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Merced Sun

West Coast Turf: Where the grass grows greener, shorter or longer

By JONAH OWEN LAMB - jlamb@mercedsun-star.com

The Merced County headquarters of West Coast Turf, a grass company, is surrounded by more than 500 acres of emerald green lawn just off Highway 140 south of Livingston.

Bluegrass, ryegrass and Bermuda grass are just three of the varieties growing at the farm.

The nearly 20-year-old company, which has five farms across the West, grows sod for almost any need: fairways, lawns, putting greens and football fields are where some of their products end up.

While they grow all sorts of grass, their niche is sports fields and golf courses. Their grass has been stomped on by the football players in seven Super Bowl games and covers Pebble Beach and Dodger Stadium.

Alex Gopar, who manages the company's Merced operation and its 24 employees, says they grow, deliver and install grass from San Francisco to Seattle. In a good year they grow 300 acres of grass, he added.

The upkeep and growth of their grass is specific for each grass and each customer. For example, their eighth-of-an-inch, $1.15-a-square-foot putting green grass has to be mowed every day and kept so short it feels like a tightly knit sweater.

All their grasses are fumigated so weeds don't sprout. And everything is watered daily.

Customer demands are another issue. Some want washed grass, devoid of almost all soil. Others need it to be tested for nutrient content. Still others need their grass in a hurry. The company once shipped ryegrass to Seattle in refrigerated trucks so it wouldn't dry out. Some grass will start to discolor or die within a day of its harvest.

"Usually, golf course people are very demanding," said Gopar. They want a soil content of more than 70 percent sand. They receive samples of the grass before they agree to order it to make sure it's up to snuff. Sometimes they want a specific percent of the grass to be bluegrass and another part ryegrass.

West Coast Turf's customers big and small ask for sod for a variety of reasons, said Greg Dunn, the company's Northern California salesman.

Once they got an order from a fraternity house in Berkeley. The frat boys wanted sod laid down in the dining room and living room for a party. They invited the workers to the party.

Another time George Lucas's company called asking for tall, dried-out grass. West Coast Turf just happened to have some, and it was used in "The Return of the Jedi" for the Ewok planet scenes. Gopar said they once laid grass over the Astroturf at the Seahawks Stadium in Seattle for a FIFA soccer game. "We had to hand-water it for one week just to play one game," he said.

Before any customers see their grass, it must be grown.

The grass usually takes about six months to grow. When it's ready for harvest, it's cut, chopped, rolled and delivered on the same day, said Gopar. Their harvesters drive over the expanse of lawn and slice the grass from the earth like smashed dough.

The five-foot long grassy rectangles are then rolled and stacked on the back of the harvester. In an hour one machine can harvest 10,000 square feet of grass, said Gopar. For the big jobs, the company uses a special machine that cuts huge swaths of grass at one go. "We can't move it without a forklift," said Gopar of their big cuts.

Almonds aren't all that grow on the valley floor.

Fore!

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 orjlamb@mercesun-star.com.

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Merced Sun-Star - SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Merced's Yardmasters, Inc. gets turf from West Coast Turf of Livingston for UC Merced in anticipation of the first ever commmencement ceremony featuring First Lady Michelle Obama as guest speaker. The grass was installed in 43" by 100" long rolls. Nearly 2 acres, 84,000 square feet of new sod, Tuesday, April 21, 2009.

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