Local farm provides sod for St. Louis soccer match

Pictured are Heartland Turf Farms employees with a truck load of leftover sod from the Edward Jones Dome last week, front row, from left, Greg Gundlach, Tom Keeven Jr., and Tom Keeven Sr.; back row: Curt Sondag, Nick Whelan, Jiles Smith, Tyler Chandler and Mary Whelan. (Corey Saathoff photo)

Two of the top professional soccer teams in the world played on grass grown in Monroe County when they faced off Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

In what was described last week as a “massive undertaking,” workers at Heartland Turf Farms in rural Columbia cut, rolled, loaded and trucked more than 95,000 square feet of bluegrass sod to the dome, which is home to the St. Louis Rams professional football team.

Event organizers then pulled up the artificial turf inside the dome and installed the natural surface last Wednesday and Thursday for the match between Real Madrid of Spain and Inter Milan of Italy.

Regarded as one of the top soccer players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo led the way with a goal as Real Madrid dominated Inter Milan in a 3-0 victory. The attendance of 54,184 was the largest ever for a soccer game in St. Louis.

Tom Keeven Sr., president of Heartland Turf Farms, said The Motz Group of Ohio contacted his business around three weeks ago and requested the large-scale turf order.

Specifications called for 1.5-inch thick grass with 1.5 inches of soil underneath, Keeven said, making for heavy truck loads from the rural Monroe County bottoms to downtown St. Louis.

In all, more than 600 rolls of local sod weighing around 2,500 pounds each were transported.

Pictured is Heartland Turf Farms picking up their sod from the Edward Jones Dome following Saturday’s soccer match. (Marty Keeven photo courtesy Keeven Photography)

“That’s moving quite a lot of weight,” Keeven said, adding that “bluegrass had not been a big seller” for his business lately.

Event organizers were complimentary of the turf farm’s sod quality and consistently even, thick cut, Keeven said.

Using a harvester machine, turf farm workers shaved off the specified amount of sod from a farm Keeven leases about two miles south of his main office at 9607 Levee Road.

Workers then used forklifts to load the rolled-up strips of sod onto haulers. Keeven said four commercial tractor-trailers were leased to assist his company with the massive order.

Keeven’s son, Tom Keeven Jr., did the harvesting, while Tom Sr. operated the forklift.

Employees including the brother-sister team of Nick and Mary Whelan helped the father-son Keevens and the rest of the Heartland Turf Farm family on the project.

But getting all of that sod to the dome was only half of the work. Once the game was over, Heartland Turf Farms returned to load up the sod and return it to Monroe County.

Players from Real Madrid and Inter Milan battle it out at the dome on Saturday. (John Spytek photo)

“I told them I want the topsoil back,” Keeven said. “Us turf farmers are stingy about soil.”

Keeven said he will till up the grass that was used for the soccer game and re-use the soil for future grass-growing.

Keeven is a second-generation sod farmer, having started the Columbia location in 1989. His father, the recently departed Ed Keeven, started the business in 1951 in Missouri.

“He really was one of the first around here to grow grass for home lawn use,” Keeven said of his father.

Two of Tom’s brothers, Ed Jr. and James, operate sod farms in O’Fallon, Mo., and Jefferson City, Mo.

“The three of us… all we know is this kind of business,” Tom Keeven said.

Providing the playing surface for major sporting events isn’t anything new to the Columbia farm. Keeven said Bermuda grass grown on one of his leased farms just north of Interstate 255 was used to cover the field at the former Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, in the late 1990s.

For more information on Heartland Turf Farms, call 281-TURF.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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