Powderhouse Polo Field has served as the location for the grand finale of the Aiken Triple Crown for quite a few years now.
But the 30-acre field hosts other events in addition to the Pacers & Polo match, and one man keeps the field looking its best between matches.
Since 2004, Pat Nicholson has been responsible for caring for the field, which is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide. He estimates he spends about 35 hours a week maintaining the field when the grass is growing actively, including mowing, weeding, fertilizing and irrigation.
“It varies throughout the year. It all depends on the growth rate of the grass and the tournament schedule,” he said of the maintenance routine. “In the spring, the grass is not growing that much, but we’re doing a lot to the fields between games.”
Between spring tournaments, which begin in April, Nicholson is usually mowing the field and filling divots with sand to get ready for the next match, he said. The “big maintenance program” starts in the summer, usually around mid-May and runs through mid-September.
“That’s when the grass is growing at the fastest rate,” he said, adding that he typically mows the lawn every day during that period.
Every field has its weeds, though, and to take care of those, Nicholson said he lays down an application called dolomite lime – about a ton of the mixture per acre.
Mowing and irrigating the grass are the most time-consuming tasks, Nicholson said. It takes almost a week to get a full round of irrigation across the field.
With preparation work depending on the growth of grass – which depends on the weather – Nicholson said there’s not else much to be done to prepare for Saturday’s Pacers & Polo.
“That event happens so early in the year, there’s very little we can do. The grass is not growing,” he said.
The grass growth has been further stunted by the recent blast of cold weather on the heels of a mild winter, Nicholson said.
Keeping the grass short and maintained is important not only from an aesthetic perspective, but a safety one as well.
If the field gets too dry, it becomes hard, and that puts more stress on the horse’s legs and joints in addition to making the ground slick, Nicholson said. “The hoof can’t get down into that soil. He’ll just slide across the top,” he said.
There is a difference between “slick” and “slippery,” Nicholson said.
“‘Slippery’ is when the horse’s hoof is going down into the mud,” he said. “‘Slick’ is like ice. It’s slipping right across the top of the surface. Neither one of those is good.”
During halftime of the match on Saturday, many other volunteers move into action.
“There will be a lot of divot stomping at halftime,” Nicholson said. “The kids have a lot of fun running around.” Divot stomping is a time-honored tradition in which attendees are invited onto the field to stomp down torn-up turf.
Pacers & Polo is scheduled for Saturday at the Powderhouse Polo Field on Powderhouse Road. The gates will open at 10:30 a.m.