Feature Article - February 2008
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Solid Ground

Ensuring Turf Is Tough Enough

By Sue Marquette Poremba

hile under drought conditions, the University of North Carolina made national headlines (and endured public ridicule) for watering its artificial field hockey turf. To most of the country, it looked like nothing more than a waste of precious water. After all, there can't be any possible logic to watering fake grass.

On the contrary, explained Jon Pritchett, CEO of a synthetic turf manufacturer, international and NCAA field hockey bodies require fields to have a wet surface. Watered for only a few minutes before a match, the wet turf gives the balls a better bounce and the athletes better footing. The wet field actually results in fewer injuries, as well as a more exciting game.

Stringent grounds maintenance requirements are hardly unique to field hockey. To cope with the wear and tear on their natural turf, high schools, colleges and community recreation organizations across the country are steadily turning away from grass fields to the more durable, multi-use synthetic surfaces.

Perhaps the best argument for artificial surfaces comes from a Monday Night Football game this past November. Heinz Field is best known as home to the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, but per an agreement with state and local governments, the field is also used by the University of Pittsburgh for college football games and by local high schools. By the end of September, the natural turf was in bad shape. The weekend before Pittsburgh's Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins, Heinz Field hosted the WPIAL football championships, which involved four different games, and the Pitt Panthers wrapped up their home season. The grounds crew quickly replaced the turf, but a steady driving rain before the game turned the field into a bog. Players were ankle deep in mud, and neither team was able to score until the last seconds of the game. Perhaps the most enduring picture from that evening came after a football was punted. Instead of bouncing when it hit the turf, it landed, as one announcer said, "like a lawn dart." It was a grounds crew's nightmare scenario.

But it is also a good reminder for those who care for any type of field. "Water drainage is critical," said Kevin Price, a spokesperson for another artificial turf manufacturer, specifically citing the debacle in Pittsburgh. "You don't want a quagmire. That's part of the turf installation. The water should drain at 30 inches per hour." And of course, with artificial turf, the field won't turn footballs into lawn darts.