Clearing the Clutter
What Matters Most in an Artificial Turf System
By Darren Gill
The process to purchase an artificial turf field can be quite confusing and overwhelming, with various turf companies telling stories of why their turf system is better than another. Surprisingly, most choose to talk about the physical properties of their turf system rather than things that customers should care about most—safety, performance and durability of their fields.
There is, however, one very important question that purchasers of artificial turf must answer before choosing a turf system: Do you want to buy a high-performance sports field or a Persian rug?
If you want the sports field, then you want a system on which your athletes can cut, plant and release in a grass-like infilled system. You likely care about the safety of your athletes and need a system that will protect them. This means you are looking for an "open" turf system with a wide gauge. One that focuses on infill content, rather than fiber content. We call these systems "heavyweight" infill systems.
If you want the Persian rug, then you'll want to speak to companies that proudly boast their fiber content and focus their discussions on "face weight." These types of companies pride themselves on their carpet-maker mentality and focus on building their systems up by increasing the number of turf fibers per square inch. There is an ongoing battle between certain companies to put as much fiber into their turf system as possible. We call these types of fiber-dense systems "lightweight" systems because of their lack of infill.
History has proven that this "carpet-maker" mentality has failed before. Ask anyone who played on artificial turf in the '80s and '90s, and they will tell you that even the densest, thickest carpet will not protect you if there isn't adequate infill.
The concept is simple: Athletes play in the infill, not on the turf fibers.
On a natural grass field, players cut, plant and release in the earth, which holds the grass fibers upright. The green blades of grass are strictly for aesthetics. Heavyweight infill systems have been engineered in the same manner.
Heavyweight systems are also called "wide gauge turf systems." Gauge refers to the distance between the rows of fibers in a turf carpet. Wide gauge turf systems allow for more than 9 pounds of infill between the turf fibers for every square foot of your field—significantly more than the typical 3 to 5 pounds of infill in a lightweight turf system. This gauge of ¾ inch between rows is the ideal spacing for cleat penetration.
The tighter gauge used by most companies means that the rows of turf are closer together. Much less infill can fit between the turf fibers, making it more difficult for the athlete to get solid footing—causing slippage.
Consider the fact that more than half of the NFL teams that play their home games on artificial turf play on a wide gauge turf system. Over 85 percent of Division 1-A football teams that play their home games on artificial turf play on a wide gauge system. Additionally, every Major League Soccer team that plays home games on artificial turf has chosen a wide gauge system.
The choice is clear: Athletes, who seek the safest and highest-performing surface, prefer heavyweight wide-gauge turf systems.
Most companies will spend time trying to convince you that "more fiber is better." You will soon grow tired of learning industry terms like "pile weight" and "face weight" of turf surfaces.
The only weight that matters is the total weight of the turf system (turf + infill included). Heavyweight turf systems are double the weight of most other turf products. A typical 80,000-square-foot field will contain approximately 400,000 pounds more material than a competitor's fiber-filled product.
Why does a turf system's total weight matter?
Simply because the composition of materials used in a turf system is directly related to the most important numbers in our industry: Numbers relating to safety.
Consider the following injury data published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in a report titled "Incidence, Mechanisms, and Severity of Game-related College Football Injuries on FieldTurf Versus Natural Grass: A Three-Year Prospective Study":
The heavyweight synthetic turf field tested proved safer than natural grass, with:
- 85 percent fewer muscle tears
- 58 percent less ACL trauma
- 48 percent fewer ligament tears
- 32 percent fewer substantial injuries
- 35 percent fewer severe injuries
While other companies will try to confuse you with ounces per square yard, customers should focus on what really matters to you and your athletes—proven player safety and system durability.
When it comes to durability, only heavyweight systems have stood the test of time. Companies installing lightweight turf systems on the other hand, all share one of two problems:
- Their fields are failing very early on, many years before their guaranteed lifespan.
- Their company is new to the business, and they simply do not have any fields that have been installed for long enough to prove any durability claims.
Either one of these deficiencies should raise major red flags.
The long-term durability of heavyweight turf systems is not a fluke. These systems last because of their design. Lightweight field fibers break down due to lack of infill, fiber wear and exposure to UV rays. The infill is actually a component of the field which hardly wears down, and could likely be recycled for the life of two more fields before it would need to be reprocessed into another use.
Now you can see why putting more fiber into a turf system does not make sense: The more fiber, the faster the field will wear. This is a critical difference.
As the customer, you have the choice. The system that you know will be the best for your athletes, or a cheaper solution to "save money." While buying the cheaper system may seem like a solution for some budgetary constraints, you will end up sacrificing long-term cost savings (heavyweight systems last longer delivering a significantly higher financial value to our customers) and player safety (heavyweight systems are the only ones with any independent safety data that concludes they are safer than natural grass).
Only one question remains—what matters most to you?
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