You know what matters? Safety, playability, sustainability and aesthetics.
Let me explain.
In the (almost) two years I’ve been the Editor in Chief of SportsField Management, I’ve come across a lot of talented, skilled, revered and respected field managers who take a great amount of pride in growing exceptional – natural – turfgrass. They went to school for it, received degrees in it and have been doing it successfully for a long time.
The science of growing grass is one of the bedrocks of athletic field management. This is obvious and clear. But these field managers, the ones passionate as can be about growing exceptional and natural turfgrass, also live by what I mentioned above: providing safe, playable, aesthetically-pleasing and sustainable playing surfaces for the athletes, regardless of age or level, who use them.
Guess what, field managers who care for synthetic surfaces want and strive for the exact same things. That’s just the way it is, and I think that’s the way it always will be.
So why does it seem like, at times, there is this divide, or maybe some friction, when it comes to a discussion about natural versus synthetic surfaces? Actually, why do we insist on saying just that: “natural versus synthetic.” Both are a part of this industry and both have their pros and cons.
It seems to me that our society is becoming more environmentally conscious. It also seems like we are becoming more aware and informed of what we’re ingesting, whether it’s through our mouths or our noses. This is where the concerns regarding synthetic turf often come up, for example the touchy issue of whether or not crumb-rubber infill in synthetic turf can cause some forms of cancer. Proponents of natural grass surfaces often bring up these concerns, and whether or not all are justifiable is often a matter of perspective.
But there are other factors to consider here.
How about water conservation?
Field managers are stewards of the environment and some have made great strides in providing excellent fields while learning to conserve as much water as possible. This should be shared and applauded.
But there are some parts of our country, like in California, that are under heavy water restrictions. Some communities have been forced to completely stop irrigating athletic fields, which makes those fields unusable in some cases.
In these situations, synthetic turf installation is a very viable, intelligent option.
Take youth sports, for example. Does anyone think children would rather not play sports than play on synthetic turf? I seriously doubt this would be the case anywhere.
Technology is also changing the way we look at this topic. Companies like XtraGrass are bridging the gap between natural and synthetic, creating hybrid technology where natural grass grows through a specially woven synthetic turf fabric. Hybrid turf systems are being utilized all over the place, in various situations and localities.
I’ve found the athletic field maintenance industry to be one that possesses a culture of camaraderie and sharing of knowledge.
With that in mind, let’s all finally admit that every field manager’s goal, hands down, should be providing safe, playable, sustainable and aesthetically-pleasing fields – regardless of what the surface is made out of.
That’s what really matters.