A better understanding of soil and water management, plus the use of all-weather facilities for practice purposes, means it is rare to find a league ground suffering such conditions these days. But for public pitches the story is often different. A vast number of them are in a dreadful state. Many have uneven and unstable surfaces that are badly eroded and marked by ruts, ridges and hollows. The weather, overuse, misuse, under-funding, misguided management and incorrectly or poorly timed maintenance practices turn the pitches into swamps in winter and concrete in summer. There is little pleasure to be had from playing in such conditions.
Seeking maximum use with minimal outlay for maintenance, many local authorities, schools and sports clubs have turned to artificial pitches and multi-sport areas as a solution to sports and leisure provision, particularly where usage is likely to be heavy. And with funding from the lottery and elsewhere, all-weather, year-round sports facilities need no longer be a dream. They do, however, require a great deal of planning.
Properly construction and maintained, non-turf surfaces permit play at those times when natural turf facilities cannot be used. More importantly for local authorities and sports centres, non-turf surfaces can provide an opportunity to increase the amount of use substantially. Adding floodlights will allow play to be extended into the evenings to increase income still further.
There are four main types of non-turf sports facility: unbound mineral such as shale; bound mineral like bitmac; the bound synthetics such as resin-bonded needlepunch fabric or bonded rubber crumb; and synthetic turf carpets. The latter are often sand-filled to improve playing characteristics. But it is not only the most appropriate surface that must be selected; what’s below the surface is just as important.
Non-turf sports facilities have several components. It is the combination of these, together with the surface, that gives the facility its playing characteristics. The construction and choice of materials, along with factors such as site conditions, will affect the cost of the provision. Costs can vary enormously — from £50,000 for a small park, to around £1 million for a high-quality, sport-specific facility. And once the pitch is in place, the process of ensuring it is used and maintained correctly begins.
Maintenance of synthetic surfaces is crucial to the facility’s on-going success and such costs, while they may be lower than full-scale turf maintenance costs, must be included in the budget. It is essential that manufacturers or installers provide detailed instructions regarding use and maintenance.
There are sports, notably hockey, that have been played on synthetic surfaces for a while. Controversially, the day when major football matches are played on artificial turf may not be far away. In 2001, FIFA launched a Quality Concept for Artificial Turf. In 2004, the International Football Association Board decided that a reference to “field surface”, including artificial turf, would be added to the Laws of the Game.
Other sports make use of synthetics for practice or winter play. Four new all-weather surfaces have been installed by Huxley Golf for the English Golf Union at the National Golf Centre at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire. Used by golfers of all ages and abilities, the surfaces comprise a 3.66m x 6.1m nylon turf teaching area, two nylon turf practice tees measuring 3.66m x 15.25m and 1.83m x 22.88m, plus a 9.15m x 6.1m nylon putting green.
Woodhall Spa courses manager Peter Wisbey likes the surfaces for their low maintenance requirements, needing little more than a stiff brushing every morning. He says: “It means that all four surfaces can be looked after easily by the driving-range staff, leaving the specialised greenkeeping team free to concentrate on the fine turf areas of the course. The Huxley surfaces take the pressure off natural turf without any detrimental effects from either the playing or the maintenance point of view.”
Grass reinforcement can also provide a solution to loss of playability in winter. Various systems work to strengthen natural-turf surfaces and maintain cover at the time when the grasses are at their most susceptible.
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