Supplement Feature - September 2013
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Grounds for Innovation

Turf Trends for Today & Tomorrow

By Chris Gelbach

Planning Becomes Paramount

Instead of making the turf manager the last man hired in a new installation, experts expect to see them brought in earlier in the planning process more frequently. "If you don't have somebody you're working with who has knowledge of some very basic soil science, it ends up biting you in the long term," said Goatley. "You won't pay for it immediately, because I've seen many of these fields masked with a great sod installation, but it won't be many months before problems show up."

A basic feasibility study at the outset of a project can also facilitate its eventual success. "You might have somebody in-house who can go and renovate a field, but what if you increase the size of it?" said Nardone. "What if you could get two of them in perpendicularly if you made the field 30 yards longer? Often, simple things that come up in a feasibility study will have a big impact on the end user and their maintenance side."

In their planning, consultants like Nardone and Buczynski are seeing more facilities choosing to renovate their natural grass fields once they have a synthetic turf field in place. "With our school clients we often see that if they have three or four fields, they'll get one synthetic turf field, and it's like having two and a half natural grass fields to help them manage the amount of play," Buczynski said. With this approach, facilities can enjoy the flexibility and intensive playability of synthetic turf as well as the well-maintained grass fields that many athletes still prefer.

When clients do go synthetic, Buczynski is seeing more of them purchase additional turf for areas of high use since replacement of those areas is typically not covered under the product warranty. She's also seeing more go for synthetic turf just on high-use areas, such as baseball infields, while they leave the outfield natural grass.

This is part of a more targeted approach that extends to natural grass maintenance, and that will grow ever-more important in an era of low budgets. "If you can't do a topdressing program across your entire field, what about just focusing on the goal mounts? Let's overseed the goals. Same thing on a football field. Let's just focus on the areas between the hashes, on the goal line or sideline areas, and try to improve the turf there," Langner said.

This approach additionally applies to avoiding wear and tear in the first place, from moving the goal mounts for practices to minimize concentrated wear, to putting pads down on synthetic turf for batting cages or other areas of concentrated use. "It's all about looking at the field as a picture within a picture," said Tarantino.

And when you look at the big picture, the most critical pieces of the puzzle remain the decisions by the turf manager in maintaining the field and by management in making the right decisions in building or renovating the field in the first place.

"People think it's no different than the grass they have in their front yard," said Tarantino. "My response to them is, let me bring over the 360-piece marching band and let them play in your yard five or six days a week for three hours a day and then tell me your grass is the same as mine. It's perception that we need to change."

And it's a perception that's changing, slowly but surely—right in step with the changes in turf types, technologies and maintenance practices that are giving turf managers more tools to work with in maintaining safe, playable fields.