Feature Article - October 2012
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Maintenance & Operations: Synthetic Turf

Beyond the Basics
Synthetic Turf Fields Have Come a Long Way

By Tammy York

No matter what you call it, synthetic turf has come a long way from its initial debut. Synthetic turf is being used in more applications than ever before. As you know, you can find synthetic turf being used for football fields from the high school to college to professional level. It is even used in some arid areas as lawn grass for that evergreen look without the high price tag for water, fertilizer, pest control and maintenance.

One of the great appeals of synthetic turf is the simple fact that it never needs to be fertilized, mowed or watered. Maintenance isn't completely eliminated, but it is simpler, depending on the type of field and usage patterns. In some cases, the crumb rubber and sand infill might need to be redistributed because of compaction and uneven high-use wear patterns. Also, debris needs to be removed, and most fields benefit from the occasional rinse.

Responsible Use

Many existing synthetic turf fields are reaching the end of their life cycles. As these fields are coming up for replacement, the industry has taken note of the environmental concerns with recycling old fields and is making strides to be more environmentally responsible. This has resulted in facilities that can take the polyethylene portions of the old turf, once it is clean of sand and crumb rubber, and recycle it. The polyethylene fibers are ground, melted and recycled into another polyethylene product. The sand and crumb rubber can be removed from the field, cleaned, and reused or used as a top-dressing for natural turf.

New synthetic turf is different in that the fibers are more durable and can handle greater usage. And, the industry has been developing more renewable options. For example, some synthetic turf backings are now made from polyols derived from soybeans, a rapidly renewable resource, rather than petroleum-based products.

Play Ball

At the same time that existing synthetic turf football fields are reaching replacement age, another synthetic turf application has been gaining in popularity—college and professional baseball fields. Usability is one of the key reasons. A small amount of rain can make a natural turf playing field unusable, and this is especially true of baseball fields.

For fields that aren't at the professional level, rain can often cancel a game. This eats into the revenue the field can generate because a canceled games means ticket and auxiliary sales don't occur. Plus, for teams that have only one field to use for practice and play, weather can greatly decrease the amount of practice time they have on the field.

Synthetic turf doesn't have the same constraints.

"Last year at the University of Kansas, the baseball team played on natural grass, and prior to the season they missed 19 days of practice due to the residual effects of weather—mud from snow melt," said Todd Britton, marketing manager with a synthetic turf manufacturer. "They needed to not miss any days of practice so they went with synthetic turf in their Hoglund Ballpark Stadium and haven't missed a single practice since."

A synthetic turf baseball field's substructure is designed roughly the same as a football field's. There is a dynamic draining base consisting of drainage tiles that direct the excess water away from the field and either into storm drains or a retention basin. Over the drainage base is a pervious layer of geotextile covered with a combination of small and large sized stones. Resting on top is the synthetic turf with the sand and crumb rubber infill.

With the drainage system underneath and no dirt to become mud soup, the fields can be open to play when a traditional natural turf field would be covered with tarps and shut down. Any time you can keep your ballfields open and safe for play, you increase the number of practices and events that can occur at your venue.