UMass researches grass

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst's research grass tennis courts in South Deerfield. Contributed photo

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst's research grass tennis courts in South Deerfield. Contributed photo

For the Bulletin
Tuesday, July 04, 2017

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Curious about the new lawn tennis courts off River Road? They’re part of a three-year research project on grass health by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“The grasses we’re using on the research site are the same grasses you would find on your home lawn or golf courses. We’re trying to determine which hold up under intense play,” said Michelle DaCosta, associate professor at the university, one of a few educators behind the research at the Joseph Troll Turf Research and Education Center.

This particular project is funded with a $60,000 grant from the New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation. “UMass Amherst is the only institution in the nation conducting research on natural grass for lawn tennis,” said Scott Ebdon, professor of agronomy and turfgrass science at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

To that end, six pro tennis players from the Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill — who will tour Europe and play at Wimbledon this summer — played recently on the three grass tennis courts.

“We have eight different and distinct grass species that we’re evaluating. The bigger picture is which of these grasses can withstand the most foot traffic,” DaCosta said. To do that, researchers are using machines to take images and analyze color to determine deterioration and grass health.

Over the next few years, more groups will be invited to play on the courts. Then, university students and faculty will “evaluate immediately after, and for weeks after. We’re going to be doing this all summer and into fall,” DaCosta continued.

From the results, DaCosta said the school is hoping to reduce bare or slippery spots on turf sporting fields. More than just for sports, though, the research is directly applicable to other areas of agriculture.

“Grasses are important to our culture, and not just for athletics. A lot of what we study here is applicable to other crops including to cereals and grains,” DaCosta said.

In the upcoming year, researchers are seeking tennis groups or similar organizations to play on the courts and wear down the grass. For more information, contact Ebdon at sebdon@umass.edu to make arrangements for playing time.