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Hybrid grass turns 30

We asked Luc Godfroid, marketing and communication manager for GrassMaster Solutions by Tarkett Sports, to provide some history of the GrassMaster system, which Tarkett acquired when it bought the Dutch company Desso in 2014:

When you hear the word hybrid, you might think of cars rather than a pitch. And yet both share the same ideology.

Back in the early 80’s of the last century, the Dutch Olympic Committee/Dutch Sports Federation launched a request into the sports industry to find a way to combine the benefits of natural and synthetic grass. The idea behind it was to design a sport pitch whose stability, resistance and lifespan would be considerably higher than on a natural grass pitch only.

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After a few years of research and development, in 1989, The Netherlands-based company Desso came up with the idea to inject high performance polypropylene fibers into the subbase of the pitch, in order to stabilize and reinforce the natural grass. The in-house developed fibers would be injected 7 inches (18 cm) into the soil, in a 0.8 by 0.8 inch grid, leaving just under 1 inch (2 cm) of fibers above the surface. Ultimately, the idea was that the natural grass entwines around the fibers, stabilizes, strengthens the grass and optimizes the drainage of rainwater.

The concept of a hybrid pitch was born. In the years to come the first pitches were installed at mostly Dutch clubs and served as tests. After continued testing and fine-tuning, in 1992 the first hybrid pitch at a professional club was installed at FC Den Bosch’s stadium De Vliert in The Netherlands.

As years went by, the interest of soccer clubs around this new hybrid solution grew. With the revival of soccer in the UK in the mid 90’s and the interest of building better stadiums with modern facilities, improved safety and better pitches, opened opportunities for Desso. Huddersfield Town, was the first professional stadium in the UK to install a Desso GrassMaster hybrid system in 1996. It marks the beginning of the hybrid systems area among English soccer clubs. Many other clubs such as Aston Villa or West Ham United, would follow Huddersfield Town and install a hybrid system. Nowadays almost all clubs in the English Premier league, but also in lower divisions, are using hybrid grass systems in their stadium and training facilities.

Internationally the hybrid solution made its first entrance in 2004 during European Championship Soccer in Portugal. Also in the same year, during the Olympics in Greece, the stadium of Athens was set-up with a hybrid Desso GrassMaster system.

However the biggest international break-through was in 2010. During the World Cup in South Africa, two pitches of GrassMaster were installed. The pitches were praised for their playability and stability. The interest of international soccer federations was sparked and a spectacular grow in installation over the next years was the result. In 2011 the GrassMaster system was implemented at Wembley Stadium in London, hosting the first-ever Champions League final on a hybrid pitch. The Wembley Stadium would also host the 2012 Olympic Games. “By the end of the Olympics we had an established surface that had been successfully tested to its limits as we had 11 games and 22 training sessions in 9 days,” said Greg Gillian, stadium management, Wembley Stadium.

The list of international events having hybrid pitches grew steadily. 2012 European Championship Soccer in Ukraine hosted games on 3 pitches of GrassMaster, 2014 World Cup Soccer in Brazil the Sao Paolo Stadium was equipped with a GrassMaster.

2014 also marks another milestone. Tarkett Group and Desso Sports Systems made an acquisition agreement, incorporating the GrassMaster solution into the Tarkett group.

Related to soccer is rugby. Both having similar characteristics in terms of field and required stability, the GrassMaster solution made its entrance into the broader rugby world in 2015. During the Rugby World Cup, 9 out of 13 pitches were equipped with GrassMaster, and 37 out of 48 games were played on the hybrid surface, including the opening ceremony and opening game. From only one pitch in the early 90’s to 600 pitches in 2016; from a few installations a year up to a capacity of around 45 to 50 a year.

Tarkett Sports launched at the end of 2016 a new product: PlayMaster, which offers fast installation and almost instant playability. It is the ideal solution for stadiums and venues with busy schedules that need flexibility and quality. The PlayMaster is a carpet-based technology, with a spray-coated backing that guarantees the best agronomic conditions for natural grass, whether the existing subbase is restyled or replaced with new sods. The PlayMaster is grown at specialist grass nurseries; for the North American market, we have selected partners such as Tuckahoe Turf Farms, Hammonton, NJ and Schaafsma Sod Farms, St Anne, IL.

The 2019 Women World Cup Soccer semi-finals and finals were played at Olympique Lyon Groupama Stadium on a PlayMaster solution. The sods where only installed a few days before the semis and grown in Italy under optimal conditions. Other venues taking advantage of the quick installation and flexibility are Tottenham Hotspur and Ajax Amsterdam.

“We continue to be impressed with Tarkett Sports’ GrassMaster Solutions and believe that with the combination of GrassMaster and PlayMaster, we can offer our clients two of the best hybrid grass solutions on the market,” said Ryan Hewitt, managing director, Hewitt Sportsturf

2019 is the year of our 30th anniversary. We are not yet done pioneering and we will come up with new ideas and products revolutionizing the industry just as 30 years ago.