Once a month, the 49ers head groundskeeper, Matt Greiner, checks on the Levi’s Stadium grass. The catch: He drives to a sod farm in Merced County to do so.
The 49ers have pre-purchased enough grass there and at another site near Palm Desert for eight new football fields. And with Taylor Swift, Manchester United, the Pacific-12 Conference football championship – and, yes, even the 49ers – among those scheduled to hit the field this year, they may have to use every blade that’s been reserved.
“After each large-scale event like that, we’ll do an evaluation and be prepared to rip out – whatever it is – 70-80,000 square feet of sod,” said Jim Mercurio, the vice president of stadium operations. “Whenever we decide to do it, we have mature grass that’s ready to be harvested and laid down.”
Levi’s Stadium got off to a rough start in its inaugural season last year in part because of the playing surface. A public practice in August had to be halted when large chunks of the field started breaking off and team officials decided it was a safety risk.
The 49ers determined the problem was the soil composition beneath the surface; it was too sandy and porous, and it didn’t allow the grass’s roots to take hold. A more dense composition was installed and held up well the rest of the season.
It convinced the 49ers that the stadium can handle as many as eight partial- or full-surface switch-outs this season. Crews typically re-sodded Candlestick Park two or three times a year.
August again looms as a big hurdle. Swift will be in town for back-to-back concerts – the stage and heaviest equipment are built on the south end of the field – on the 14th and 15th. The 49ers will host the Cowboys for an exhibition game on the 23rd. Then country singer Luke Bryan arrives on the 29th followed by another 49ers preseason game Sept. 3.
To ease the wear and tear on the grass, the 49ers have installed a synthetic-turf ring around the playing field. It’s 23,000 square feet and designed to handle both foot traffic and that from heavy equipment used to stage stadium events.
Mercurio said the track adheres to the stadium’s green philosophy because it means the field now needs 20 percent less water. Levi’s Stadium uses recycled or “gray” water and the type of grass used doesn’t need as much water as other strains. Newly laid sod, however, typically is watered more often than mature grass.
Asked if the 49ers have considered using an entirely artificial field, Mercurio said, “We studied it hard and made the decision to stick with grass, as least through the Super Bowl.”
The Super Bowl will be played Feb. 7. The NFL will arrive several weeks before the game to begin making preparations and the league will be in charge of laying down a new field for the game.
The 49ers host the Rams in the regular-season finale on Jan. 3. Unless they host playoff games later that month, no other games or events will be played there until the Super Bowl.