Feature Article - February 2019
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Playing the Field

Sports-Field Savvy to Make the Most of Your Investment

By Deborah L. Vence

Whether youth, college or professional sports are being played, and whether the sport is football, baseball or soccer, having the right sports field is key.

That's why when building a new sports field, it's important to keep a few things in mind, experts say, such as the types of activities that will be played, how much usage the field likely will get and what the budget will be.

What to Know Before You Build

Some key questions need to be asked when planning to build a new sports field, said Darren Gill, vice president of a company in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, that manufactures artificial turf playing surfaces. Those questions are: "What's the purpose of the field? What sports are going to be played? How much usage will the field get? What's the budget? How will the field be built?"

"Some of the answers to the above questions will inform your decision on turf fiber preference," Gill said, "while other answers will give you a better idea of who to entrust with building the new field.

"It's best to look at a new field as a major construction project that encompasses everything from the design of the field, building the base, installing the lights, stands, turf and any other items that may be unique to this new field," he said. "Many companies can supply these various components, so one major decision to make is whether to work with multiple parties or have one company oversee the entire project for you."

Similarly, Tim Van Loo, CSFM from Iowa State University, and past president of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA), suggested some things to consider: "Who is going to play on the field? How many events do you plan on having annually, and what time of year? What are expectations for field quality? How the field is built will forever dictate the playability of the field. Make sure you construct it correctly. Get a contractor that specializes in athletic field construction."

Micah Gould, product manager for a global grass seed company in Tangent, Ore., noted some factors to take into consideration before building as well.

"Two overarching deciding factors that can influence all other components are the allocated budgets for such a project, and the desired quality level of playing conditions," Gould said. "Upfront installation costs and long-term maintenance budgets will be the biggest deciding factors in the final product, but with a clear sense of the desired field performance, the budgets can be used effectively to maximize the field's potential. If the correlation between field performance and subsequent cost is truly realized, there is a better chance for a successful field installation, and equally important, a prolonged lifespan."

Whether youth, college or professional sports are being played, and whether the sport is football, baseball or soccer, having the right sports field is key.

Besides budgetary concerns, field maintenance level requirements will need to be set, too, which are derived from the desired playing conditions of a sports field.

"For starters," Gould said, "deciding whether a field can be soil-based or if it should be constructed as sand-based will ride on the use expected of the field. A sand-based field would most assuredly also come with the need of an irrigation system. Depending on region and especially the specific needs the field needs to fulfill, there are cases when a soil-based field might not need sub-surface irrigation.

"Also, depending on soil type and possible precipitation during the time period of use, some fields might benefit from improved drainage to improve playability and safety. These are just a couple of factors that could have large budgetary implications, but should each be considered," he added.

Once the field substrate, irrigation and drainage are taken into consideration and planned for, the planning then can shift to turfgrass selection and management.

"The first step," he said, "would be to identify the type of grass for establishment and is directly influenced by regionality and local climate conditions. Selecting a turfgrass species that isn't adapted to certain climates can cause extra resources in its maintenance, or even worse, potentially fail."

Once a turfgrass, or blend of grass is chosen, the focus then can be shifted to its maintenance requirements.

"Field maintenance, and largely cultural turfgrass management practices, differs from species to species. Inputs such as mowing, fertilization and irrigation each have their effect on turfgrass health, and should be adjusted based on soil type, turfgrass species and field-use requirements," Gould explained. "A perennial ryegrass, sand-based field that supports heavy use (traffic) will require many more inputs than say a tall fescue, soil-based field that is very lightly used. These are just some of the factors that will influence the specific maintenance and care a field will receive throughout its lifespan."

Of course, natural turfgrass isn't the only option.