The Packers ground crew Monday completed installation of a new surface at Clarke Hinkle Field, allowing fans to watch their team practice more frequently and players to practice on a more comfortable surface during training camp.
"It was totally rebuilt from top to bottom," field manager Allen Johnson said. "The organization wanted to improve the drainage and create a softer field."
The old soil could not hold water sufficiently and took a long time to drain, causing the surface to become muddy, slick and unsafe for the players.
The new root zone composed of sand and a few organic materials will eliminate those drainage problems and create a softer playing field.
"The big difference is the moisture-holding capacity," Johnson said.
Last year's soil was made with a high concentration of clay. After a rainy day in training camp, the clay would retain water and create a soggy field, forcing the Packers to practice inside the Don Huston Center, which does not have room for observers. As a result, fans would be unable to see practice on those days.
The new soil will not only stay dry and allow for more outdoor practices, but also will serve as a softer player surface. Last year, Clarke Hinkle's surface started wearing thin under the hot August sun.
"When the sun beats down on that clay, it gets hard like a rock," Johnson said. "Clay gets like cement."
The players' cleats did not penetrate that hard clay well, and the pounding took a toll on their feet and joints.
Although a sand-based root zone reduces flooding and creates a softer playing surface, it has less stability.
To alleviate that problem, the grounds crew has worked with Desso DLW Sports Systems to install the artificial stitching. They used 40 million individual strands of a combined polyethylene and polypropylene materials eight inches below the surface with one inch exposed on the top.
Tents surrounding stitching machines, which put in nearly 90,000 kilometers of yarn, protected the spools of yarn from becoming entangled by wind or weather.
Although the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles use the synthetic surface and sand-based soil in their stadiums, the Packers will become the first NFL team to use it on a practice field. European soccer fields also have used the technology.
Because the sand requires more maintenance than last year's clay-based soil, the grounds crew treats it with water and fertilizer around the clock.
In addition to the field improvements, the Packers paid for a new sidewalk around the Don Hutson Center and upgraded an asphalt surface on the side of the field where the media observe the team. Reporters will stand more comfortably on the rubberized surface.
As a result, players, fans and media alike should have a more enjoyable training camp experience this summer.