Supplement Feature - October 2015
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Fields of Dreams

Trends & Best Practices in Sports Turf

By Rick Dandes

Try to go with someone who won't oversell the market, meaning they are not trying to install hundreds of fields every year, Dobmeier continued. "Honestly, this industry can become overly complicated. There is not a system that is best for baseball vs. football vs. soccer. There is not a system that is best for Arizona vs. the north or west to California. Get a plush system, get it installed by an outstanding installation company, do business with a company that has been around and that is going to answer the phone and respond to when something might be loose or there is simply a question that needs answering."

The wrong suppliers, inexperienced installation crews, poor follow-through—the reasons for a project failing vary, but the result is often the same: wasted time, energy and dollars, Dobmeier said. "Bottom line: As a recreational surfacing company, we are in the specialty construction business. That means there will be changes, adjustments and modifications to even the best-laid plans. Having clear communication between your team and the company hired is a critically important first step in weathering the bumps along the way. But even the best communicators need to back up their words with actions."

Look for the following, said Dobmeier, when deciding which surfacing company is best for you:

  • Reputation in the industry. Does the company demonstrate a clear understanding of the industry, as well as an understanding of your needs? Do they respond thoroughly and expediently?
  • A proven track record. Has the company worked on similar projects over many years? Are they proven experts in the field?
  • A written warranty from the company. Evaluate it in terms of content and length of time, and consider the company in relationship to the warranty. How have they handled their worst warranty situation?
  • Financial strength and stability. Does the company have staying power? How long has the company been in the industry, and are you confident the company will be in business throughout the life of the warranty?

Tough Decisions

"I believe the most important factor in choosing a surface is always safety," said Nick Titus, assistant athletic director, facilities, University of Buffalo. "Due to issues with our field, presumably from the polar vortex last year, we had ruts in our synthetic turf field in the spring of 2014, which left us no choice but to replace the turf and the sub-base. In doing so, we also installed a shock pad to help with the field's G-max test to make it safer for the students."

Another consideration, Titus said, was the amount of wear and tear on the field. "Our turf was 9 years old," he said, "and most turf manufacturers will tell you the life expectancy is anywhere from seven to 10 years. While we would have liked to have had the old turf for a couple more years, ultimately it had reached the end of its useful life.

"We learned in the process of replacing our field that products have evolved significantly since we last installed our turf," Titus added. "The synthetic turf manufacturers are making their products more and more like natural grass in the look and the feel while competing. Our coaches and students said the new surface showed a remarkable difference. Before we replaced our turf, they would often complain about our turf after going on the road and competing on other schools' new turf. These new products could be a consideration for the schools that can afford it, just to keep up with the newest technological advances in the fields. I know when we made the switch to synthetic turf, one of the biggest reasons was the flexibility the turf allows. We can have multiple teams and other programming on the turf without tearing it up. Also, being in Buffalo, snow can be cleared fairly easily for our use."

Tim Van Loo, manager of athletic turf and grounds at Iowa State University and secretary/treasurer of the Sports Turf Managers Association, has been at Iowa State for six years, and said there have been no major renovations of the fields in that time period. "We've only built infields," he said. "We haven't done any kind of renovations. There have been a lot of areas that we've done a lot of seeding on, we've had to do some re-leveling and re-sodding. In the case of baseball or softball, you could get a lip buildup. When we did a softball field, we took the sod off and leveled the entire area. It was a small renovation, done because of the way our infield functioned. A lot of renovation begins with a visual. If something is not draining properly, if something is not working in the right way, then that is the point where something has to happen."

At Iowa State, in Ames, Iowa, a lot of the construction is dictated by weather and how user-friendly the fields are in that weather.

"We knew our season starts in the middle of March and goes to May," Van Loo said. "Then we pick up again in the fall and go to the first or second week in November as long as weather permits. We built a softball field so that it drains very quickly, because we get a lot of frost. The infield is hydrophobic, it doesn't take in any moisture, so it doesn't freeze at all. It can get hard, but it doesn't retain moisture. It is an infield that if it is nice in January you can go out there and use it. I would argue that I have a softball field that is just as user-friendly as an artificial baseball or softball field. So a lot of it is how it is constructed. The key thing is to know when you are using it, the time of the season, and construct the field according to that."