Is all synthetic turf the same?
The Sports Industry is a complex and confusing playing field that is constantly innovating, consolidating, and improving. New fibers are being introduced, new backings are being created, new infills are coming to the market and new safety data is being released, daily.
Like most things manufactured there are varying degrees of quality. To the eye, all turf may look the same, but they are drastically different. You can purchase a quality branded product where the product has been tested and designed for optimal performance, wear, and player safety; or you can purchase a flimsy fiber with poor backings that may look good for a few years, then fall apart. Doing a deep dive into the science, safety and performance can save you thousands of dollars down the road.
To select the best field for your needs it is important to understand what your goals are…do you want the safest field, the most durable field, the least expensive field, the field that is designed to play and perform most like natural grass, or the field that is designed the best for the sport(s) being played?
Once these questions have been answered, the next step is to determine what sports are being played. That answer will help determine the fiber type (Slit-film, Monofilament, or a combination of the two fibers and the fiber height). Those two things will greatly impact the ball roll, cleat interaction, durability, player safety, and longevity. For example, a football-specific turf will be quite a bit different than a baseball turf. A field hockey surface will be different than a Lacrosse field. A soccer field will be different than a football field. The fiber needs to be matched to the sport – and your goals.
In addition to the fiber type and its height, the amount of fiber in the field needs to be taken into consideration. Is a 32-ounce field better than a 64-ounce field? That depends on the system and sports being played. Just because a field has more fiber, does not mean it is a better field. Fiber type and fiber weight will impact the performance of the surface. Testing is done to determine how tall the fibers need to be (1-inch to 2.5-inches) how much infill is needed, how much fiber spacing between rows is needed, and how many total fibers are needed for that system. The fiber amount in the system can also vary due to the chemical ingredients included to make the yarn. Most fibers look the same, but it is the chemical ingredients that make the fiber last longer. (Think about plastic water bottles…there are some that are very soft and flimsy and others that are thicker and stiff. The same principles apply to making turf fibers. You can make weak, flimsy fibers, or beefy hardy ones.)
Other things that separate turf manufacture’s field quality and longevity are the backings and coating that are being used. How many backings are used in the making of the turf? What type of coating do they use? If they use multiple backings how are they joined together? How do they deal with dimensional stability? Are the fibers tufted or woven? What chemical product do they use to secure the fibers to the backing? If your fibers fall out…that’s not good!
Infill type and maintenance will have a significant impact on the performance, playability, safety, and longevity of the field you select. As will a shock pad. Each manufacture will have different recommendations based on their tested systems.
If you are working with nationally branded turf manufactures who value science, performance, and safety vs. those who push out low-quality generic fields you are better off. They are spending money on research, development, and player safety to protect their brands.
NOT all artificial turf fields are the same…in fact, they are very different. It is important to do your research and learn as much as you can about each system, before making an investment in synthetic/artificial turf.
Remember…The turf you select is only as good as the foundation that it is built upon. Always start with a good base then work up.