EA office grounds now match company’s sporting reputation

The Great Lawn that sits at the heart of the EA headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., was initially designed as an aesthetic element. Today, thanks to a complete renovation project, the lawn is a highly maintained venue for sports and special events.
Photos courtesy of EA.

Most corporate offices have some outdoor amenity to help employees get outside and enjoy a little time away from their desks: a courtyard, some picnic benches, a walking path—but a soccer field? That’s what one Redwood City, Calif., company has sitting at the heart of its corporate headquarters grounds.

Prior to a complete renovation project, the Great Lawn at EA suffered from poor drainage and thin turf due to heavy use.

It seems a little less surprising when you consider that the corporate campus belongs to EA, a leading gaming company whose EA Sports line of video games includes FIFA Soccer, Madden NFL and Tiger Woods PGA Tour, among dozens of others. The space that’s used by employees for lunchtime soccer games is actually referred to by the company as its “Great Lawn,” and serves a variety of purposes beyond sports.

“It’s really a signature part of our campus,” explains Ray Montalvo, senior director of facilities and corporate services with EA Sports. “It ties in three separate buildings on our 24-acre campus, and provides access to move from building to building, but also serves as sports turf and as an outdoor venue for special events.”

The EA campus was built in 1988, and at that time the Great Lawn wasn’t envisioned to get nearly the use that it does. “It wasn’t really intended to be used the way we use it today,” says Montalvo. “It was intended mainly for aesthetic purposes, and over time it went into a state of disrepair. The soil was poor, we had well-worn dirt paths crossing the lawn, the drainage was not adequate, we had trouble with flooding [the fact that the Great Lawn sits about 2 feet below sea level didn’t help] and we had a terrible time with Canada geese.”

The EA Great Lawn gets extra attention to help it recover from special event use, such as the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, seen here.

In 2008, the Great Lawn got some much-needed attention in the form of a complete renovation. “We enhanced the drainage system and made a number of repairs to the irrigation system,” explains Montalvo. Colony Landscape (www.colonylandscape.com) installed a QwikDrain system beneath the area, which the company describes as “a vertical bypass drainage system used for sports turf fields, golf courses and any application where quality turf drainage is imperative.” While the system can be installed with minimal disruption to existing fields, because the EA Great Lawn was being totally renovated it made the installation that much easier.

As part of a 2008 renovation project, the Great Lawn was completely stripped bare and excavated to allow for installation of a QwikDrain system and other subsurface work.

“The drainage has been absolutely perfect since it was installed,” says Montalvo. “In fact, sometimes it can be a little too perfect. It drains at a little faster rate where the lines are below the surface, so you might see a little bit of a grid-type drying pattern in the grass.” The irrigation rates were boosted a bit to alleviate that concern, and fortunately the new grass that was installed following reconstruction is well-suited to handle the use of “purple water,” which is now mandated for irrigation by local ordinance.

“We replaced a general fescue-type sod with paspalum,” Montalvo explains, adding that Colony Landscape recommended the use of paspalum. “They have a lot of experience with sports turf and in designing fields for high salt content irrigation applications,” says Montalvo. “The paspalum does well with high salt content and with recycled water, and we’ve been very pleased with the results.”

Another positive effect the Great Lawn renovation had was to largely rid EA of its Canada geese problem. “Knock on wood, as of today, we have not had the geese revisit the lawn,” says Montalvo. He attributes that to two factors. “The Great Lawn was closed from November to mid-January during the renovation, and I think that was enough time for the migration of Canada geese to forget that this was their resting place. So, I think we trained them not to come, and I believe that they are not so interested in paspalum. Once or twice after the renovation we had geese show up, but they left quickly and just never came back.”

The final step in the renovation project included installation of paspalum sod, a grass chosen to provide improved performance, especially with the high salt content water required for irrigation.

Along with the renovation, there is a new commitment to caring for the lawn to ensure quality turfgrass even in the face of heavy use. “With the rebuilding of the Great Lawn, we’re taking a different approach to maintaining it. We never used to close it down for maintenance periods, but now we do,” says Montalvo. “We just closed it down for a week in the summer, which is something we never would have done in the past, but there were some repairs that we needed to make.”

Valley Crest handles the turf maintenance, with crews on-site not only for regular mowing, but also for the more involved maintenance projects required to keep the Great Lawn performing well. “They do aeration, irrigation system checks and so on,” says Montalvo.

Because of the dormancy of the paspalum, EA chooses to overseed with a ryegrass around late October. “Otherwise, it’s just too brown for us aesthetically,” explains Montalvo. “The paspalum then comes back in the early spring.” He says initially the transitions worked well, but he’s become concerned of late that the ryegrass may be starting to overtake the paspalum to a greater degree.

The roughly 2,000 employees that work at the EA headquarters campus have a great appreciation for the new and improved condition of the Great Lawn, says Montalvo. “People here take the Great Lawn very personally; they have a vested interested in it. During the renovation, it was the talk of the campus. People were really excited and wondering what it was going to be like. When it finally opened, there was so much excitement. And now, if there’s a brown area or some other little problem going on, they’ll ask me, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the Great Lawn?’”

Soccer games among employees is an almost daily activity during the summer, and even in the wetter winter months there are games about three days a week, says Montalvo. “If it’s raining, we ask them to stay off it, and they generally do, because they really want a nicely conditioned field. Because we’re a game company, we have a generally younger population here, so we also have a number of other activities taking place on the lawn, including flag football, Frisbee golf, capture the flag and group exercise classes. It’s a lot of fun to be able to use that space.”

There are also family fun days with kids’ games and community events, like an American Heart Association Heart Walk, that take place on the Great Lawn. There’s even an employee car show held on the grass, with care given to the grass during and after the event. Elsewhere on the EA grounds there are outdoor basketball and sand volleyball courts and even two playgrounds, adding further to the outdoor enjoyment the campus provides.

While some companies are looking to reduce the turfgrass coverage at office complexes to cut down on maintenance requirements and costs, the investments EA has made in its Great Lawn and the use and attention the area gets from employees shows just how much potential a well-cared-for lawn can have. “It’s quite beneficial,” concludes Montalvo. “Employees really appreciate it, and it’s an incentive for people to want to work here.”

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who is always on the lookout for interesting and unusual stories.