ATHENS — For the first time in, well, since anybody can remember, the Georgia Bulldogs will conduct their practices somewhere other than the historic Woodruff Practice Fields.
Georgia opens spring practice on Tuesday and will do so at UGA’s Club Sports complex on South Milledge Avenue. If you’re like a lot of people, you didn’t know that place existed.
The Bulldogs had to find an alternative work space as construction on their new $30 million Indoor Athletic Facility is well under way and has essentially consumed the entire lot behind Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. And it’s going to be that way for a while.
So not only will Georgia be conducting its practices away from the football complex over the next month, but it will be doing so for a whole year. Construction on the new 109,000-square-foot facility will not be completed until sometime in early 2017.
“I think it’s going to create some problems for the first season, but I do think that we can overcome that,” first-year head coach Kirby Smart said.
Other than the inconvenience of being located exactly three miles away (by car) from the existing football complex, it doesn’t appear that the Bulldogs are going to lack for much in their new setup. While they had four fields at their disposal before, they’ll have three at the Club Sports Complex.
SEE PHOTOS BELOW
Georgia took one of its FieldTurf — or artificial turf — fields from the Woodruff complex and re-installed it on the Club Sports grounds. The school also renovated the one existing natural-grass on the location and built a second natural-grass field. So now they have three 90-yard fields side-by-side-by-side.
The Bulldogs also dressed up the area nicely. They built new black metal fencing around the three fields — complete with built-in “power Gs” — installed FieldTurf in the common areas — again, with a giant power G — added lighting so that there are now 12 huge light poles surrounding all three fields, brought in trailers for football operations, media, training and medical treatment, and landscaped the whole area.
Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity estimated the total cost of securing and retro-fitting the temporary setup to be about $1 million.
“It was a major undertaking,” McGarity said. “I wish we had done some before-and-after pictures. But when we went down there and looked at the site, it fit us perfectly. Due to the remote location, you can control parking and access and everything. But there’s been a lot of work done and there will be a lot more work done after spring practice.”
It’s quite an improvement over what had existed there before for UGA’s club sports teams. Their games and activities have been relocated to the Intramural Complex on College Station Road for the next year. But in exchange for that temporary inconvenience, they will inherit the markedly refurbished South Milledge complex from the football program.
After spring practice, they’ll have to install drainage systems and re-sod the practice fields. McGarity said several other improvements will have to be made before preseason camp begins the first week of August. At that point they’ll be using the facility three or four times per week.
For now, McGarity said they will utilize the club sports setup for only about “seven or eight” of their 14 practice opportunities this spring. The others will be conducted at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia has one 90-yard artificial turf field remaining on the corner of Lumpkin and Smith streets. The Bulldogs have been using that field for its off-season conditioning program, and that’s also where testing will be done during Wednesday’s Pro Day with NFL scouts.
The Bulldogs’ biggest complication is just getting to and from practice. The players will get dressed and have their pre-practice training needs met at the Butts-Mehre complex, then catch buses to take them on the seven-minute ride through Five Points and south down Milledge.
Georgia has had its spring practice routine interrupted before. The Bulldogs were unable to utilize Sanford Stadium for the G-Day game in 1996, so they had to play it nearby at Clarke Central High School. They also had to cancel the 2000 G-Day Game due to a major leak underneath the field at Sanford Stadium.