Relationships don't bloom overnight. Like a sprig of Bermudagrass, they take time to cultivate. Shown the proper attention and care, eventually they can blossom and mature. That's how Rose Bowl field superintendent Will Schnell and Brandt territory manager Michael Steve look upon their relationship.
"Typically if I'm within 100 miles, I'll just pop over to make sure everything's good. Not that they need me," Steve said. "I always come several days before the Rose Bowl, not that I can change anything at that point, but Will likes the support.
"These people are not just my customers; they're my friends."
It took time to reach that point, and that relationship now also includes the nearby golf course that is so essential to game day operations at the Rose Bowl. When the two first met nearly 12 years ago, Steve had just started with Grigg Brothers (long before the company was acquired by Brandt in 2014) and Schnell was 10 years on the job in Pasadena and was using a competitor's product.
"Before I came, Will was using a couple of our products on a limited basis," Steve said. "I started working more closely with him, meeting with him and paying attention to him and coming here a lot and developing that relationship."
Best management practices, including fertility, are a big deal here. In a sea of American sports stadiums, the Rose Bowl is its biggest fish. Nicknamed America's Stadium, it has a rich history that dates nearly 100 years and is home to college football's oldest postseason game. Its field is widely regarded as the finest playing surface in American sports and the way Schnell's team manages it draws comparisons to Augusta National Golf Club.
"Their products are simple and easy to use," Schnell said. "I know I'm not going to get in trouble, and that allows me to focus my attention on other things."
The reputation of the stadium and its field are not taken lightly by Schnell, and he makes sure his team is aware of that history, and that has helped promote teamwork and camaraderie that includes Steve.
"It's a lot more than just growing grass. We're all a family here," Schnell said. "Mike is a big part of our success here, and he's part of our family."
It's a relationship that is pretty uncommon - even in a field known as a relationship business.
"Whenever a (UCLA) game is televised, I watch it to see how the field looks," Steve said. "I'll tell him the field looks great, and he'll correct me: ‘Mike, it's our field, not my field, our field.' "
During a recent visit to the Rose Bowl, Steve noticed that Phil Singer, a member of the field crew, wasn't at work that day. When he asked of Singer's whereabouts, he learned he was in the hospital recovering from a surgical procedure. Steve left the stadium and drove immediately to the hospital.
"When I woke up and saw him, I thought he was an angel and I was dying," Singer laughed.
When a contingent from Brandt, including vice president and general manager Bill Engel, came to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Eve for a tour, Schnell made sure they received the VIP treatment and brought everyone onto the field (pictured at top). He told the story of explaining just whose field this is, anyway.
"I had to slap Mike on the wrist a little bit," Schnell joked. "This is our field, not my field. And now you are part of this too. When I say this is our field, that includes you."
The stadium and adjacent Brookside Golf Course that is used as a parking lot for Rose Bowl events, including football games and concerts, both are owned by the city. The golf course does not receive nearly the same resources directed toward the stadium. During football games and other events, superintendent George Winters and his team hastily make the conversion from golf course to parking lot and back again in the blink of an eye. This includes generator-powered lights and helium-filled balloons that remind people where they've parked.
How many times does Winters fill balloons?
"My budget for helium is more than my budget for fertilizer," he said during the teardown that began minutes after this year's Rose Bowl Game.
Against all odds, Winters produces great putting surfaces. To help him out this last year and this year, Brandt is providing him with a fertilizer program that helps maintain good will between the company, the stadium and the golf course.
"I think our greens are always very good," Winters said. "But I've had a lot of people tell me since we've been on that program that the golf course has never looked so good."
Helping out in a pinch - isn't that what family is for?