Athletic Turf Worn Out?

Thomas J. Koske  |  12/2/2004 12:57:44 AM

Athletic turf is often abused. Many people think that grass just grows and grows and you can’t wear it out. The truth is that most fields are over used and under maintained. 

A U.S. survey was conducted by Iowa State University relating to athletic field use and resulting turf performance. Fields surveyed ranged from eight events per year, per field to 656 events per year per field. The average maximum number of games and/or uses per year that would allow the field to fully recover was reported as 64. The average maximum number of events that lead to permanent damage was 79. 

On average, field managers reported 125 events per field, per year. Managers felt that this was about twice the play that a field could sustainably handle, although some reported maintaining adequate turf with as many as 150 events. 

Top-notch pro team and university game fields are allowed only limited use. Often we see only eight or nine events on these football fields. Practice is held elsewhere on several other fields such as the four high-quality football practice fields that LSU uses. 

Many variables come into play in turf sustainability other than just the amount of play. These include type of grass, root zone soil mixture, climate location, drainage, irrigation, mowing, type of play and players, turf cultivation, topdressing, fertility and pest control.

A sustainable field use plan should include good agronomic practices and take note of how much play can be tolerated before the turf breaks to a "not acceptable" cover. This break point will vary with the variables just mentioned. With this information, you can either try more inputs or reduce the number of events. A practice is still an event! 

Acceptable or "fair" rated turf would be some breakthrough of the sod, thatch beginning to wear out and a minor soil exposure. Cleats penetrate the sod well and still hold traction. There is more than 50 percent live green turfgrass coverage. 

Unacceptable or "poor" turf cover would be a substantial breakthrough of the sod, thatch worn down to bare soil and less than 50 percent live green coverage. This soil may be hard with poor cleat penetration, producing less footing and player leg problems. 

These kinds of data help administrators make sound decisions on how many fields are needed for an expected amount of play. It also helps with field maintenance schedules and budgets. The more wear you put on a field, the more maintenance it requires to maintain a sustainable cover within its maximum limits. Good turf cover is also a safety issue.
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