Feature Article - February 2011
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From Blueprint to Ballgame

The Ins and Outs of Sports Field Design

By Brian Summerfield

How Will the Location Affect Design and Construction?

Geoprobes. Nutrient analysis. Drainage. If you're not knowledgeable on these topics now, you will be by the end of your project. Here's a look at the most critical elements related to the location of your sports field site.


As any field design expert will tell you, soil testing is crucial. You've got to make sure that your field is on solid ground, and that—for reasons related to both aesthetics and athlete safety—the surface won't be negatively affected as the earth shifts beneath it. This applies to both natural and synthetic turf.

"Soil testing is critical, not just on surface, but also geo-technical, deeper investigations," Nardone said. "You should try to find out if you can dig and fill."

"You don't want to pick a site that will need extensive sub-soil drainage," Gill added.

A soil analysis, which needs to take place before design and construction, starts with digging. Your design team should dig a few pits approximately seven feet deep throughout the site to check the quality of the topsoil and subsoil, the recent history of the site (i.e., whether it has been affected by major manmade or natural events), and the necessity and extensiveness of a drainage system.

There are a couple of different ways to facilitate drainage in a field, which are sometimes used in combination. The first is to dig into the site, reconstitute the soil composition with sand and gravel, and install an underground system of pipes that either distribute water through the earth underneath the field or move it out. The other way is to develop landscape features such as a slight overall grade and a "crown"—that is, a high point of elevation somewhere around the center of the field that rises above the periphery by about a foot to a foot and a half. These will allow gravity to do drainage work for you.

Even if you're redesigning an existing field, you'll still need to do soil testing. Important assessments include measuring sand, silt and clay percentages and—if you've got a natural grass field—analyses of the soil nutrients and rootzone.