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Going green
Gwinnett company puts first natural grass floor in Ga. Dome

LILBURN - Gwinnett County-based Precision Turf emerged from Wednesday's international soccer match at the Georgia Dome as the big winner. And it didn't even play in the game that saw Mexico defeat Venezuela 4-0.

The company did, however, provide the natural grass surface that was a first for the Georgia Dome.

"That was the first grass event in the Dome's 17-year history," said Ashley Boatman, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Dome of Wednesday's soccer match. "And overall, we've received nothing but positive feedback. Precision Turf was great to work with and the event was a huge success."

The company is no stranger to big projects - it put in the field at Gwinnett Stadium for the Gwinnett Braves and has also done athletic fields at Georgia Tech and the University of South Carolina - but their work at the Georgia Dome was unique. After all, grass doesn't usually grow indoors.

More than 50,000 people attended Wednesday's match at the Dome, and a similar crowd should be on hand in late July when AC Milan, one of the top soccer clubs in the world, visits the Dome for a match that will also be played on grass from Precision Turf.

"It's huge to our company because to be able to work in the Dome is a huge win from a marketing standpoint," Precision Turf co-owner Jonathan Holland said. "The sky now is the limit."

Because of practice schedules, Precision Turf had a tight time frame in which to install the field. It began putting in the grass five days before the match, so it took long nights for the company's 15 employees (and some extra helpers) to lay the 84,000 square feet of sod on the Dome's floor.

To put that gigantic number in context, it's about two acres total, or about eight times the amount a normal home would require, Holland said.

He also said 25 people were responsible for unloading and laying the pieces of sod, Tifway 419 Bermuda grass, which measured 3.5-feet wide by 50-feet. Each sod piece was one-and-three-quarter-inches thick. For anyone who's worked with sod before, the thickness means it's heavy.

"We've been working some long nights because it was our first time going indoors," Holland said.

So, what does it take to have indoor grass?

Normally, Holland said, the company would have begun growing the grass three months prior to the event. For the Dome, though, the process began in South Georgia five weeks ago. To make up for the shortened timeframe, Precision had to cheat a little. Lucky for them, there is no random drug testing conducted on the playing surface.

"We added more micronutrients since it was being laid in the Dome and because there is no rooting," Holland said. "Those micronutrients and the fertility program we used sort of makes the grass like it's on steroids. It's not the type of stuff a homeowner would use. ... There is a true science to it."

The science is so exact there's even a college major for it. Holland studied turf grass management at Clemson University.

It's not easy maintaining indoor grass when there is little sunlight. It required plenty of hands-on work.

"Lots of hand watering and mowing," Holland said. "There is no in-ground irrigation system at the Dome so we had to watch how much water we applied to the grass because there is no drainage."

The match went off with no problems on the playing surface. Holland said the worst-case scenario would have been the sod sheering.

"Everyone was super happy with it," Holland said. "Everyone signed off."

After the match, Precision Turf began the process of removing the sod. Holland said it would be disposed of and hauled away; it's hard to reuse.

As for the cost of the one-time-only field of play, neither Precision Turf or the Georgia Dome would comment. But one metro area sod company said for 10,080 square feet of Bermuda sod delivered, the cost would be just less than $2,200. Multiply that by eight and you're looking at nearly $18,000 worth of grass.

Precision Turf will be back in the Dome again laying the natural grass for the World Football Challenge, which takes place July 22 and will pit AC Milan against Club America.

Holland said Precision Turf is ready for its next challenge.

"They (Mexico and Venezuela) had 19 hours of play on the grass in practice before the game even started," he said. "We learned how to make things happen in a quick period of time."