Supplement Feature - September 2009
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Tackling Turf

Finding the Right Turf Solution for Your Fields

By Emily Tipping

One major consideration, he said, is usage. That can mean the sport being played on the field—soccer or baseball—and it can also mean the amount of play—games and practices—that are scheduled on a field.

"We found that for intensive soccer play, it's very difficult for a natural grass field to really do well, because grass just can't take that constant 12-month-a-year, 12-hour-a-day soccer play," Peterson said. "You've got the difference between 22 people in cleats constantly running around a field and 10 people at a time standing on mostly a skin clay infield and not running back and forth constantly. Baseball and softball are a little easier on the grass."

Other concerns when making the decision include landscape and budgets. "It's more expensive to construct a synthetic field than even a really nice natural turf field with irrigation and everything else," Peterson said.

Ultimately, Randall's Island might make a perfect case example of how to select the appropriate surface for your sports fields: Choose synthetic when you need to maximize playing time and in areas where the grass is harder to grow, and choose natural where you have the resources to maintain it.

Green Issues

Green issues cut both ways. If you're using natural turf, you might be concerned about the overuse of water, and heavy chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. If you're using synthetic, you may be worried about the chemicals used in the production of those fields. With all the close attention to green these days, it's not surprising to see efforts being made on both sides of the "grass" to make things greener.

One of the green concerns about synthetic turf fields is the current lack of recycling options, said Mark Novak of Stantec. "Currently after the carpet and the infill runs its course when it reaches a time when it needs to be taken up and disposed of, there's not many options in terms of recycling. That's something that I know the industry is striving to work on, and I know of a few vendors that are hoping to have a recycling program in the next few years."

Other manufacturers have gone greener by changing their infill materials. One manufacturer makes an environmentally friendly infill from a synthetic materials rather than ground tire pellets. This turf was recently selected for use at the University of Missouri, which will install three fields covering 140,000 square feet at Stankowski Field to replace its original synthetic turf that was installed when the field opened in 1996.

Stankowski Field is used year-round for flag football and soccer by the university's club sports programs, sports camps and other groups, so MU needed fields that would stand up to extremely heavy use and Missouri's hot summer temperatures. Another important factor in their decision was that the infill produces minimal "splash" or "flyout," meaning infill particles are less likely to fly up with ball or foot impact compared with other artificial turf fields.

Another bonus? It is completely recyclable.