphi and 10 percent touchtone, but good luck finding that at the corner store.
Lambeau Field's latest sod was shipped from Tuckahoe Turf Farms in Hammonton, N.J., a 30-year-old family-run business that harvests grasses on more than 700 acres of land. The Packers aren't the only NFL team to shop there, in fact the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers are also clients this year.
"This type of bluegrass is supposed to be aggressive in nature which means that it repairs itself more quickly," Johnson said. "It's also more dense. Some non-aggressive varieties tend to produce a thinner turf, which is something we want to stay away from."
While missing some days due to inclement weather, it took approximately two days to remove the old sod, two more to till and re-grade the surface and four days to lay down the new sod. And there's more work to be done in the future.
To picture what's ahead you have to remember that the field is comprised of layers. At the base is a drainage blanket and about four inches of gravel. Heating pipe is on top of that, and on top of the pipe is about 10 inches of USGA (United States Golf Association) grade sand, known for its combination of stability and drainage.
Above that is a layer of soil that's approximately six inches deep at the middle of the field, thinning out to as low as three inches at the edges. And atop that, finally, is the sod itself.
Normally after new sod has been installed, a standard aeration would occur in which four-inch plugs are removed from the field. This time however, aeration will consist of drilling down through the sod, through the soil and into the sand base with a machine that then backfills the empty column with sand to assist in drainage.
After that process is complete, the field will be "top-dressed" with a layer of sand, which as it settles and the grass grows through should breakdown some of the thatch and reduce devoting. At least, that's the theory.
"We'll see how all this works," Johnson said. "These aren't really new tricks, just things that we haven't tried here.
"Some teams are wary of top-dressing the field because they worry that it won't be grown out by the beginning of the season. But we got an early enough start on everything that there shouldn't be a problem."
If everything goes as planned, you won't even think about field conditions come football season. Which is exactly the way the Packers want it.