Feature Article - November 2014
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Take the Field

Managing & Maintaining High-Performing Sports Fields

By Chris Gelbach


Special Considerations for Synthetic Turf

Synthetic turf can handle more intensive use than a grass field, and has the advantage of being playable after rain, but still has its limits. For one, too much action in one spot on a synthetic field can permanently damage the fibers. According to Pearson, this is why the University of Washington hasn't moved away from natural grass on the interior of its track field.

"It'd probably be synthetic if it weren't for the hammer throw," said Pearson. "It just destroys the synthetic. It destroys the grass, too—but we can't repair the synthetic."

McNeal likens it to a carpet at home that has a piece of furniture sitting on it. "If you end up with an indentation in that carpet, it takes a little bit of work to get that out," she said. "You may not get that wear pattern out of a synthetic turf field until you completely replace the field."

She also noted that each manufacturer will normally have their own list of approved events that can be held on the fields. "You could void your warranty if you host certain events, so you want to read that on the front end before you invest in it," McNeal said.

McNeal additionally recommends fencing off any synthetic turf field to help fend off vandalism and damage. "I've seen people set fireworks off on a synthetic turf field," she said. "It's a plastic fiber, so any kind of fire or heat can melt it and cause significant damage to the surface."

Recreation managers also need to plan for more frequent replacement of certain high-use areas of the field. McNeal noted that on a collegiate baseball field that she managed, the batter's boxes were replaced every season, and the wear areas around the bases every three seasons. It's also important to budget for replacement of the field once the warranty expires, typically in eight years.

Synthetic fields also need regular grooming. "If you don't groom it, it's going to start getting little divots where the rubber gets pushed out from drills, and then the fibers get sheared off and it will never fill back in," said Pearson. McNitt recommends that synthetic fields in continuous use get groomed once a week.

When maintaining the field, it's important to use the right equipment that won't dig into the infill and abrade the fibers, according to Doyle. "Anyone getting a synthetic turf field should educate themselves and ask the builder if there's specific equipment that they need to use for the field," he said.

Finding the Right Maintenance Program for Your Surface

Whether you have natural grass fields, synthetic, or both, the most important consideration is to properly support, hire and train people who are qualified to care for your surface type.

Whether you have natural grass fields, synthetic, or both, McNeal said that the most important consideration is to properly support, hire and train people who are qualified to care for your surface type. This includes allocating as many dollars as possible to running the strongest maintenance program you can. In return, you'll get playable surfaces that help keep your athletes safe and your competition sound. "Budgets are being trimmed all the time," she said. "But pulling maintenance dollars away from the field is only going to hurt the conditions of the field and eventually the programs that you put on there."