Feature Article - February 2013
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Sports Fields in Context

Making the Right Choices in Synthetic & Natural Turf

By Joseph Bush


Managing Constant Use

Abby McNeal wishes she had "a" stage, but she has several, as the director of turf management at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. McNeal oversees 69 acres of property, including a football stadium, baseball stadium, soccer stadium, soccer practice facilities, football practice facilities, golf complex, golf practice facility, track facility and a field hockey field. Among those fields are natural turf and four synthetic fields, three of which are split film, monofilament and traditional, the latter being a field hockey preference.

With this number of sports comes constant use of the fields, and this is what McNeal describes as her most difficult challenge: when to give the grass what it needs, and how. There are cold- and warm-weather grasses, fields that need a good shade grass, and athletes are on them almost every day for 10 months.

"Our athletes train year-round, and the grass doesn't always grow year-round," said McNeal, in her third year at Wake Forest. "Our Bermudagrass goes dormant, and we're still practicing and training on it, so to manage healthy turf as long as you can when it is actively growing and push it as hard as you can, you're still doing it under repetitive traffic.

"Here in North Carolina the Bermudagrass growing season is late May, early June through September, early October, and it is pounded that entire time, not necessarily by our varsity athletes, but we have camps from the first of June to the first of August when varsity returns, then we have varsity men and women, specifically on our soccer facility.

"So we have one small window of downtime where they're not really training and it's right when it's coming out of dormancy so our maintenance schedule has to be looked at that way, but they're still training on it a couple days a week right now (December). Then winter break, then back in mid-January and start training again. There's not much I can do to get it to recover because conditions are not conducive to growing. Managing it while it's not growing is just as challenging as managing it as hard as we can when it is growing, yet it's being trafficked pretty much year round."