Field assessment
Photo provided by the American Sports Builders Association

Regular Field Assessments Mean the Grass is Always Greener

By Mary Helen Sprecher

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” is one of those clichés that has been applied to everything from personal relationships to career changes. And it applies to every sports field too. 

Consider this: For a while, your field was the best thing you’d ever seen. Now, you’re not so sure. Signs of wear are creeping in, and it seems like your colleagues, who have recently installed new fields or resurfaced their existing facilities, have better, more vibrant fields.

While you’re aware that no field – no matter how top-of-the-line it is or how well it was built – lasts forever, you’re probably wondering whether your views are correct, or whether your perspective is slightly skewed.

The best way to decide whether your perceptions are accurate is to perform a total field assessment. The findings will help guide you in the direction you need to take. 

The good news is that this is one project you won’t need to do all on your own (and in fact, for best result, you shouldn’t).

“Hire an expert,” said John Schedler of Baraka Sport in Fort Worth, Texas. “Get someone who knows what to look for and knows how the field will need to be repaired or replaced given the condition/age/use.”

An individual experienced in sports field construction will be the best resource here. Sports field contractors, as opposed to those with simply a good knowledge of lawn or landscape maintenance, for example, will know the specific tests that need to be performed to diagnose whether there are problems with irrigation or drainage on the field, whether a synthetic field has hardened too much for play to take place safely, or whether the infill needs to be replaced or redistributed.

In the case of a natural grass field, field-specific contractors are adept at recognizing problems concerning both the playing surface, as well as damage stemming from weeds, insects and nematodes, as well as a host of other issues that need to be addressed.

Before the expert arrives, make a list of concerns you have, said Matt Wimer of Hummer Turfgrass Systems, Inc.

“How is the grass withstanding foot traffic? Are there bare areas, and, if so, how big are they? If you stand back from the field, you can check for planarity and smoothness, with an eye to seeing whether the field looks smooth. You should also walk it to see how it feels underfoot.”

Additionally, said Wimer, drainage is something that will be addressed, so it pays to be prepared with answers. 

“Walk the field after a rainstorm or after turning on the sprinklers and see how it drains,” said Wimer. “Are there puddles? If you’re checking the field before the season opens and after the season ends, how did it hold up? Is the overall field quality deteriorating year to year?”

Keeping good notes from season to season is key to staying updated on the condition of any sports field. Also, said Schedler, keep all paperwork together in case your contractor asks about it.

“Keep a file on each field, showing the manufacturer, system, year installed, warranty, brochures or sales information, maintenance requirements or recommendations.”

Just as important is keeping open the lines of communication regarding the field, said Schedler.

“Have a clear understanding of what’s needed from the assessment,” he said. “The contractor may recommend repair or possibly replacement of the field, and can set up the next steps after that.” 

Whether you have natural grass or synthetic turf (or a hybrid field), a regular maintenance program is necessary to keep it in good form. Keep records of all upkeep work as well. Another benefit of a regular maintenance program is that it serves to heighten awareness of changing field conditions, and generally allows problems to be addressed more promptly.

“If you have a synthetic field, monitor your infill levels,” said Todd Smith, Ph.D., PE, LEED AP, of R&R Engineers-Surveyors, Inc. “Look especially at higher-use areas, such as team areas, goal mouths, crease area for lacrosse, penalty and center kick areas for soccer, batter’s boxes and base areas for baseball and softball.”

The technology of sports field design and construction is changing at a rapid pace – and that doesn’t just apply to synthetic fields. New techniques in soil amendments, irrigation and drainage, for example, can allow natural fields to shed water more easily and to return to playable condition sooner. On the synthetic side, new developments in infill components, turf removal and recycling of infill have also changed the landscape of the industry and created new expectations on the part of owners.

At the same time, many synthetic fields that have seen years of active use are now reaching the end of their useful lives, and decisions will need to be made on the part of the owner regarding next steps. An industry expert who specializes in sports field construction will be the best person to act in an advisory capacity.

By choosing a contractor, as well as a design professional, with sports facility-specific expertise, owners have a better chance of getting what they want. Getting recommendations from colleagues with facilities similar to the one you are planning is one way to obtain good information. Make sure to ask questions about the responsiveness of the contractor to questions, their ability to deal with problems and anything else of importance.

Mary Helen Sprecher wrote this article on behalf of the American Sports Builders Association (www.sportsbuilders.org), the professional organization for designers, contractors and suppliers for the sports facility construction industry. The ASBA website includes a lookup feature for builders, design professionals and suppliers, as well as individuals who have become certified through ASBA’s voluntary certification program, and who hold the designations of Certified Field Builder, Certified Track Builder or Certified Tennis Court Builder.

ASBA also publishes its book, Sports Fields: A Construction and Maintenance Manual, which contains user-friendly but in-depth information that leads the reader through the decision-making process, as well as the design, construction and maintenance of sports fields. This book is also available through the ASBA website.

Privacy Preference Center