Staff's Dedication Leads to Top Football Field Award

Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium is named football Field of the Year for 2023 by the Sports Field Management Association

Field Hockey Surface Earns Award

The installation of the blue artificial turf at Williams Stadium, home to Duke's Field Hockey program, was recently honored by the Synthetic Turf Council.

All told, the Sports Field Management Association honored 11 high school, college and professional playing fields for baseball, soccer and football. The fields were rated on their quality, and the procedures, efficiency and problem-solving abilities of the teams managing them.

“The thing about Duke, which I tell people a lot, is that we’re great in medical and educational areas, but no matter what we do, we have standards and we want to be excellent,” said Christie, who joined Duke’s Landscape Services team in 2013. “There’s excellence across the board in every department. We all want to be the best here.”

Christie and Landscape Services Sports Turf Manager Cooper Boyce are part of the team of around seven staff members who mow, fertilize, level and aerate the bermudagrass at Brooks Field.

Since it was installed in 2015, the playing surface of Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium has stayed healthy and durable due to the work of Duke Facilities Management Landscape Services team. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.

For the Landscape Services team, the honor was nearly a decade in the making.

Not long after Christie arrived at Duke, the university renovated Wallace Wade Stadium, the home to Duke’s football program. As part of the work, the track surrounding the field was removed and an entirely new playing surface was built roughly 7 feet lower than the previous one.

Project leaders at Duke embraced the latest ideas in field design.

A sophisticated drainage system – the field sits on four inches of gravel and 12 inches of sand – allowed the playing surface to be truly flat, instead of being slightly crowned like fields elsewhere. Duke was also one of the earliest adopters of a newly developed type of bermudagrass, a hearty variety that can stay green well after late October, when other grasses begin to turn yellow.

“We like the idea of being a research institution,” Christie said. “We, collectively, aren’t afraid to try new things. We want to be on the cutting edge of technology with new grass types. I think part of being the best means you have to get out of your comfort zone and try to evolve a little bit.”

Ian Christie, left, and Cooper Boyce, right, lead the team that cares for Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Photo by Travis Stanley.

Since Brooks Field – named after Duke alumnus Steve Brooks and his wife, Eileen – debuted in 2015, Christie and his predecessor, Scott Thompson, now Duke Facilities Management’s Landscape Services Director, constantly searched for the best methods to keep the grass lush and durable.

They experimented with different approaches for nourishing the grass with nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and nitrogen. They adopted the method of using vertical mower blades to cut the grass sideways to promote lateral growth and loosen the soil. And they figured out when to work on the field and when to leave it alone so the grass can recover and grow strong.

“This is a perfect year to win because I do believe we’ve figured some things out,” Christie said.

The Blue Devils football schedule in 2023 started with three home games in a span of 12 days. The first one, a nationally televised night game against Clemson, ended with fans storming the field to celebrate a thrilling victory. The second game, a home victory against Lafayette, was played in a rainstorm.

Later in the season, the Blue Devils played host to Notre Dame in a prime-time matchup that drew 5.5 million viewers on ESPN.

With a strong Duke team and several high-profile home games, plenty of eyes were on Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium during the 2023 season. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.

For Cooper Boyce, who joined Landscape Services in 2022 and became Sports Turf Manager in 2023, seeing Brooks Field hold up to the heavy use and spotlight moments was a thrill.

“This year was extra special, we were more visible than past years,” Boyce said. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Since the end of the season, not much has been done to Brooks Field, which still features faded blue and white paint from the season finale. The grass is emerging from its winter dormant period and, between now and May’s commencement ceremonies, the best course of action is to let the grass continue revitalizing itself.

When summer comes, the mowing and fertilization will resume and the Landscape Services team will turn the expanse of Bermuda grass into a championship-level playing surface.

Just like when he was in high school, Christie will again be part of a team mowing, feeding and experimenting with a playing field they expect to be second to none.

“That was always a great feeling,” Christie said. “And I get to create that feeling for the players and fans that come here.”

WATCH: Hear what the 2023 Football Field of the Year Award means to Duke's Ian Christie and Cooper Boyce in the short video below.

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