newly sodded sports field

Celebration® Bermudagrass: The Key Player in Hillsborough County’s Massive Field Renovation Project

In Spring 2019, Hillsborough County launched a significant upgrade of over 250 sports fields with Celebration® Bermudagrass, aiming to standardize field quality and ensure equitable, resilient and low-maintenance turf suitable for the local sports and climate. This strategic collaboration between the county and several contracted companies to do the work marked a watershed commitment to West Florida sports.

For the past three decades, over 50 sports leagues have managed their field maintenance in Hillsborough County, with the county providing only essential irrigation, fertilizer, and fire ant prevention. Parks and Athletics Services Manager Greg Brown explained that this, unfortunately, meant an abundance of “haves and have-nots.” Some leagues had nice fields, but most had poor grass quality and playing conditions.

Greg Brown, Hillsborough County

Greg Brown

“The administration was able to leverage some funds and begin to have everyone on a level playing field no matter what you paid. The care was no longer in the hands of the league; it was with the county, and our vision was for everybody to be on an improved playing surface county-wide,” Brown said. Hillsborough wanted to eliminate the risks of kids falling on the grass, and providing a safe, flat surface for recreation was paramount.

The county started the renovation process with several large contracts, including a $9 million contract awarded to World Sports USA to source and install quality bermudagrass for these fields. The field renovations began in May 2019 under the guidance of Luis Lauretti, President and Chief Agronomist at World Sports USA.

Celebration® Bermudagrass

Lauretti partnered with Quality Turf, a local sod farm in Plant City, known for its expertise in sports cultivars and ability to provide sufficient grass for extensive acreage. This collaboration ensured a reliable supply of high-quality turfgrass tailored to the project’s needs.

Lauretti explained the original bid was for a standby bermuda variety Tifway 419, but after they were awarded the bid, they explained to the county it’d be difficult to get enough quantity grass for all the fields. “The other thing we discussed was that 419 was an old variety. Celebration is a newer variety that is more aggressive and has the ability to recover quickly on sports fields. They approved it right away.”

Lauretti said Celebration Bermudagrass, if managed correctly, with proper mowing and cultural practices on the field all year, is more pleasant for the players and coaches and is environmentally friendly.

“We chose Celebration because of the thickness and low care that it needs. It’s a consistent product we could get for these sports surfaces,” Brown said. “We have 23 synthetic fields and they have their place in extreme use situations for us and playability right after rain, but when you survey the vast majority of the public and professionals, I think it’s somewhere about 70% that want to play on real, natural grass.”

Lauretti explained most fields were just weeds or bahia grass. “For more than 20 years they allowed the leagues to manage the fields so they turned to complete chaos. They were in terrible shape.”

Upgrading County Fields

“We laid the turf for the largest leagues with the biggest needs. Those were our two discerning factors. So, the highest number of kids and the worst fields were done first,” Brown said. He explained that their care strategy involves county personnel mowing the fields twice a week. This routine allows them to monitor and manage the turf’s chemical and cultural practices, assess wear and tear and ensure quality control regarding league usage and general maintenance.

Aside from a few fields they sprigged, World Sports USA scaled and leveled the fields and installed big rolls of Celebration. “We learned a lot in those years. We started with football and soccer, which were easy to level but when we got into the baseball fields, the clay was a problem and that wasn’t in our contract. So when we learned we had to remove a lot of clay or supply others with clay, the county was able to add to our contract so that we could also take care of those fields.”

After work began in May 2019, they had a hectic year followed by an even busier 2020 when parks and recreation events were canceled or paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lauretti and his team worked daily with two crews of about 5-8 people, one crew per park through 2021 without stopping. They didn’t have much work in 2022, and last year, they won a new bid to continue working on the county parks for five more years, now for maintenance and sod repair or clay work instead of full field renovations like before.

“The important part for us is we were given very little time between some of these baseball and soccer leagues that play almost year-round. They stop during the wet season and at Christmas so those were the two times we were able to resod and World Sports pulled off some Herculean efforts to do some of that during the wet season and not great conditions. The sod always came in good and always high quality. Rolled sod was always great because it was able to be played on quicker and it was wonderful, they did a great job,” Brown added.

Hillsborough County has the largest sports field system in the state. Of the 260 sports fields, they’ve converted and improved over 200. Some were grow-backs, and some were resodded entirely. Brown explained that of the 50 leagues, there are only a few for which the county doesn’t provide part or all of the grass care for the fields.

“We’re quite happy with the Celebration, and so are the leagues. Everybody likes it. It recovers quickly. It takes a lot of wear and tear, and it is one of the lower grasses to maintain, and it’s very, very vigorous,” Brown said.


A neat part of World Sports USA taking on this gigantic field renovation project is that Lauretti moved to Hillsborough County in 2004 from Brazil and his children played soccer on these fields. He commented that he was always surprised at the condition of the fields and was glad the budget allowed the county to make these renovations. Seeing the company is based there, Lauretti said his colleagues had a sense of pride working on these renovations for their community, too. “Some of my employees played baseball here when they were young, and they’re proud now that they did all this work to provide a better surface for the kids and leagues to play. We’ve never had a problem with the leagues (during the renovation), and they were always so pleased.”

The biggest challenges and concerns they faced were whether the wet season would delay the fall start for some leagues. But, Brown said the contract worked out well to maintain seamless communication and expectations, allowing them to strategically plan their work out and continue without it without stopping.

World Sports USA’s latest contract with Hillsborough County has been piggybacked in other counties in other cities in Florida to renovate fields based on the same things outlined in their contracts. World Sports now has contracts with Alachua Park for two soccer fields. Based on this contract and other procurements, they do things yearly for Manatee County. “This contract has enabled us to reach other places, such as Plant City, Manatee County and Alachua County. It’s allowed us to expand the installation of natural fields in Florida.”

Lauretti’s advice to others considering similar projects is to put everything into the bid precisely as you want the project to run and that will yield the most accurate results if you know what needs to be done from the start.

newly sodded sports field

Electric mowers after mowing a new Celebration® Bermudagrass sports field in Hillsborough County, FL.

Lauretti said he’s speechless about his team’s hard work because everyone knows how hot Florida is when most of the work is done in the summer. “I’m very proud of everyone who participated in this contract, and they are proud too. Everybody did their best effort every time we were there. We had many issues, from rain, materials and equipment but in the end, we could always provide a very good product.”

A separate part of the renovation was installing computer-controlled lights at all sites and updating irrigation systems at every field due to old pipes and irrigation heads. Hillsborough County is one of the first sports field systems using SoilScout, a 20-year wireless soil monitoring sensor that works with their irrigation clocks. “That’s been amazing to use and see. This gives us feedback every 55 minutes,” Brown said. He explained the system shares what fertilization needs a field might have and it will also alert leagues if a specific field is too wet to play on or needs to be checked before play to avoid damage.

As Brown reflects on the project of transforming these fields saying, “One of the benefits is that everybody no matter how much you pay or what area of the county you’re in, are all on the same playing surface. They all get the same experience and the same pleasure and safety of playing on an improved bermudagrass surface. That was our intention all along.”

If you want to transform your field or home lawn with Celebration Bermudagrass, click here.

This article was written by Cecilia Johnson.

Celebration® Bermudagrass installation at Shimberg Sports Complex in Hillsborough County, FL.

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