Role Reversal… Grass More Durable Than Synthetic!!!

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Through the 1st year of this blog, we have explored many different and new ideas about maintaining and renovating high traffic athletic fields.  The results that many high traffic grass field managers are producing are amazing. So with the advancement of ideas…  with developing new concepts… with creating better grasses… is it not possible to create a world in which GRASS FIELDS CAN SUSTAIN AS MUCH TRAFFIC AS SYNTHETIC??

Have you ever even imagined such a world????????????????

Over and over we hear about how grass fields are inferior to synthetic fields from a durability stand point.  There never seems to be any defense for it either!  Even though so many fields and so many sports field managers are having tremendous success with high traffic.  Forward thinking sports field managers are producing fields to the highest quality under demands that just a few years ago we thought were impossible to succeed under.  American football fields are surviving without needing sod work.  Soccer and baseball fields are hosting multiple sports and concerts.  Even park and recreation fields are seeing improved vertical drainage and stronger grass under constant traffic.  Amazing, amazing results.

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So when are we going to start hearing about the possibilities of high traffic, natural grass athletic fields instead of hearing about how “grass fields can’t take more??

I say the time is now!!!  What do you think????  Can we change the way the world thinks about grass to where they believe grass fields CAN sustain more???

I think we can!  But its going to take positive thinking and someone asking some hard questions even of our own industry.  Its funny, I remember vividly as a college student when a STMA Officer stated in a workshop that “we are Sports Field Managers, we have to accept all sports fields”.  That was over 10 years ago. Back then (wow, I sound OLD!!), synthetic turf was just coming onto the scene as a real “threat” to low maintenance fields.  The marketing machine known as the synthetic turf industry was just establishing firm.  Well now our trade magazines and conferences are filled with synthetic turf maintenance information.  Even our major universities are being underwritten by and researching synthetic turf improvements. During those 10+ years, industry leaders have felt that it important to supply information for our members who have to maintain synthetic fields just as we do grass.  But in 10 years, how many synthetic fields have replaced grass fields that really just needed maintained correctly  v. grass fields that replaced synthetic fields?  That STMA officer that made the statement 10 years ago himself has even lost fields to synthetic.

But….  is it bad to say what everyone else is thinking?!?! ITS CARPET!!! You drag it, you sweep it. I do not go to seminars to learn how to groom my living room carpet…  why should I for synthetic fields?  Plus each vendor of synthetic has different methods of maintenance..  Why don’t we not just allow them to dictate what their specific fields need for maintenance??  The grass field industry’s argument against synthetic has been that synthetic is “not maintenance free”.  Well, it doesn’t seem that argument has stopped a single synthetic field from being put in… but it seems to have convinced ourselves that they are complicated!!  Lets face it-  compared to grass, its simple!!   GRASS maintenance is a science- it is NOT SIMPLE.

So I ask, over the last 10 years with all the dollars and time and research spent on the industry accepting synthetic turf, WHAT IF?!?!?

What if all the seminar classes filled with synthetic information were filled with positive, forward thinking, creative experts on grass?  Would bermudagrass genetics that are 30 years old still be the core of sports fields in the south?  Or would newer, stronger, more cold tolerant bermudas be taking over fields and have them growing nearly 12 months a year so they are not as easily replaced w/ synthetic?   Would we know that there is currently an entirely different approach to field maintenance in Europe than we have in the USA?

What if all the publication space used on synthetic was dedicated to new grass field construction ideas and the education of sports executives about how strong natural grass can be?   Would there an increased amount of respect and appreciation for specialized sports field managers? Would facilities have sand fields with fibrelastic or more fields with advanced grass genetic technology? Would only 4 of over 120 grow light applications be in the USA?

What if all the research time used for synthetic was dedicated to creating methods and ideas for natural grass? Would there be outdated information from academia like what I read recently in an article that states that it takes “14-28 days for Kentucky bluegrass to germinate, and it takes 6-9 months for it to fill in”… yet there are multiple bluegrasses that germinate in 7-10 days and this blog featured a field grown-in in 35 days?  Would there be research on new root zones w/ more stability and less compaction potential instead of research on synthetic infills?  Would there be creative new ideas for grass fields that we could never even imagine right now instead of worry about trying to make plastic and rubber not reflect heat from the sun?

Would all of this information and time and effort combine into monumental steps towards GRASS FIELDS BEING THE ANSWER TO HIGH TRAFFIC INSTEAD OF SYNTHETIC!?!?!  Or even creating ways to GROW GRASS ANYTIME, ANYWHERE!?!?!?

Yes, it seems crazy…  but if our lives can all run on devices in our pockets that not that long ago was merely a device on the wall that was at the mercy of switch board operators and long distance charges… WHY NOT!?

So now I ask…  What will change it!?  When will it change??  What comes next??  Where is the action point even to start to defend and promote grass fields as actually being HIGH TRAFFIC FIELDS??  Action was warranted following the gross attack from the Synthetic Turf Council against natural grass in an article a couple of months ago.  That was evident by the 100 social media shares, 500 views on this blog in 24 hours, and 0ver 50 emails and texts in reference to my  letter to the editor about the article.  Then recently an opportunity to take action again presented itself again when Abby Wambach, the world’s best female soccer player, set out on her own campaign against FIFA’s relationship with synthetic turf for the next Women’s World Cup. Read Here  .

WHEN SHALL WE TAKE ACTION?!?!

I firmly believe that the industry currently possess an arsenal of techniques, ideas, and tools to make GRASS TAKE AS MUCH AS SYNTHETIC.  Now with the support of our industry organizations to educate field managers and the entire sports world…  with our trade publications searching far and wide for unfound information and the presentation of new ideas…  and with our research universities working with the creativity that only they as researches have…      THE  SKY IS THE LIMIT!!

There are great, great things happening all around us right now with grass fields, and those great things are going to continue to spread.  My bold prediction, is that within 5 years we WILL HAVE A NATURAL GRASS ALTERNATIVE for synthetic (at a fraction of the cost, environmentally friendly, and sustainable w/out needing replacement).  Come and join… IT IS A NEW AGE FOR GRASS FIELD MANAGEMENT!!

BE A PART OF THE GRASS FIELD REVOLUTION

“Changing the Answer is Evolution.  

Changing the Question is a REVOLUTION!”

Center of Field Post Rugby Match

Center of Field Post Rugby Match

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3 thoughts on “Role Reversal… Grass More Durable Than Synthetic!!!

  1. YES! YES! THANK YOU JERAD! We’ve all been waiting for this! If all the money spent on artificial turf at schools were spent on installing better natural fields and EDUCATION on how to best create and maintain durable , safe and healthy fields – “what a wonderful world it would be”. What a concept – schools actually educating children and teaching them about how to work WITH the natural world instead of against it.

  2. Hi Jerad this is a great article. Over here in Europe we are progressing the science behind growing real turf rapidly. Initially there was the Lighting Rig introduction and now we have the addition of introducing elevated Co2 levels with the light source. Now its possible to grow grass at 0 deg Celsius ambient temperature In this way and have up to 10mm growth every 24 hours. We have done this on a pure turf pitch and also a semi synthetic (3% plastic) surface. Its simple, create the right environment for the grass to grow and it will. If you enable this environment for 24 hours at a time then it grows quicker…..The need for other events and more matches is growing and by using the technology available it is possible to have this balance. What it takes is the stadiums and the game officials to be proactive and get in front of the issues. With the right technology and and understanding how to use it to prevent problems and issues rather than trying to fix them after they have already happened ,there is no reason why real turf or a semi synthetic surface cannot be used.

  3. Well said. If more people would spend time investing in maintaining properly they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. I’m confused why people still publish recommendations for grass that are from decades ago when research and antcedotal evidence shows otherwise. Let’s find ways to excell at the craft we have a passion for an not stop until we succedd

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