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Turf management or pitchcare describes the work needed to keep a sporting pitch ready for use. This article looks at the various types of sporting pitches and the type of challenges which they present.
The skills needed vary considerably dependent upon the sport and whether or not artificial surfaces are used. Special sets of skills are also needed to care for either sand-based athletic fields or native soil fields.
All tennis courts should ideally be a little west of true north to ensure minimum problems from sunlight.
The skills needed to maintain a grass court are considerable. Traditionally the court is split into the foundations and drainage, the soil or binding layer and the grass. All three must work together to provide the best playing surface. Maintenance of grass courts is typically split into the following areas
Artificial grass courts are a popular option at club level as they are weather resistant and their shock absorbing qualities help limit injuries. However they are not recommended for high skill levels and are expensive to maintain. The Lawn Tennis Association cost a basic court at £27,000 and replacement turf every 9 years, a further £11,000.
An interesting problem with asphalt courts arises in very hot environments. The asphalt absorbs heat very quickly, however the painted lines will reflect the heat and this differential in temperature can lead to surface cracking. These courts are generally low maintenance but they will need to be recoated every 5 to 10 years. Most maintenance involves keeping the surface clean. There is generally little movement in the surface which means added strain on ankles and knee joints. The Lawn Tennis Association costs a porous macadam court at £20,000 and it should last 10 to 12 years with low maintenance costs. An acrylic court would cost around £25,000 and is long lasting with low maintenance.
The growth in the popularity of golf, combined with the large sums of money invested in a golf course has led to the development of turf management which is a term used to refer to the skills of maintaining a golf course.
The green, as opposed to the rough, is the principal area of concern. Many golf courses are now built in environments which would be hostile to natural grass cover and essentially the grass grows in a hydroponic or sterile environment with very fast drainage. This means that it has to be fed and watered regularly.
The key characteristics of a good green are speed and consistency. Faster greens are preferred and for tournament play the greens should be as fast as possible. To measure speed a Stimpmeter is used. The main factors influencing green speed are:
Historically football pitches have had natural grass cover. The stresses on a pitch, combined with winter weather can often mean that the pitch has to be returfed on a regular basis. Essentially the existing turf is removed to a depth of typically 40 mm turf and 110 mm of soil. The replacement turf is ideally purpose grown to ensure consistency and freedom from weeds. A pitch can usually be returfed within 4 days and would, typically involve removing and relaying 400 cubic metres of turf and soil. The FA recommends 4 main characteristics of a good grass pitch.
Football pitch technology has moved forward tremendously since the 1970s/1980s where it was found that by December almost all pitches were turned into mud baths. Today's technology includes the use of drainage pipe at 5m centres, a gravel raft, a sand (suspended water table) rooting zone, undersoil heating and supplementary lighting on the surface that encourages growth. Management techniques have also moved forward with more emphasis on soil and plant biology, morphology, zoology and physiology being introduced into the management of a grass sward. There are also a number of materials and methods to reinforce a natural grass playing surface.
As stadiums have been developed, generally now 'near' sealed constructions, meaning less light and air movement on the playing surface, new processes and procedures have been introduced to counterbalance the effects of this.
Artificial grass offers an alternative to natural grass for football stadia. There has been considerable development of this type of surface from the early days when it was very similar to tufted carpet. The performance of this surface has generally been questioned as not being truly natural. However, there are definite advantages with artificial grass, particularly when a stadia has heavy or multi use requirements. Also when the environment is hostile to natural grass; for instance, low sunlight or a paucity of water.
Modern athletics tracks use “polymeric surfaces”. Because of their hardwearing and porous nature they allow the facility to look attractive and well-kept at all times, although actual maintenance is low.
Many schools and universities offer either 4 year programs in turf management or certificates which take less time to complete. Choosing the right program is a matter of personal preference. Students go on to become sports turf managers, head groundskeepers, golf course superintendents or work at a variety of other turf related jobs.