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Celebrating Santiago Rodríguez Tobón

Ekaterina Gulina

5 min read

Apr 11

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Here at turfcoach we are committed to spotlight groundskeepers worldwide by sharing their unique experiences. In this post we are thrilled to feature an interview with Santiago Rodríguez Tobón, a certified Agronomist hailing from Colombia. Join us as we delve into Santiago's journey into groundskeeping, the challenges he faces, and his insights on the profession's development. Through this interview, we aim to highlight the invaluable role groundskeepers play in sports and the challenges they tackle. Recognising the importance of supporting groundskeepers for the success of sports organizations, turfcoach has developed AI-powered software for optimal turf management.



How did your career as a groundsman begin?


By 2016, I had already graduated as a professional agronomist and had worked with the local government (municipality of Manizales between 2016 to 2023). At that time between 2016 and 2019 a contract was signed with an agronomist specialising in turf, who was in charge of improving the drainage system of the municipal pitch (Bosque Popular El Prado) as well as the grass pitch of the Palogrande stadium, home of the professional team. The pitch had been presenting problems due nutrition issues, handling of specialised machinery, and clogging in surface areas due to deterioration in the layers or strata that make up the structure of the pitches and the result was a poor grass and soil condition terrible for practicing sports.It is there when I was assigned the supervision of the processes that were being carried out in the improvement of these 2 sports fields since I had the technical and professional knowledge of the alma mater and I could check the information and the actions carried out in the field by the agronomist hired at that time to ensure that the objectives were fully met without any problems.


Every 4 years there is a local election and in 2020 after the change in the municipality´s administration I came in again as an agronomist advisor and coordinator of the field maintenance actions for the natural grass sports facilities. After having digested the information from the colleague who had overseen the 2 previous scenarios and having learned with the guide and route that was left, I took charge of these scenarios plus 5 others that make up the public scenarios in the city.


The biggest challenge was to improve the conditions of the 2 main city pitches the Palogrande Stadium, The Bosque Popular amongst other assigned fields. There was the imperious need to acquire more knowledge about the proper management of this type of precision agronomy, which requires specific knowledge so that the sports pitches can be ready and in optimal conditions for sport activities of both amateur and Professional football. After the pandemic the resources of the local administrations were reduced and were explicitly used to reactivate the economy as quickly as possible, therefore, there was no allocation of resources for the improvement of these arenas, and it was not a priority. However, there was also an implicit need for these pitches to improve their conditions because they were going through a critical situation, so I did my studies with CONMEBOL in the management and preparation of natural grass sports pitches. This made the dynamics of the management of sports pitches change 360 degrees and focus on optimizing resources with the own ingenuity and keeping in mind of what was available to sustain these scenarios and improve the current conditions.


As these scenarios began to improve their conditions, we prepared a whole pitch management team working together so that we all spoke the same language and we could achieve the goal of having a professional and semi-professional high quality pitch. The Once Caldas Foundation a great ally of the municipality of Manizales at that time coordinated procedures, actions, and maintenance routs with me that led the main sports pitch from being in a critical state to be one of the best places today for Colombian professional football to take place and where the current line of work still follows that which was inherited from my time there and where my knowledge in the management of sports fields of natural grass comes from.


I have done work for other professional football teams in their own headquarters for example Deportivo Pereira which was made the installation of automated irrigation system with popup sprinklers. I have also advised to courts of the Risaraldense league of football, advice to the field of the Club Campestre de Pereira, installation of automated irrigation system for gardens of condominiums in Cerrito-Pereira and different advice on nutritional aspects, purchase of specialized machinery and proper maintenance of pitches to different municipalities along the department of Caldas and some of Risaralda.


What have been your main achievements?


The work done in the Palogrande Stadium and the installation of a professional irrigation system in the headquarters of Deportivo Pereira were challenges to which I dedicated my soul, sweat and professionalism to deliver quality scenarios and at the level of teams in Colombian Professional Football.



What have been some of the obstacles you have faced during your career?


The lack of knowledge of both public and private institutions about the management and maintenance of natural grass sports pitches, given that due to ignorance on the subject, they believe that these procedures are cheap and do not allocate resources appropriately and pretend to have the best results with very low budgets.


How has the work evolved over the years?


The technology in machinery, nutrients, the development of phytosanitary techniques and genetic improvement of the different types and species of grass have meant that the professional field has evolved over the years, specifically in the field of landscaping.


How do you think it will evolve in the coming years?


We have seen how technology has surpassed the expectations of our field of work and in a specific case we see it in what they did in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.  I consider that every advance is implicitly necessary according to the knowledge that we possess with the intellect that our ingenuity provides. The advances in the present media and resources of globalisation will help to generate a path of understanding for people who are not involved in this environment. This will help them to validate and value the importance of our work in the area of sports turf maintenance so they can enjoy the result of our experience and professionalism.



What do you like most about your work?


The satisfaction of a job well done and that the legacy of a job well done transcends in time for different generations. Also, to be able to share knowledge with colleagues who humbly teach different techniques, information and experiences in different countries and from whom I have made different friends and acquaintances at an international level. For example, Dr. Jorge Palma from Spain or the Paraguayan Agronomist Rolando from the club 12 de octubre and with whom we have formed an international fraternity as well as having fulfilled the dream of having helped the team I love to have one of the best pitches in the country.


What would you like people to know about the work you do?


It is important that people know that these fields, as my dear mother says, are not maintained by the work and grace of the Holy Spirit, but with the hard work, ingenuity and joint effort of a whole team to achieve the desired optimisation and quality for the enjoyment of the spectators as well as for the performance and sensation that the sportsman is looking for.