LBWA–Multi-Use Natural-Turf Fields

Photo Courtesy of Sports Turf Company

If enough land is dedicated to a field large enough to hold two or more multi-purpose fields, periodically lines can be re-drawn and fields can be turned 90 degrees.

Photo Courtesy of Sports Turf Company

Whenever somebody starts to talk about natural turf, multi-use sports fields for parks and recreation use, I start to get a multi-level headache. 

Why, you ask? Well, because the topic is layered with competing pros and cons that will make your head spin after a while. Before we embark on an exploratory discussion about the good, the bad, and the ugly of a multi-use field, let’s first define what all of this means for parks and recreation officials. 

The term “multi-use” has become quite popular these days when discussing any parks and rec facility. Multi-use means more people with divergent needs can use the same facility. It’s all about getting the most “bang for the buck.” 

Fighting For Field Time

Normally, when discussing a multi-use field, the field is used for sports that are compatible in field shape and size: soccer, football, and lacrosse, for example. To the casual observer, these examples sound logical. All of these sports use rectangular fields about the same size, so it makes sense they can all use the same field, right? 

A closer look reveals several mitigating circumstances countering this naïve perception. 

First, consider the seasons: in the example above, all three sports seasons generally occur at the same time of year (spring and fall). Teams generally practice at the same times (after school or on weekends) and play at the same time (evenings and weekends).  

So, recreational sports teams are automatically at odds with each other in vying for field space and time. This puts rec department administrators in a pickle, trying to balance judicial field allocation with protecting the turf asset. This can also throw parks and rec maintenance pros into a no-win situation because the turf has no time to recover from the abuse. It is nice if departments have the luxury of many fields so alternate fields are allowed to rest; however, most municipal departments don’t have extra fields. 

“Maintenance is the biggest issue because the more events you put on the field and the less amount of down time the field has to recover from any damage, the more maintenance is going to have to increase to compensate for the amount of damage that field will experience,” explains Dan Wright, vice president of Sports Turf Company in Whitesburg, Ga., and the Fields Division President of the American Sports Builders Association. 

Wright notes that funding for maintenance items such as aeration, fertilization, top dressing, and re-sodding must increase for a multi-purpose field. “But it may also mean an increase in staffing, or outsourcing some or all of these items,” he emphasizes, adding that, depending on the intensity of use, it may mean doubling or even tripling the per-field maintenance budget. 

A 90-Degree Approach

If a field has enough room on the sidelines, field lines can be moved from side to side so wear patterns shift, and worn areas can be repaired; generally, though, with the heavy traffic, worn areas are still beaten down enough that they never really come back during the season without re-sodding. 

“We didn’t really have enough room to move fields around, but we tried to do it as much as possible,” remarks Steve Wightman, past president and current committee member for the Sports Turf Management Association.  

Wightman reflected on his time managing 250 sports fields for the city and county of Denver in the 1980s before taking over as field and operations manager of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, where he recently retired. 

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