Tired Of Natural Turf Taking A Timeout?

What would you do with a field that does not require downtime and never needs mowed, fertilized, weeded, trimmed, watered, aerated or dethatched? How would your agency capitalize in hosting a constant string of events? Would a synthetic-turf field be your nirvana?

Economical And Ecological Price

“There is an increased demand for field time, but limited availability, especially considering the potential for inclement weather and seasonal downtimes,” says Todd Britton, marketing manager for AstroTurf, a company that offers multi-sport and specialized synthetic-turf systems.

A recently completed study from BASF, a chemical company, reviewed the environmental and economic impact of synthetic-turf fields in comparison to natural-grass fields. The results were verified by NSF International, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, which is a world leader in standards development, product certification, education and risk-management for public health and safety.

The study evaluated the environmental and economic cost of a natural field versus three types of synthetic-grass fields with these surfaces:

• Nylon

• Polyethylene

• Hybrid blend (nylon and polyethylene).

The study measured the energy- and resource consumption, emissions, toxicity and risk potential, and land-use impact to manufacture, use, and dispose of each type. Additionally, the life-cycle costs were determined for materials, labor, manufacturing, waste disposal and energy consumption.

“The study found that over a 20-year time period, a synthetic field costs 15 percent less than a natural-turf field,” Britton says. “With a synthetic-turf field, you eliminate the vast majority of maintenance costs while increasing the available playing time with fields.”

Meeting Increased Demand

A multipurpose 75,000-square-foot recreational sport natural-turf field has the upper-end ability to support 600 hours of event activity per year. This is equivalent to 200 unique three-hour events. A synthetic-turf field of the same size, however, can sustain up to 3,000 hours of activity per year without rest.

While a synthetic-turf field might seem like a maintenance “get-out-of-jail-free” card, it’s not. “If someone tells you it is maintenance-free--that’s impossible,” says Erick Maki, vice president of Marketing and Sales for AmeriTurf. “The surfacing needs to be maintained, kept cleared of debris, and groomed with polypropylene brushes that stand the fibers back up.”

New Advances

A new shape of synthetic-grass fiber--dubbed Horseshoe Fiber--is longer on the edges of the blade and shorter in the center. The product has a 60-ounce face-weight, which is the unit of measure used to quantify the amount of lawn blade material used per square yard.

“It is much more durable fiber and heavier turf,” Andy Belles, brand manager for Astroturf, claims. “You are going to get maximum durability and life because of the increased column strength.”

Additionally, the upright fibers do not absorb as much of the heat from the sun. They also are treated with heat-reflective technology, as well as UV stabilizers.

Choosing The Right Synthetic Grass

Hiring a synthetic-turf consultant ensures that the right field is selected for a particular application.

The correct balance of face-weight to infill is as important as the proper installation. A turf expert can evaluate the purpose of the field, how often it is used and the potential use patterns, as well as recommend the synthetic grass suitable for a specific application.

The Basics

A synthetic field is constructed on top of a draining base consisting of tiles that direct the excess water away from the field, either into a storm drain or a retention basin. Above the drainage system is a pervious layer of geotextile covered with a combination of small and large stones. Finally, the top layer is the synthetic turf and infill.

Synthetic grass is composed of polyethylene fibers in the grass zone and short nylon fibers in the root zone that help reduce infill migration; this keeps the surface topography consistent throughout the field. The infill material is made from sand or rubber.

“With today’s technology, manufacturers are able to make blades that are 310 to 360 microns thick. The thicker fibers wear better and last up to 15 years,” says Maki.

Synthetic Safety

“The synthetic turf throughout the field should feel the same under the athlete’s foot and must have a consistent Gmax value,” says Belles. “Gmax value is an ASTM-regulated test done to measure the impact of the human head on a hard surface.”

“Sports injuries are going to happen. You can’t protect against that. The best thing you can do is provide a stable, consistent surface throughout the entire field,” says Maki. “The field must feel the same under the athlete’s foot at all times while also providing impact resistance.”

The Possibilities

The city-owned Barron Stadium in Rome, Ga., has hosted 20 events per year, including the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ (NAIA) National Championship games. At one point, the organization considered moving the games to a location with a better field.

But then the field was converted to synthetic grass, and usage skyrocketed.

“They now have 60 events per year, host games for Rome High School Wolves, Shorter University Hawks and the NAIA National Championship--generating an economic impact of nearly $2 million per year,” says Britton. “Additionally, in 2011 they’ll host a collegiate lacrosse tournament; Mid-South Track and Field Championships, with 30 teams; the Peach State Marching Festival for high-school bands; and adult soccer, adult flag football, and recreation league games at the stadium.”

A synthetic-turf field might be the solution to the ever-increasing demand on your limited resources and space. It seems to have worked out very well in Rome.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at tammy@landsharkcommunications.com.