The Super Bowl venue and Augusta National share the same genius turf technology

January 31, 2020

It’s a sports tradition unlike any other, a sparkling showcase of athletic skill, staged on meticulously tended grounds.

The Masters? Nah.

But more on that in a minute.

We’re referring here to the Super Bowl, which is being held this year on a playing field that would make the most finicky of golf superintendents proud.

Underpinning the gridiron at Hard Rock Stadium, in Miami Gardens, Fla., where the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs will clash in Sunday’s big game, is a newly installed SubAir system, the same technology used at scores of top-flight golf courses around the world, including Augusta National, home of the Masters, and Winged Foot, site of the 2020 U.S. Open.

A rendering of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, host of this year's Super Bowl.
A rendering of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, host of this year's Super Bowl.

Designed to promote overall turf health, SubAir systems are composed of a labyrinth of pipes and pumps that function in a push-me, pull-you fashion, sucking excess moisture out of subsoil and pouring fresh oxygen in. The improvements on drainage and aeration help create a healthy environment for grass while keeping playing surfaces dry.

Golf fans tend to hear about SubAir every April, when commentators gush about the Eden-like conditions at Augusta, where the greens remain slick and firm even in ark-building weather.

They’ll likely get another earful on SubAir in June, when the U.S. Open comes to Winged Foot, in New York. In preparation for the event, the 36-hole club had a SubAir system installed at its West Course in early 2018.

Though SubAir Systems, the company behind the technology, declines to discuss prices, industry insiders say that the expense roughs out to $25,000 for a single green, with economies of scale applying; the more greens you equip with SubAir, the less each one costs.

Aside from measuring forward progress in yards, golf and football don’t have a lot in common. But in both sports, the requirements for healthy turf are pretty much the same.

“Obviously, you have different mow heights, and different playability that you’re after,” says Brad Dennis, SubAir’s vice president of finance and project management. “What we do is give the superintendent or the groundskeeper the tools to keep the grass healthy and get it set up exactly as they want.”

Installed last summer, the system at Hard Rock Stadium is the first ever at a Super Bowl venue. It features 1.5 miles of drainage pipe, connected to a computerized control panel inside the stadium. That network of pipes pumps air in at roughly 60 miles per hour and can remove more than 18,000 gallons of water per minute — a drainage rate that Dennis says is 36-times faster than standard drainage systems.

A diagram showing the SubAir system underneath the turf at Hard Rock Stadium.
A diagram showing the SubAir system underneath the turf at Hard Rock Stadium.

Unlike a golf course, where each green gets its own SubAir system, Hard Rock Stadium has a single, sprawling system. But Dennis says that when you do the math (using an average green size of 5,000 square feet), the amount of turf the system serves is about the same.

So is the purpose: helping keep grass in tip-top shape so athletes can do their thing.

“With this system in there, you should never get any puddling, even in a downpour,” Dennis says. “We can take water out as fast as God can throw it down.”

The forecast for Miami Gardens calls for rain on Saturday night, with a 10 percent change of precipitation on Sunday. But expect Patrick Mahomes to find good footing in Florida this weekend, just as Patrick Reed will in Georgia this spring.

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