Supplement Feature - September 2011
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Tomorrow's Turf

Budgets and the Environment Drive Trends in Natural and Synthetic Sports Fields

By Julie Knudson

He said he's also seeing more organizations incorporating synthetic surfaces as a way to support the health of existing natural fields, mostly by reducing wear and tear and giving the grass a chance to rest. "Synthetic turf gives them the ability to really practice and pound down the synthetic turf," Novak said, "giving the natural grass surfaces the proper amount of time to recover, and giving their maintenance staff time to focus on maintenance … to keep those surfaces in tip-top playing condition."

Darian Daily, head groundskeeper at Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, might consider a natural grass surface when his team begins researching options to replace their 7-year-old synthetic field later this year. Even though games are played on synthetic turf, the players are already accustomed to both types of surfaces. "We not only take care of our stadium field, which is a synthetic field, but we also have three natural grass fields that the team practices on through the year," Daily said.

With improved technology, he's even able to support a bermudagrass field, something that Cincinnati's northern climate didn't allow a decade ago. He said the viability of seeded varieties of bermuda in the upper transition zone is a notable improvement. "Those could really be an advantage to a sports field manager where, say, after high school graduation, you're able to seed in the middle of May [or] first of June, and the bermuda will actually grow in from seed and have your field covered by the time football season rolls around in August." Daily also points to the reduced cost over sodding or sprigging as another advantage of using the newer generations of seeded grass.

"We're seeing a movement in the industry now where synthetic turf is not only becoming a more accessible solution, but they're also getting rid of the skinned infield area … and going with synthetic turf."

Synthetics on the Rise

Wake Forest's latest addition is a synthetic baseball field, which was a first for McNeal. "Synthetics in baseball to me is new, and it's a bit different," she said. "Whereas in football and soccer and multi-use fields, those sports are played differently than baseball is, so a synthetic baseball field to me plays a bit different than a synthetic football field would."