Feature Article - February 2014
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Field Perspectives

The Right Sports Turf in the Right Place

By Dawn Klingensmith

Climate Extremes

Mother Nature offers her own showy displays including rain and snowstorms, but climate conditions typically don't play a huge role in turf selection except in regions that receive heavy rainfall or in extremely hot areas.

Synthetic turf retains heat. Nonetheless, "I've been fascinated by how far south these synthetic fields are being installed. They're no longer atypical" in places like South Texas, Florida and the Southwest, Goatley said.

Synthetic turf has the advantage over natural if teams want or expect to play in the rain, Nardone said, but when the mercury climbs above 80 degrees, the turf gets hotter than the air temperature. Use of a synthetic field may therefore be limited to mornings and evenings.

"It's very common now for fields to be designed with irrigation as a design component to keep fields cool," said Nardone, adding that the cooling effect is short-lived and the combination of heat and water makes for humid conditions.

Synthetic turf manufacturers are making improvements by incorporating the same technology used to keep car dashboards cooler, for example. Meanwhile, at some tournaments that take place in hotter climes, "You can't even stand still because the heat comes through your shoes and burns your feet," Goatley said.

Sport Specific Requirements

Where any one sport dominates, the coach and players may feel strongly that one type of turf system is superior. Arguably, though, there's only one sport that demands a particular type of turf system, and that's field hockey. Even then, most schools not competing at the Division 1 level don't have a field designed and dedicated solely and specifically for field hockey.

"Everyone who's serious about field hockey aspires to play on knitted nylon" with no infill, Nardone said. They essentially want a carpet surface that's "like a pool table—very fast," he explained.

Usually, though, field hockey teams share turf with soccer, football and lacrosse teams. Manufacturers provide and facilities commonly install synthetic turf with lines for the various sports stitched in. If a field hockey team is vocal about its desires, infill multiuse turf fields can be "filled up a little higher with infill," shortening the fibers so they offer less resistance, Nardone said. "Over time, the fiber leans over and it's even faster, so they're happy with that."

In general, low pile height provides excellent playing characteristic for football, lacrosse, soccer, baseball and field hockey.

Incorporating a thin rubber shock pad in an artificial turf system "is advantageous in every sport," Dobmeier said. These pads provide for the same shock attenuation range of a typical natural grass field—95 to 110 G-max, a level preferred by athletes. About a third of his customers pay extra for the pads, but he expects that percentage to rise alongside concerns about concussions.

Bear in mind that the various sports each have high-traffic areas, such as the goal crease, which break down faster and cannot hold as much infill. The batter box on a baseball field only lasts two to three years compared with eight to 10 years for the rest of the field, Nardone said, so it's wise to have replacement turf on hand.

Aesthetic Appeal

The newest generation of artificial turf "looks like natural grass," Nardone said, "and people appreciate that it fits into the fabric of the campus or community."

On occasion, schools take advantage of the artificiality of manufactured turf to make a bold design or branding statement. Lake-Lehman High School, home of the Black Knights, unveiled a black synthetic field, becoming only the second school in the country to have black turf.

Such a statement calls for careful consideration, Dobmeier said: "It's a novelty, and then you're faced with a long time looking at something black or blue or red."