The Ultimate Guide to Sports Fields: Grass vs Turf
PUBLISHED ON JANUARY 9, 2019
By Sports Field Solutions
It’s the big question: grass or turf?
You’ve got a decision to make.
Grass or turf? Which is better? Well, that depends on your situation. Turf fields have a huge upfront cost but are so much more convenient. Natural grass fields cost less to install, but the maintenance can be intense.
As you probably guessed, that’s only the beginning. It’s time to flesh ‘em out, put the screws to them, however you want to say it. This is an honest, transparent guide. We do both natural and synthetic fields: we aren’t afraid to compare them. They both have pros and cons, so we don’t have a horse in this race. We’re neutral.
Our end game? Give you everything you need (cost, maintenance, time frame, etc.) so you make the right choice for your athletes. Factors like time, staff, and money make a huge difference in picking a field. With this guide, you’ll make an informed decision you will love now and for years to come. Your athletes will thank you.
First up to bat is the synthetic team:
Not all Turf is Created Equal
The Surprising Truth about Synthetic Fields (Including Cost and Construction)
What does it cost to build a turf field? Typical synthetic field construction ranges from $7.50-9.50/sf. The more polymer per square yard, the higher the quality and the higher the price.
Let’s look at some examples:
A 42-ounce field is considered to be pretty low budget. The cost will be on the lower end of the range, around $7.50 per square foot. The field is less durable because there’s less fiber per square yard. On the other hand, a 60-ounce field is premium stuff and will be closer to $9.00. Why would you choose the 42-ounce field? Your budget doesn’t allow wiggle room.
While this $7.50-9.50 range is a good rule of thumb, there are a bunch of other factors, such as:
-Type of nylon or polyethylene mix
-Mass excavation may be necessary
-Soil Modification may be necessary
This can all increase the price, which is why the only way to know the exact price is to get a quote for your field. For field construction (not including lights, press boxes, bleachers, nets, etc.) some good budget numbers are:
As far as construction goes, turf field construction takes about 2-3 months. Lights, bleachers, soil modification, and press boxes can all extend that time frame.
How to Get what You Paid For
Remember: synthetic turf fields aren’t maintenance-free. There is less maintenance than natural fields, but they need to be groomed monthly-bimonthly, and they need to be cleaned and g-max tested annually.
G-max testing measures the shock absorption of the field, ensuring a safe playing surface for the athletes. Cleaning and grooming year round so the field is primed and ready for game time also has an expense. If you do it right, the yearly maintenance of a turf field is between $8,000-$15,000 a year.
Now that we’ve got turf fields all sorted out. Let’s head on over to grass fields.
Go Where the Green Grass Grows: Natural Fields
Why Grass Fields May Be Your Perfect Fit
Things are about to get complicated.
We know you want details about natural fields, but there are so many variables. Providing specifics is difficult. Why?
Natural fields have more options, different levels of quality, and more variables. The name of the game is drainage. If the field site doesn’t have good drainage, then you’ll need to haul in mass amounts of dirt. “Dirt is cheap,” you think. Well, you’re not wrong, but 4,000 tons of it can be pricey. The grade is essential to get right, because standing water is the root of almost every problem for grass fields. So you need enough grade for the field to drain right, but too steep a grade changes play, and water that runs off too quickly can cause recurring issues.
There are solutions. Top-of-the-line natural fields actually have drainage pipes all throughout the subgrade. They’re built with a sand base so water can drain straight down through the field. Sand-based fields can cost as much a $7.00/sf.
After getting the drainage, you can sod, hydromulch, sprague, or seed the field. Laying sod will get you on the field fastest, but is also the most expensive. If you plan ahead, hydromulching or spraguing give you the best bang for your buck. This whole process takes about 2-3 months or less depending on the type of field.
If you pick a good site, choose the most basic options, and are patient with grow in, you can be looking at as little as $2.00/sf for a natural field.
Yeah, we know.
That’s cheap, but it’s also a wide range. The good news is that it’s very customizable. If you know what you want and have a trusted partner, you can add and subtract items as needed to meet your budget. Here’s a rough price estimate:
Flexibility is great, isn’t it? It is, but in order to have a high-quality grass field, the right kind of maintenance is what will win the day.
It’s like if your teenage son asked you to buy him the newest Ford F-150. Uh, how fast would you say no? You know he’s going to wreck it, or at least damage it, so why buy it? He’s better off with your neighbor’s twenty-year-old station wagon. You, on the other hand, would know how to care for that truck. It’s the care and maintenance that make the investment worth it.
Fields are the same. If you get a high-budget grass field and then have low-budget maintenance, you may as well have gone with the low-budget field. Good maintenance can go a long way, even on lower-end fields. You’ve got to water, mow, aerate, fertilize, and stripe.
It can be hard to quantify what you are spending on the maintenance of your fields. There are equipment costs, hours of time spent by those on your payroll, material that is being split between different sites. How much does your field actually cost to maintain?
The exact costs are difficult to pin down, but since we cover full turn-key maintenance for a lot of our customers, we can put a dollar value to the total package. Maintenance of professional and collegiate level fields can cost over 6 figures per year per field. However if you don’t require Lambeau field, then a budget of $10,000-$40,000 per year will work fine. Again, it’s a wide range, also because of variables like number of mows, amount of water used, and types of pesticides used.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the approximate yearly maintenance cost of synthetic turf fields vs natural grass fields:
In the Long Run: Comparing Average Costs over 10 Years
Will you have your field for more than a year?
So let’s widen our perspective. In the span of ten years, the cost of building and maintaining both natural and synthetic fields are pretty similar. Synthetic turf fields cost more up front, but the maintenance of natural grass fields adds up over time. The exact numbers show that over a 10-year time frame natural fields cost less, but they also come with a slightly larger headache because of the maintenance necessary.
One last thing to consider:
In roughly year ten of the life of a turf field, it will need to be resurfaced, which is not cheap. When you factor in the resurface, synthetic becomes significantly more expensive over a 10-year time frame.
So why even consider synthetic? Three major reasons.
You don’t want the headache of managing the maintenance of your field.
You want a field that is better at handling rain and bad weather.
You want to raise your field utilization ceiling. Synthetic fields can tolerate much more field use than natural fields in an isolated period of time. You can play 24 hours in a day if needs be.
Climate. Lack of water, or being in a transition zone, can both be reasons for going synthetic.
If these factors are important for you, go synthetic. If not, reduce your expenses, spend more time on maintenance, and go with a natural field.
Choosing between natural and synthetic can be hard, but hopefully you are now informed well-enough to make the best choice for you.