Supplement Feature - September 2009
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Tackling Turf

Finding the Right Turf Solution for Your Fields

By Emily Tipping

Synthetic Solutions

When facilities want to increase play on fields and in situations where the environment makes natural turf maintenance a heavy drain on the facility's resources, the decision is often made to switch to synthetic turf. Most often used for heavy-traffic sports that tend to wear out the fields, like soccer and football, synthetic turf is used less often in baseball fields, though there are certainly plenty of baseball and softball fields that buck this trend.

One recent installation of six new playing fields at Diamond Nation in Flemington, N.J., highlights this fact. Spanning 65 acres, Diamond Nation is home to the nationally renowned Jack Cust Baseball Academy, as well as the new Jennie Finch Softball Academy. It's billed as a one-of-a-kind sports complex and ultimately features seven synthetic turf fields.

The manufacturer of these fields designed the turf specifically for use in baseball and softball, with a slight reduction in fiber pile height and a modest increase in the weight of sand in the rubber-and-sand infill mix. This helps replicate the best characteristics of natural grass, but unlike natural grass, these fields don't need to rest after a rain.

Being a spring sport, baseball fields can benefit from synthetic turf in regions like New England because their playability in any weather means teams don't have to wait for the snow to melt before they can get out for a practice.

"The climate's a big thing around here, especially when you're looking at early spring sports like lacrosse and baseball," Novak said. "In the early spring, the fields are wet, muddy and often still snow-covered. With a synthetic surface, it affords players the luxury to get on the fields and practice and play their games earlier in the season. With natural, they could destroy the field in the first week of the season."

The ability to play in any season was one of the many reasons New York chose to install some synthetic fields at Randall's Island Park too. In fact, this benefit played out earlier this year when some of the newest synthetic turf fields played host to a 48-team national rugby tournament. Despite wet weather in the morning, the fields, located in the shadow of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, were ready for play. This location highlights yet another benefit of synthetic: you don't need sunlight or perfect climate conditions to grow synthetic grass. In this location, the East River's salt air and the shadow of the bridge made it difficult to grow natural grass. This makes a synthetic solution ideal for this spot.

Having so many synthetic turf fields that can remain in play in any weather means Randall's Island can rest its natural turf fields when that's needed. It creates a perfect balance in a city where there's plenty of need for more places to play.

"Land is finite, and budgets are finite," Peterson said. "The reality is in most of New York City, every field will be in use at peak times. Having more fields does give us more flexibility to reschedule games that have been called, but unfortunately, if the field's scheduled to be in use seven days a week, we don't have a lot of time to do rainouts. I'd rather they play on a wet synthetic field, because they won't do the same damage."

Perhaps the greatest benefit touted for synthetic turf, though, is the drastically reduced maintenance requirements. If your facility doesn't have a team that can stay on top of the diverse needs of a natural turf field, a synthetic turf field can help ease that burden.

"By no means are they maintenance-free—that is a misnomer," Novak said. "But they do offer reduced maintenance—reduced use of gas-powered maintenance equipment and the elimination of the application of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides."