Bringing a Cool Season Sports Grass to “Hot-Lanta”: Georgia Tech Baseball Upgrades to HGT Bluegrass

Bringing a Cool Season Sports Grass to “Hot-Lanta”: Georgia Tech Baseball Upgrades to HGT Bluegrass

Sod University

Bringing a Cool Season Sports Grass to “Hot-Lanta”: Georgia Tech Baseball Upgrades to HGT Bluegrass

If you love the look and feel of bluegrass but live in the Mid-South, you’ll be excited to know that there is a bluegrass that endures the heat and disease common to the region. This week, we take a look at why the Director of Athletic Grounds made the unusual choice to apply HGT, a cool season grass, to Georgia Tech’s baseball field in Atlanta. 

Chris May is the Director of Athletic Grounds and Turf Maintenance at Georgia Tech. When he began mulling over the idea of applying a bluegrass to the institute’s baseball field, he didn’t share his thoughts with colleagues right away. Bluegrass on a baseball field in Atlanta, Georgia was a very out-of-the-box idea. Chris knew that it might earn him a few laughs and eye rolls.

But Chris couldn’t shake the concept. The baseball field needed to look its best from mid-February to mid-June for the season, so like many other fields in the southeast, that meant overseeding with ryegrass to ensure a green field on opening day. Chris felt there had to be a better way. The idea of a cool season grass that would survive Atlanta’s brutal summer was ideal—but it hadn’t been attempted before.

Then six years ago, the movie “Million Dollar Arm” was filmed on the field. Due to the filming schedule, the ryegrass was nurtured to last through the summer. To Chris’ surprise, it actually wasn’t very hard to accomplish. This got him thinking about his bluegrass idea. If the ryegrass could survive the heat, maybe the bluegrass concept wasn’t such a far-fetched idea after all.

Two years later, the drainage on the field became an issue. The sand-based field was accumulating an organic layer, and discussions began about renovating the field entirely. Chris decided that if he was ever going to act on the idea of applying bluegrass to the field, now was the time.

First, he had to pitch the idea. Chris knew that more than half of Major League fields were bluegrass. Why wouldn’t players want to play on college fields similar to the Major League fields they aspired to play on? He also argued that while bluegrass would likely be more expensive to maintain through the stress of summer and might require more disease prevention, it would still cost less than ryegrass seed for the year. Finally, Chris spoke to the innovative nature of Georgia Tech—this could be an opportunity to get on the cutting edge of something big. Chris is honest about his true motives though: he genuinely believed that the bluegrass was the best overall solution for Georgia Tech’s baseball field.

Chris began a period of serious research. He had binders full of information about different varieties of bluegrass and various studies. Chris was astonished by Atlanta’s similarities in climate to St. Louis, Kansas City and Washington D.C. He was more concerned about the cool season grass making it through an Atlanta summer than anything else, and the success in the three hot summer cities gave him the confidence he needed to begin looking for the right variety and farm provider.

The variety that was a clear standout during the research phases of the project was HGT™ Bluegrass. Chris reached out to Sod Solutions about the grass and ultimately made plans to have the HGT trucked. A special thanks to Turf Mountain Sod in Asheville, North Carolina, for providing Chris with his new surface.

The HGT was laid in mid August of 2018, which really isn’t the best time to sod bluegrass, especially in the southeast—so Chris admits that he was pretty nervous. During the first 60 days of grow-in, there were 45 days with sustained temperatures of over 90 degrees. Despite the brutal temperatures, the cool season grass never lost its color and thrived. When hot spots or small patches of discoloration did occasionally occur, the grass bounced back after no longer than 48 hours and regained its green color. Chris was truly astounded by HGT’s resiliency in spite of the unbelievable heat.

Baseball is all about recruiting, appearance, and playability. For Chris, HGT helped him check each of these boxes. Before the HGT application, the field was not green year-round during recruiting season. Now, recruits will be welcomed to a green field no matter what time of year they visit Georgia Tech. The thick, lush appearance of HGT on the field makes for a truly stunning scene from the stands. Though the season has not yet started, practices and a pre-season game are good indicators of HGT’s rugged playability and ability to recover after wear and tear. Both coaches and players were reportedly happy with the performance of the grass.

Chris says that being the first to introduce bluegrass to a field in the southeast had nothing to do with proving a point or doing something no one else had done before—it was about finding the best fit for the field. He anticipates that there will be no need for large-scale sodding anymore and that the field will hold up winningly through its first season of wear and play. There will be no more overseeding or pulling blankets during the winter months. Chris is very pleased to have a fully mature field ready for spring baseball while most others are still growing in rye.

HGT Bluegrass certainly was a departure from the traditional warm season bermuda application to SEC/ACC fields, but Chris’s innovative thinking and dedication to research paid off in the end.

If you live in the regions shown in the map below and are interested in buying HGT sod for your own lawn, buy HGT sod online here.

To learn more about the difference between cool season and warm season grasses how they differ, and why it’s important for homeowners to understand,  click here.

If you have HGT on your lawn or you’re thinking about using it in the future, check out some of the maintenance guideline so that you can make the smartest choice for you: HGT Homeowner Maintenance Guide

Want to learn more about achieving a great lawn? Check out our other Sod University tips here.

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