Saturday's Black and Gold Spring game will mark the end of an era inside Vanderbilt Stadium as the Commodores stage their final game on Dudley Field's natural grass surface at least for the foreseeable future.
Beginning at the first of next week, workers will start removing the natural grass to prepare the field for a new artificial playing surface that will be in place for the 2012 season opener against South Carolina.
The Dudley Field playing surface has been natural grass since the 1999 season.
Before 1999, the Commodores played on the old AstroTurf surface that was last seen inside a few domed stadiums as recently as the early 2000s. The AstroTurf surface was installed in 1970 at a cost of $250,000 and replaced natural grass.
The surface was as low maintenance as they come, but was also extremely hard and had very little give, which contributed to a higher risk for injury.
Bill Randles, Vanderbilt's Sports Turf Manager, was also involved in the removal of the astroturf in 1999, and was amazed by what he saw when the turf was taken up. "Below the AstroTurf was a 4-inch thick layer of asphalt," Randles said. "It's amazing more people didn't get hurt."
Fears of an increased threat of injury due to artificial playing surfaces have long ago dissipated since the days of AstroTurf. Today's artificial surfaces are made more like natural surfaces and offer significant more give when players make cuts. The exact type of artificial turf that will be installed will be determined in the coming weeks.
As for the current grass at Vanderbilt Stadium. It will be removed, but will not go to waste. Instead, it will be placed on Vanderbilt's recreation field No. 2.
Once the natural grass is hauled away, workers will begin removing a few inches of dirt to get to the proper subgrade elevation. After this has been established, they can start laying the artificial turf.
Photos of Vanderbilt's Playing Surface Through the Years
Dudley Field in the 1950s
Game program from Vanderbilt's homecoming game in 1983 against Memphis State.
Game program from the first game of the 1999 season when natural grass was installed.
Workers paint the Star V logo onto the field in preparation for Saturday's game.