World-class turf from South Georgia will be used at World Cup

When the U.S. men’s national team arrives in Qatar to start preparing for the World Cup, it will train on grass from South Georgia.

When the U.S. men’s national team plays its first game against Wales on Nov. 21, it will play on grass from South Georgia.

Though separated by more than 7,000 miles, a turf farm called Pike Creek in Adel, contracted by Atlas Turf International, is the official provider of grass for the 81 practice fields and eight stadiums in which the World Cup will revolve. The first game, Qatar vs. Ecuador, is scheduled to be played Nov. 20.

“We’re super excited about playing a small part in the World Cup,” said John Holmes, president of Atlas Turf International.

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The turf is a patented variety known as Platinum TE Paspalum. It took 267,000 bushels, or 610,000 pounds of stolons, which are the stems, flown on Qatar Airways planes from Atlanta to Doha in refrigerated bags that resemble those that contain lettuce or salads at your local supermarket. It involved tons of bags of the shredded turf over many months.

The sales process started in 2012 when a group in Qatar, Aspire Sports Turf, began researching which grass would work best in Doha. Many different strains were tested for three years on a soccer pitch in the country. Platinum TE Paspalum repeatedly graded among the highest of the strains for things including shade tolerance, wear tolerance and recovery.

In 2017, Atlas Turf International learned that it and its strain had been selected.

Platinum TE Paspalum was developed in 2007 by a professor, Ron Duncan, at Georgia. It has lineage from strains in South Africa, coastal Georgia and coastal regions in the Middle East. Dark green and shiny with some striping, it is used at Truist Park as well as hundreds of golf courses and other athletic facilities in more than 30 countries around the world. Formerly just a seller of the turf, Atlas Turf International obtained the patent to Platinum TE Paspalum from a company in Florida two years ago.

Holmes recently flew to Qatar to inspect the turf.

“They’re so ready,” he said. “Ready a year ago for the (first) match.”

Holmes said one aspect of the training pitches and stadium is that every pitch is the same size, with the same grass. He said the players will know exactly what the ball should do during games, which will be unlike every previous World Cup. Holmes also said he’s amazed how much the city has changed since being awarded the World Cup. He described it as a total facelift.

Under the pitches there are SubAir systems that control moisture and temperature. SubAir is used at many high-end golf courses, including Augusta National, to maintain greens.

Now that the turf is planted and ready, Holmes said his company needs only to sit back and enjoy the matches. He said there is a team of experts hired by a Qatar-based company on site to take care of the turf.

Holmes is a fan of soccer. He said his clubs are Atlanta United, and he’s a “quasi Arsenal fan.” He’s also following Newcastle because of former Atlanta United player Miguel Almiron.

He said the 2026 World Cup will be a different challenge, turf-wise, because of the different climates in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. He said he has been contacted by FIFA regarding 2026 but, if his firm is selected, he said he doubts it would be at the level of Qatar.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium is among the host sites for 2026. It has an artificial turf surface that will be covered or replaced by real turf that will be stimulated by growth lights. The stadium doesn’t use real turf for several reasons, including it hosts a number of events other than games for Atlanta United and the Falcons, and there are corners of the field that sunlight doesn’t consistently reach if grass was used. Holmes said growth lights will also be used in Qatar.

Holmes is considering going to Qatar to watch a match for the fan experience.

“It’s just going to be fantastic to see it on the world stage,” he said.

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

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