Natural Grass Or Synthetic Turf?

Maintenance: The Common Denominator

When making a decision about field type, remember that all fields–natural or synthetic–require maintenance. Synthetic turf does not need to be mowed, but it is not maintenance-free; it requires regular care to keep it performing well, just as a natural-grass field does.

No one type of field is perfect, so the best approach is to determine which field can provide the most desired qualities. Define the priorities, and know where there is room to compromise. Consider the pros and cons of each field as dictated in Sports Fields: A Construction and Maintenance Manual:

Natural Grass

Advantages:

• At the professional level, players and spectators still seem to prefer natural-grass fields. A recent survey of the National Football League Players Association found that a majority of players preferred natural grass.

• Natural turf does not hold heat like synthetic surfaces.

• While easily damaged by heavy use or poor weather conditions, natural-grass fields are inexpensive and easy to repair; if they are vandalized with spray paint or other materials, the damage repairs itself as the grass grows.

• Since they are not permanently lined, it is easy to convert natural fields from one sport to another.

Disadvantages:

• In the parts of the country with a severe winter, grass goes dormant by the middle of October, and field repairs must wait until spring. If the fields are seeded in late summer or early fall (depending upon the geographic area), they must be closed so that the grass can establish itself.

• At a minimum, fields require mowing and marking, and if the weather is not conducive, regular irrigation is necessary in order for the fields to remain usable; occasionally, they also need fertilization, topdressing, weed and pest control and more.

• In heavy rain, fields can flood and become muddy, necessitating cancellation and rescheduling of games.

• It may be necessary for grass fields to “rest” between heavy uses, in order to allow the grass to recover. If fields are overused, they will be skinned and bare of grass, particularly in areas that see heavy use.

Synthetic Turf

Advantages:

• Synthetic turf does not grow; therefore, it does not need mowing, nor does it need to be relined constantly. (It can be permanently marked for multiple sports.)

• Aesthetically, these fields are attractive, with a deep, uniform green color that shows up well on television as well as in still photography.

• In areas where there is frequent and/or heavy rain, synthetic-turf fields drain quickly and are usable sooner than natural-grass fields.

• Fields made of synthetic turf handle more play without “resting” between uses.

• During winter months, synthetic-turf fields can allow regular snow removal (with manufacturer-approved equipment). The fields’ ability to heat up in the sun also helps melt snow, allowing them to be playable before natural-turf fields.

Disadvantages:

• Unlike their natural counterpart, damage to synthetic fields can be complicated and costly to repair, meaning that not all events should be held there. (For example, UEFA, the European governing body for football, also known as soccer, has noted that javelin and hammer-throwing events can damage synthetic turf and must be held elsewhere.)

• Heat builds up quickly on synthetic fields, which may create a safety concern for athletes in warm climates.

• There is sometimes a health concern. Grass fields contain natural organisms that break down contaminants found in bird droppings or in bodily fluids like sweat, blood or vomit. Synthetic-turf fields do not have these naturally occurring bacteria, and owners may need to keep the fields clean and disinfected.

In most cases, synthetic fields have a high initial installation cost; however, it is essential to consider that regular mowing, fertilization, etc. will not be necessary.

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