Feature Article - July/August 2006
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Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

Something's Afoot

By Kara Spak

Field of dreams

If you are looking at building a field for sports like football, soccer, lacrosse, rugby, softball or baseball, the big question is an obvious one—natural grass or synthetic turf?

Though it is a simple question, it does not make it any easier to answer.

Synthetic turf used to wear the moniker "maintenance-free," Hogan says. That's a misnomer, she says, though it requires significantly less maintenance than a natural grass field.

"It's not really maintenance-free," she explains. "But you can have football in the morning, soccer in the afternoon and band practice on it after. You can almost have [24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week] use of the field."

Using a natural grass field that much will tear it up, she says.

"You will have bare skinned areas," she says. "It will become a mud pit. It is grass—living things need to recover."

And any homeowner with a yard is familiar with the fertilizing, watering, mowing and grooming required to keep a lawn looking fresh and neat.

Synthetic turf, though, will cost you more initially then a grass field. But because you can use it more often, the per-use cost may be less with synthetic turf than natural grass.

With a grass field, be aware of the water management and drainage issues, particularly if the field is ringed by a track.

The fertilizer, chalk lines and pest controls used to maintain the field can be damaging for the track if the runoff from the field soaks it repeatedly. Everything you need for a well-maintained and manicured field, she says, can be potentially hazardous to the life expectancy of your track.

"Imagine all of that going over and crossing the track where the track meets the field," Hogan says. "This has the ability to destroy the track."

These chemicals can delaminate the track, a nightmare for those charged with track maintenance and upkeep.

"The coating or rubber surface will separate from the pavement below," she says. "It will peel off like skin when you get a sunburn."

Grass fields are usually crowned in the middle, or about 12 inches higher in the middle than on the ends.

"It's significantly higher in the middle so the water doesn't pool there," she says. "The water runs to the edges where the track is."

Simply put? You need drainage to protect the track's surface and longevity.