Feature Article - February 2009
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Field Goals

Maintaining Sports Fields & Grounds

By Emily Tipping

Turf Choices

Many suggest that switching to synthetic turf will allow you to maximize your programming capabilities, but if you're choosing to stay with natural turf fields, that's OK, too. There are benefits—and drawbacks—to both types of surfaces.

Many players—and turf managers and grounds professionals—simply prefer natural turf, as seen in the NFL Players survey, and there are other benefits as well. The UC Riverside Turf Web site reports that natural turf reduces runoff and soil erosion, protects groundwater and surface water quality, dissipates heat, helps decompose pollutants and even protects from injuries and reduces stress. And because they are regenerative, natural turf fields are easier to fix when bare spots occur. They sequester carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air, and they are cooler than synthetic fields.

The key to keeping natural turf in good playing condition is a careful maintenance routine and ensuring the fields are not overused. As the UCR Turf site states, "A smooth, durable, uniform turf surface is important to the play and outcome of a game. Ball roll and bounce are influenced by the turf cover and its management, as are player movements, such as running, cutting, veering, stopping, pivoting, dodging, lunging, jumping, landing and walking. The overuse of many community sports facilities can push the limits of turf to recover."

David Anderson, grounds manager with Hempfield School District in Landisville, Pa., works on a combination of synthetic and natural turf fields, and said there are benefits to both types, though with his background in horticulture and agronomy, he has a natural preference for natural. The district has three relatively new synthetic turf fields, used for football, soccer, lacrosse and hockey, as well as several natural grass fields used for baseball and softball, some lacrosse, soccer and hockey.

"All things considered, I'm more of a natural grass person," Anderson said. "I'd just as soon all of the fields be natural grass and have more control over who's on the fields. In my mind, on natural grass fields when the usage is monitored correctly, I think you can get a lot more accomplished."

But he added, "…in this day and age, when everybody wants to play and you can't seem to keep people off, the synthetic clearly has its place."

This is why so many communities—especially where space for more fields is limited—have turned to synthetic options.