An organisation’s (sport club, association, local or State Government) decision to have a natural grass or synthetic turf comes
down to their specific objectives for environmental, social, health and
In addition to the Decision Making Guide,
the following is a detailed report on natural grass vs synthetic turf
for bowls, tennis, hockey, soccer/rugby, ovals (football/cricket) and/or
any relevant multi-purpose facilities, that the department and other key stakeholders can use to assist with
decision making, policy and planning. The report will consider the
factors that contribute to the choice of playing surface, in terms of
performance, safety and playing facility requirements for the above
In addition to details on the specific sports, the current knowledge
on environmental, social, health and financial implications of synthetic
turf compared to natural turf will be presented in detail.
The information in this guide was published in 2011 and cannot be
relied upon as professional advice concerning the decision as to
natural grass v synthetic turf. No assurance is given as to the accuracy
of any information contained in this guide and readers should seek more
up to date information prior to making a decision. Readers should
obtain their own independent and professional advice in relation to
sport has been played on natural grass surfaces. As towns and cities
were established natural grass sports surfaces were developed on open
space sites set aside for recreation. The nature of the sporting
activity determined the requirements for the sports ground, in relation
to size and surface characteristics.
The construction of natural
grass sports surfaces has varied according to the site, and in many
cases, sports grounds have been developed either, on original soil, fill
sites with poor quality imported soil or in some cases old landfill or
drainage sites which can be prone to sinkage. As a result, the quality
of natural grass sports grounds is variable, particularly in winter
months or following high rain fall events.
In the last 20 years
as the profile of sport has increased, particularly at an elite level,
the expectation and standards for sports ground quality have also
increased. The main drivers for higher standard of sports grounds are;
class and international sports venues must comply with stringent
standards in relation to the quality of the sports ground surface. These
standards can be accessed on the various state, national and
international sporting governing body’s websites (refer to acknowledgments and further information for further details).
impact of this on local sports grounds is the increased expectation of
sporting clubs and associations, in relation to the quality of sports
grounds across the sector. Ground management authorities, including
local government, schools, clubs and associations, are under increased
pressure to provide high quality sports grounds in an environment where
participation rates are increasing for some sports and access to open
space is decreasing. Whilst it is not always possible to provide elite
standard facilities, sports grounds must be ‘fit for purpose’ for the
Whilst specific requirements for individual
sporting codes will be discussed later in this report, a general
discussion on the major considerations in relation to natural grass
sports surfaces follows.
aim of natural grass sports ground construction is to produce a turf
surface that is ‘fit for purpose’ for the designated activity.
Construction standards for elite and premier surfaces are higher than
those for local sports grounds.
sports grounds are constructed using an imported sand profile over a
drainage layer with sub-surface drainage installed. Such construction is
limited to elite venues, which are used for national and international
grade sport or smaller areas such as golf or bowling greens.
sports grounds are constructed using an imported sand profile over a
natural sub-base with sub-surface drainage installed. Such construction
is used for high grade and state level sporting venues.
sports grounds are constructed using natural soils, where possible,
with amendments incorporated if necessary. Generally surface slope is
used for surface drainage. Where drainage becomes a problem sand slit
drains can be incorporated to improve drainage.
For further information refer to sport specific requirements.
desirable characteristics of grass species for sports grounds are
drought tolerance, wear tolerance, a consistent leaf density and good
Natural grass species can be divided into two types;
warm season grasses have a creeping growth habit with horizontal stems
growing above the ground (stolons) and below the ground (rhizomes) which
provide good recovery characteristics. Warm season grasses can be
established using seed, vegetative cuttings (stolons) or sods. Seed or
stolons require several months and up to a year respectively to
establish prior to use. Laying of sods, whilst more expensive, is
quicker to establish and can be used within weeks of laying given the
right conditions. The growing season is spring, summer and autumn with
peak growth stages in the hotter summer months. Both Kikuyu and Couch
provide a consistent leaf density, they are drought tolerant and have
good wear tolerance. However, winter dormancy results in limited
recovery from damage or wear during the cooler months, which is the
period when grounds are subject to most wear.
Cool season grasses
(Rye/Fescue) have an upright tufted growth habit relying on tillering
from individual plants for growth and recovery. Cool season grass can be
established using seed or sods. Seeded sports grounds require several
months and up to a year to establish prior to use. Laying of sods,
whilst more expensive, is quicker to establish and can be used within
weeks of laying given the right conditions. The peak growth season is
spring and autumn with reduced growth in winter. Whilst rye and fescue
grass does not actually have a dormant period, they require
significantly more water to sustain healthy growth in summer and are not
drought tolerant. Where turf has declined due to wear, recovery
requires over sowing as the individual grass plants must be replaced.
or Couch sports grounds can be over sown with rye grass to provide
improved winter wear tolerance. However, it is necessary to eradicate
the rye in spring. This practice is costly and is usually done only on
premier sports grounds.
At a ‘local’ sports ground level the
desired grass species are either Kikuyu or Couch grass. It is important
that the grass quality is maintained to a high level with a consistent
dense coverage going into winter dormancy so the grass can withstand
winter wear. Whilst recovery from excessive wear in winter may be slow,
the grass will recover during spring and summer. Where natural grass
quality deteriorates this has an impact on surface quality with the
development unstable, loose or uneven areas leading to divots and
pot-holes resulting in twisting or trip hazards.
order to maintain the grass turf to provide an acceptable, ‘fit for
purpose’ facility, a sound turf maintenance program should be
implemented aimed at maintaining turf health, soil structure, and
surface levels. A turf maintenance program includes the following:
should be cut with a cylinder mower weekly during spring and summer and
fortnightly during the colder months when grass growth is slower.
Height of cut should generally be between 15-25 mm for warm season
grasses and 25-40mm for cool season grasses.
maintain soil structure, de-compaction works using a mix of deep coring
with hollow tynes in spring (verti-drain) and deep slicing (earthquake)
in Autumn. Varying the de-compaction methods will ensure that a hard
pan is not created within the profile.
that suffer excessive wear may require sodding in order to maintain
acceptable turf and surface quality. Areas such as goal squares and
cricket pitch run-ups are particularly susceptible. Maxi-sods which are
600mm wide are preferred. Unless sods are grown on a sandy soil they
will require coring with the addition of sand top-dressing to ensure
drainage through any imported clay loam soil.
maintain surface levels, sports turf should be top-dressed,
concentrating on heavy wear areas such as the centre corridor and goals,
in early spring following the winter competition season. Top-dressing
material should be of high medium to coarse sand with hydraulic
conductivity of > 100mm/hr and pH of between 6.0–7.0. Top-dressing
rates are between 100–150 tonnes per hectare concentrating on the centre
corridor and high wear areas. Top-dressing should follow sodding and
coring to ensure the sand is incorporated into the root zone of the soil
It is generally not
necessary to implement a proactive weed, pest and disease control
program for local sports grounds. Rather where weeds, pests or disease
are identified specific action will be required.
schedules over the summer months should replace soil moisture lost
through evapotranspiration. A base irrigation schedule is developed
using average climatic conditions and irrigation system application
rates to ensure adequate irrigation is applied without wastage. The
schedule needs to be adjusted for weather variations. As a guide the
irrigation requirement for warm season turf using average climatic
conditions in Perth is between 5,500kL-6,800kL per hectare.
thatch can be detrimental to turf health and should be minimised. The
usage schedules will thin turf and thatch can be controlled with close
mowing and sound irrigation programming. Where thatch levels become a
problem dethatching or scarifying is required.
natural grass requires correct nutrition to provide the necessary food
for the plant to grow. Laboratory soil tests should be done annually to
determine soil nutrient status and enable amendment fertiliser program
to ensure chemical balance within the soil. This is coupled with an
ongoing maintenance fertiliser program providing the major nutrients of
Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.
A natural grass sports
surface provides an asset to a community which is alive and
self-renewing given sound management. Being a natural surface it is
subject to many variables and the quality of the surface is impacted by
the quality of construction, maintenance regimes, weather and usage
rates. Full lifecycle costings for specific natural grass sports
surfaces for individual sporting codes are provided later in this
report.  For further information on Natural Grass Surfaces Management
refer to acknowledgments and further information.
turf was first invented in the mid 1960’s in America. It originally
came into existence in the market place to replace natural grass that
had difficulty growing in indoor stadiums. The Houston Astrodome was the
world’s first fully enclosed stadium with a synthetic turf field. This
field was not much more than green plastic indoor-outdoor carpet,
however, it was praised for its visual appeal and playability and as a
result, synthetic turf fields were soon under construction across
Despite a growing number of complaints from teams and
players about various injuries occurring on the fields for most of the
next decade, little change was made to the original turf design. Many of
the USA stadiums that tried synthetic turf around this time, including
the Houston Astrodome, all eventually returned to natural grass.2
by the mid-1970s these first generation synthetic turf pitches
(low-pile height, high-density of fibres) had improved to the point
where a synthetic turf pitch was successfully used for the hockey
tournament at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Made of nylon
(polyamide) yarns, first generation pitches were coarse and capable of
causing friction burns and wounds unless they were played on when they
were wet - as per the hockey model. This model did not suit a number of
sports including soccer, baseball and American football3 so the uptake of synthetic surfaces in these sports was slow.
in synthetic turf technologies continued over the next decade but it
wasn’t until the early 1990’s that significant changes were seen, with
the introduction of the third generation turfs. New, revolutionary
improvements were happening. Various mixtures of silica sand and/or
recycled tires (granulated crumb rubber) were now being incorporated
into extremely well-drained synthetic turf fields. The overall
playability of the fields was becoming more and more similar to natural
The use of a softer polyethylene
based fibre and the ability of the surface to take a normal stud has
resulted in it becoming an acceptable surface for sports such as soccer
and rugby. The rubber infill, sometimes with a shock pad for added
safety, have made third generation synthetic turf more acceptable for
most of the sports where a player might occasionally slide, fall to the
ground, or land from height. These third generation pitches are now
becoming popular in Australia, and will increasingly be seen in the
future being used for Australian Rules football and cricket (outfields),
and for multi-sport usage.3
Type according to infill content:
pitches were the first type of system implemented for sport. They had
short pile height, were dense in quantity and had no infill material.
They were often made of nylon, which meant the prototypes were often
tough and abrasive. Partly due to the abrasiveness, watered unfilled
surfaces were developed and have since been popular for elite levels of
With filled synthetic turf systems, the
synthetic turf fibres or blades are fully supported or stabilised by the
addition of a filling material, such as sand, clay and rubber granules,
or a mix of sand and rubber granules. The sand and fibres combine to
form the characteristics of the playing surface. Synthetic turf surfaces
which are filled with sand only are generally suitable for hockey,
tennis, lawn bowls, touch rugby, lacrosse, and soccer (training) and
Dressed systems are a
derivative of the sand-filled system, and intermediate in their
properties and playing characteristics between the traditional filled
and unfilled carpets. They can have either:
Types according to pile height:
turf is made up of high-density short fibres (between 8-12mm in length)
and is used predominantly for cricket pitches or for elite level hockey
pitches. The unfilled hockey pitches have, until now, had to be kept
wet to improve foot traction, ball speed and heat suppression.
turf (between 20-35mm in length) has traditionally been the
hard-wearing sand-filled carpets used for hockey, tennis, lawn bowls and
for training level activities in a variety of other sports.
turf has long blades of fibre similar in height to some natural grass
playing surfaces. The long fibres (between 40-65mm in length) provide
cushioning and allow for a great amount of infill to be integrated into
the pitch adding to the shock absorbency and force reduction
characteristics of the ground, and plays more like grass. These fibres
can be single fibre or multi-ended yarns (brush-like at the tip), and
are proving to be popular for soccer, rugby, Australian Rules
football/cricket and golf. The latest development with long-pile turf is
the development of even longer fibre carpet (80-85mm, with
approximately 60mm of infill material). This is being hailed as the
first suitable synthetic turf system for athletics field events
including hammer, shot put, discus and javelin.4
is often widely believed that synthetic turf fields require less
ongoing maintenance than natural grass. Even though they do not require
watering and mowing they do have an extensive maintenance protocol,
particularly if used regularly for a multitude of sports events or for
elite level sport.
Such maintenance is critical if the surface
is to achieve its optimum performance, and full lifespan. Usually the
installer’s guarantee or warranty will usually be conditional on the
recommended maintenance requirements being carried out.
practices differ depending on the type of synthetic turf surface
installed and it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions
and guidelines. Below is a list of common maintenance practices that
are undertaken for synthetic turf.
leaves and other debris from the surface generally needs to be done
weekly. If leaves, tree flowers, pine needles and other debris are left
on the surface for any length of time they rapidly rot down and form a
drainage-inhibiting skin within the surface which can encourage the
growth of algae and moss.
Grooming the surface
is a crucial operation aimed at keeping the mat and texture of the
synthetic turf as even and uniform as possible, so as to prevent the
deterioration of play characteristics, appearance and drainage
properties. Grooming the surface through brushing and/or drag matting
lifts the fibres at the surface. It redistributes evenly any sand or
rubber that has been disturbed, and counteracts any compaction of the
sand and any tendency to form an impervious surface skin which might
impair drainage (filled surfaces only).
certain situations and in some seasons, algae or moss can become
established on the surface. This only becomes a serious problem if it is
allowed to become established. Prevention is more effective than cure,
therefore, an annual application of moss-killer and/or algaecide is
recommended. It is important to check the surface regularly for any
signs of moss or algae growth and imperative that affected areas are
treated as soon as they become present.
are not as prevalent in synthetic turf as they are with natural grass
but, they do still appear from time to time. It is important to remove
weeds as soon as they are noticed to prevent them from spreading. They
can either be removed by hand or local areas of infestation can usually
be treated with domestic weed killer, however, always check with the
manufacturer before using any chemical sprays on the surface.
stains can be removed easily with a solution of warm (not boiling)
water and a household detergent such as dishwashing liquid. Before
attempting to remove heavy soiling and stubborn stains it is important
to seek the surface supplier’s advice.
is important to check all joints and seams on a regular basis and
repair any failures promptly, before loss of any synthetic surface pile
or risk to users.
traffic areas such as penalty spots and short corners should be checked
daily or weekly, but other areas of the ground infill levels should be
Many (but not all)
manufacturers of third generation rubber-filled surfaces now recommend
the use of powered brushing machines to ensure that the rubber particles
remain mobile and the carpet fibres upright. This operation is
recommended at least every 6 months.
sand filled, dressed and rubber filled surfaces may in time require a
degree of deep cleaning. This will depend largely on the environment and
usage levels and should only be performed if surface contamination is
suspected, and then only by specialist contractors.5
A continuous strand of twisted fibres.
key component of determining whether to use natural grass or synthetic
turf is the demand for the use of the surface. The seven sports
included are either main stream sports in Western Australia or are an
emerging sport i.e. rugby union. The Commonwealth Government, in
conjunction with the State and Territory Governments, prepare
participation data for a range of sport and active recreation pursuits
on an annual basis. This is known as the Exercise, Recreation and Sport
Survey (ERASS). ERASS provides participation numbers and rates for a
range of sporting activities at national and state levels. Table 1
below highlights the participation levels and rates for each sport in
Western Australia from 2006-2010.
Participation in cricket
declined in 2007, increased in 2008 before declining again in 2009 and
2010. Australian Rules football tends to be cyclical decreasing in 2007
and 2009 but increasing in 2008 and 2010. Hockey has been increasing
in popularity up until 2010 when it dropped off significantly. Lawn
bowls has been increasing in popularity from 2006-2010. Rugby union
participation like Australian Rules is cyclical. Soccer has increased
significantly in popularity from 2007-2010. Tennis declined initially
and then increased in 2008-2009 followed by a decrease again in 2010.
highlights the dynamic nature of sports participation and the need to
understand the fluctuations that can occur within individual sports. In
addition to statewide trends local factors such as facility provision,
club management, availability of volunteer resources, local demographics
and marketing techniques all impact on participation rates, and need to
be considered when determining the preferred surface type.
Football - Australian Rules
capacity of a natural grass sports ground is the maximum level of
traffic/usage that the site can sustain without resulting in a major
decline in the turf and surface condition that renders the site ‘unfit
When assessing the capacity of a sports ground two principal considerations are asset management and player safety.
sports grounds are used for diverse activities and levels of sport, the
asset management and player safety standards will vary depending on the
activity. It is not necessary for elite sports standards to apply to
local level sports grounds. All sports grounds should be maintained to a
‘fit for use’ standard to minimise the risk to users.
The factors that directly impact on the capacity of a sports ground include;
sports grounds are under stress from either, poor nutrition, weed or
disease infestation, or compacted soil, turf health and density will be
poor. When this is the case the surface will become unstable and unable
to withstand ongoing wear from usage.
weather has a significant impact on the natural grass quality and its
ability to recover from wear. Temperature affects the growth of natural
grass with warm season species actively growing in the summer months and
cool season species peak growth in spring and autumn. All grasses have
reduced growth in the colder winter months with lower recovery rates.
also impacts on the wear of natural grass. High rainfall events, in
conjunction with high usage, result in deterioration of the soil
structure and excessive wear on the natural grass. This is particularly
the case in heavy soils during the winter months, when the natural grass
growth and recovery is minimal. Where sports grounds are constructed
with either natural or imported sand profiles with high drainage rates
and/or subsurface drainage the ability to remove excessive water is
increased with a corresponding reduction in natural grass wear.
occurring in the colder winter months has a potential high impact on
the capacity of the ground particularly where high impact sporting
activities such as football ( AFL and soccer ) are in season.
activities have a varying impact on the natural grass surface. Football
(soccer) and Australian Rules football are high impact sports with high
wear on the centre corridor of the ground. Rugby and hockey, whilst
being high impact sports, are spread across the ground and therefore
have less impact. Cricket is a lower impact sport with less intensive
wear across the ground with the exception of the centre wicket, which
has high wear due to the intensity of activity in this area.
level of usage is one of the main factors which impact on the condition
of the natural grass surface of a sports ground and the subsequent
capacity of the ground to provide a safe, ‘fit for purpose’ facility for
community sporting activities.
The number of registered teams,
competition games and training schedules will impact on the natural
grass and surface condition of a sports ground. Issues such as
significant deterioration of natural grass quality lead to bare areas
and a reduction in surface quality that may, in extreme cases, render
the ground ‘unfit for use’ and result in ground closures or restricted
The number of participants and the number of games held on
the site impact on the level of wear of the natural grass. Training
also has a significant impact on natural grass wear, particularly where
it is concentrated in localised areas of the ground. The level or age
range of users also has a varying impact on natural grass wear. For the
same activity senior teams tend to have a greater impact than junior
Work has been done in developing benchmarks for sports ground usage using the ‘IPOS – Sports Ground Usage Model’.
Using data in relation to the number of competition games and training
schedules, usage rates are determined on the basis of “person hours per
Different sporting codes and venues have different playing
field sizes which result in varying wear impacts. The same number of
person hours usage will have a higher impact on a smaller playing field.
In order to standardise information so that comparison can be made for
different sporting codes and venues the measure or ‘Sports Ground Usage Index’ used to assess sports ground usage is ‘metre square per person hour per week’ (m2/phr/wk).
criteria has been developed as it reflects the number of hours the
ground is used, the number of persons using the ground per week and the
size of the field. It also provides a standard measure or ‘Sports Ground Usage Index’ that can be compared across sporting codes and for various sized sports grounds.
Benchmarks have been developed for football (AFL and Soccer) as follows.
No of Teams
Sports Ground Usage Rates(Adj Person Hr/week)( AFL - 16,000 m2 )
Sports Ground Usage Index
( AFL – 16,000 m2 )
> 5 Jnr / 5 Snr
5 Jnr / 5 Snr
450 - 750
21 - 35
4 Jnr / 4 Snr
300 - 450
36 - 50
3 Jnr / 3 Snr
200 - 300
50 - 70
Moderate - Low
2 Jnr / 2 Snr
Sports Ground Usage Rates(Adj Person Hr/week)( Soccer - 7,000 m2 )
( Soccer - 7,000 m2 )
200 - 350
140 - 200
100 - 140
ground usage and capacity measures are indicative only and can be used
to compare usage levels and capacity between sports grounds or to
determine management strategies for a given venue.
There are many variables that may further impact on capacity that may be unknown or not measured. These include the impact of:
will always be a need to inspect, monitor the performance of the sports
ground and liaise with the sports club or association to ensure that it
is ‘fit for use’ for the designated activity.
Further information regarding Sports Ground Usage and Capacity Measures is available at www.ipos.net.au
An additional key component of the decision making process is the
local climatic and environmental factors which affect the local region.
In particular the water supply, rainfall events and other weather
conditions. Western Australia has been experiencing a period of drought
conditions and in some areas access to a reliable water supply for
irrigating sports grounds has been limited. These considerations are
elaborated on below.
There are two principle water supplies
available for irrigating natural grass sports facilities in Perth. Water
Corporation is responsible for “Scheme” water and The Department of
Water is responsible for bore water. Reclaimed water, storm water and
other alternatives are available for irrigation in varying capacity
across the state. Local waste water treatment schemes may be available
in regional areas. In some regional areas it is understood that potable
water is currently being transported in to maintain sports grounds due
to a shortage of water from usual sources.
The majority of
natural grass sports surfaces are watered using ground water bores
managed by the Department of Water. Licences are issued to users,
generally through Local Government. The licence conditions state the
quota and conditions of usage. Generally bore water used for irrigating
sports fields is allowed on 3 days per week between the hours of 6.00 pm
and 9.00 am with further irrigation subject to exemption permit. There
is no charge for bore water other than an annual licence fee and pumping
costs (as at December 2011). Ground water areas are at their
sustainable limit and it is understood that it is unlikely that bore
licences will be granted for new users or increased for existing users.
Corporation ‘scheme water’ is available for use for irrigating sports
grounds subject to water wise measures similar to the use of bore water.
Irrigation is permitted on 3 days per week between the hours of 6.00 pm
and 9.00 am with further irrigation subject to exemption permit. The
cost of scheme water for 2011/12 is $1.72 kL with additional charges
depending on the size of the water supply metre.
Further and current information on water supply costs, watering times options is available from Water Corporation and Department of Water
irrigation requirement for both warm and cool season’s natural grass,
for varying quality of natural sports turf, has been calculated using
the models developed as part of the ‘Code of Practice – Irrigated Public Open Space’.
The ‘Turf Quality Visual Standard’
(TQVS) classification system was developed in the Code of Practice. The
TQVS system has 4 classifications of natural turf and is shown in the
Elite Sports Turf
International/National Level Sport: e.g. WACA, Subiaco Oval, Perth Oval
Premier Sports Turf
State/Regional/District Level Sport: e.g. Leederville Oval, Baseball Park, Fremantle Oval
Local Sports Turf
Local Level Sports: e.g. local based sports grounds’
Passive Recreational Turf
Non-Sports Turf: e.g. Community parks/Passive reserves
irrigation requirement for elite sports turf is higher than that for
premier or local sports turf. Likewise the irrigation requirement for
cool season grasses is higher than that for warm season grasses.
irrigation requirement occurs in conditions where there is least
rainfall and high evapotranspiration (Etc). For Perth this is in the
warmer months from September to March as illustrated in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Relationship between Rainfall and Turf Water Requirement
climatic data for the Bureau of Meteorology weather station located at
Perth Airport, the irrigation requirement for the 4 TQVS classifications
of natural grass using cool and warm season natural grass has been
calculated and can be seen in Table 2 below.
Cool Season Turf
kL / ha
Warm season Turf
season natural grass uses between 35 – 40% less water than cool season
natural grass and irrigation requirements for local natural sports turf
is approximately 50% less than elite natural sports turf.
Different sports have different
requirements when it comes to installing a synthetic option. Synthetic
turf surface types vary significantly from sport to sport in terms of
factors such as pile height, playability, construction methods and
material use (infill, shock pads etc).
The study has included analysis of seven sports, with each sport's specific requirement's detailed in the relevant section:
turf pitches have become the preferred playing surface for middle and
lower grade cricket competitions over the past two decades.
preparation of a high standard natural grass cricket pitch requires
highly-skilled staff and requires large levels of maintenance in order
to obtain the correct speed, bounce, consistency and durability. Many
factors are involved in creating high class natural turf cricket pitches
and as a result these types of pitches are generally used for higher
levels of cricket. It's important for junior development that young
players have exposure to natural grass pitches if they are to improve
their skills and enhance their chances of progressing through to high
levels of cricket.
Whilst natural grass is the
preferred surface for cricket outfields, there has been advancement in
synthetic turf technology and a prototype surface has been approved as
meeting the detailed Australian Rules football/cricket outfield
specification. Cricket Australia (CA) is satisfied that the potential
problem of surface temperature during hot weather is one that is
manageable (through their existing heat policies), as is the general
all-round performance of the product specification for cricket at all
levels. CA believes the new specification is as close as is practical to
the performance of natural grass, with excellent rebound and rolling
ability of the ball across the surface area.
Football Leagues’s (AFL) and CA’s recommendations can be found in the
document titled Development of Standards for the Use of Artificial
Surfaces for Australian Football and Cricket’ written by University of
Ballarat in 2008.
turf pitches are generally single strips of high-density carpet (9–11mm
pile height) without infill glued to a concrete base. During the winter
season, if the ground is used for Australian Rules football the pitch
is covered with loam or a second sheet of synthetic turf (often a longer
pile with much less density of fibres) is laid over the pitch, and the
upper layer is filled with rubber granules to provide a cushioning level
to counteract the pitch’s concrete base.
the development of the AFL/CA standards for the use of synthetic turf,
several new products are being developed to meet those specifications.
These products are typically sand-dressed polyethylene carpets normally
40mm high, sitting on a 20mm preformed shock pad. They are dressed with
rounded sand grains or crumbed rubber infill to approximately 20mm,
leaving approximately 20mm of the fibre blades exposed.
grass cricket pitches are constructed using heavy reactive clay which
can be worked into a hard surface providing a consistent speed and
bounce over multiple days of competition. The grass species is couch
grass (Cynodon sp.) cut to between 2–4 mm height. The pitch is rolled
using a heavy roller. All the practices used to prepare a turf cricket
pitch for play are contrary to good quality grass health. The grass is
cut short with minimal leaf remaining and the pitch is rolled, when
moist, to provide the required level of compaction. The pitch is then
subject to moisture stress during play and provides a concrete like
surface which is subject to cracking as it dries over a two to five day
The centre pitch table contains a number of pitches
which are alternated during the season to enable used pitches to recover
over a period of six to eight weeks. Management of natural grass
cricket pitches and practice pitches requires a high level of skill,
expertise and time.
The cricket ground outfield
requires a consistent even grass coverage and density. Desirable
natural grass species is couch grass (Cynodon sp.) or Kikuyu (Pennisetum
clandestinum). Grass should be cut at between 15–25mm and thatch should
be kept to a minimum to produce an even true ball roll. The surface
must be even and stable, free from pot holes, divots, loose or saturated
areas. Surface hardness should be within the desired range of 4–15 CIV
(Clegg Impact Value) when tested using a Clegg Impact Hammer.
turf outfields that adhere to strict CA specifications have been
approved for use for all levels below the national and state level
leagues around Australia. However, due to the current lack of accredited
fields, all games at all levels in Western Australia are currently
played on natural grass.
is a summer sport and is played predominantly on Saturday mornings and
afternoons and Sunday afternoons. Training typically occurs during the
weekday evenings or during the afternoons for junior players.
turf cricket pitches are able to sustain significantly more use than
natural grass pitches. As the advent of synthetic turf cricket outfields
is in its infancy, it can only be assumed that synthetic turf grounds
will be able to withstand additional usage in comparison to natural
grass, similar to sports such as soccer and hockey. However, cricket is a
low impact sporting activity (in relation to the outfield) as it is
played when the natural grass is in its peak growth phase and has good
Cricket is a game that is played over a long
duration (typically from a few hours up to several days). The capacity
of the outfield is limited only by the length of the game and not by the
activity itself. The major activity areas are at the bowling run-ups at
each end of the pitch. In the case of natural grass cricket pitches the
run-ups are rested according to the pitch rotation, this enables
natural grass recovery. In the case of hard (concrete) pitches with
synthetic turf covering, the run-ups do not get rested. They are often
impacted by intensive use and require adequate management to avoid the
deterioration of grass and development of pot holes or an uneven
Natural grass cricket grounds
are also used for many other sports including Australian Rules
football, rugby and soccer. Synthetic turf cricket grounds are primarily
going to be suitable for Australian Rules football and possibly soccer.
Australian Rules football has been played on a natural grass surface.
At the National and State League level it is anticipated that the game
will continue to be played on natural grass for many years to come.
However, in 2008 the AFL in partnership with CA released the criteria
for synthetic turf to be used at the community level (community level is
described as all football and cricket played below the respective
National and State league competitions).
The AFL’s and CA’s recommendations can be found in the document titled ‘Development of Standards for the Use of Artificial Surfaces for Australian Football and Cricket’ written by University of Ballarat in 2008.
February 2011, the first full-sized AFL (and Cricket) oval following
the development of these specifications, commenced construction at Point
Cook on the outskirts of Melbourne in Victoria. It is anticipated to
be completed by the end of 2011. To date, many schools in Victoria have
installed 3G synthetic turf fields to replace their natural grass ovals
and have trained on the fields. Additionally, in drought or flood
affected areas local junior football clubs have use of the school
synthetic turf fields for training when they are unable to use their own
natural grass grounds.
the standards for the use of synthetic turf were developed for the AFL
and CA, several new products were and are still being developed to meet
those specifications. These products are typically sand dressed
polyethylene carpets normally 40mm high, sitting on a 20mm preformed
shock pad. They are dressed with rounded sand grains to approximately
20mm, leaving approximately 20mm of the fibre blades exposed.
Due to the inclusion of a critical fall height requirement, the use of a
shockpad is essential to satisfy the AFL/CA criteria. The synthetic
turf manufacturing industry is endeavouring to balance the thickness of
the shockpad with the level of infill to ensure the most suitable
Natural grass is the preferred surface for Australian Rules football. Australian Rules football requires a consistent even grass coverage and density. Desirable natural grass species are either warm season
(couch grass or kikuyu) or cool season (Rye grass). Natural grass
should be cut at between 15 – 25 mm and thatch should be kept to a
minimum. The surface must be even and stable, free from pot holes,
divots, loose or saturated areas. The surface should be firm but no
excessively hard. Surface hardness should be within the desired range of
4 – 15 CIV for local competition and between 4 – 12 CIV for premier and
elite levels when tested using a Clegg Impact Hammer.
turf fields have been approved for use for all levels below the
national and state leagues around Australia (including approval for the
elite Under 18 TAC Cup). However, due to the current lack of accredited
fields, all games, at all levels are currently played on natural grass.
Rules football is a winter sport. Competitions are typically played on
Saturday afternoons with some Friday night and Sunday afternoon
fixtures. Training occurs throughout the week. Junior games are
usually played on Saturday or Sunday mornings.
the advent of synthetic turf Australian Rules football grounds is in
its infancy it can only be assumed that synthetic turf grounds will be
able to withstand additional usage in comparison to natural grass,
similar to sports such as soccer and hockey.
As discussed above
natural grass surfaces cannot sustain the high levels of use that
synthetic turf surfaces are able to and need to be ‘rested’ from use to
enable the natural grass to recover. Current research around natural
grass sports ground capacity is being conducted based on the level of
use. Indicative results show that more than 10 teams per football oval,
is deemed to be high use and may have detrimental impact on the
playability of grass, depending upon the season and amount of rainfall.
Football is played in winter when wet weather conditions, slow growth
rates and recovery of natural grass may reduce capacity. Due to the
nature of the game, it is unlikely that it will be played all year
round, particularly in the heat of summer. However, with pre-season
training and additional fixtures the football season is extending into
late summer and autumn months when grass recovery and capacity is
At a local competition
level natural grass football grounds can be shared with other codes such
as cricket, soccer, rugby, hockey, lacrosse, and athletics.
mentioned previously, the AFL has partnered up with CA to develop joint
guidelines for synthetic turf, with the intention that the grounds be
developed and shared between the sports. Given that they are
traditionally in opposite seasons this partnership should be successful.
is a significant difference between the carpet system for AFL/Cricket
approved grounds and the specification for football (soccer) pitches.
The Australian Rules football/cricket version requires a shock pad (a
key performance criteria for Australian Rules football is the critical
fall height for players), while the FIFA approved surfaces may have
rubber granule infill rather than a shock pad. This may limit the
capacity of the surface to be used for all three sports.
are other factors to consider when looking into multi-purpose facilities
of a synthetic nature, a major one being the permanence of line
markings on the surface. The AFL (at a community level) acknowledges
the benefits of multi-purpose fields and is comfortable for the fields
to include permanent lines for other sporting codes. It is however
important to check with other peak bodies to determine limitations that
they may place on multi-use/multi-lined fields. Other factors that need
to be considered include fixturing and insurance. 
Department of Planning and Community Development, Melbourne, Victoria.\
Department of Planning and Community Development, Melbourne, Victoria.
traditionally regarded as a natural grass field winter game, however
there is a strong and accelerating demand for access to synthetic turf
facilities for both training and competition at all levels. Hockey was
an early adapter of synthetic turf and was the first sport in Australia
to start using synthetic turf at the elite level. Synthetic turf has
made rapid progress since being first used in the sport and whilst all
Elite Premier League games in Western Australia are still played on
water based synthetic turf, there is a move toward ‘hybrid’ and dry
synthetic turf at the community and regional level. Natural grass
pitches are still used for a significant proportion of games at both
senior and junior levels around the state, with Hockey WA estimating a
50/50 ratio of natural grass v synthetic turf across all levels of
At present 44% of clubs in WA have access to a
synthetic turf pitch and where they do have access there is a move to
two seasons of competition (summer and winter), allowing hockey to be
accessible on synthetic turf pitches all year round. All of the major
regional population centres in Western Australia (those of more than
25,000 people) already have a synthetic turf installation, albeit a
mixture of sand dressed and wet surfaces. Collectively in WA there are
eight synthetic turf installations in the regions and eight in
metropolitan Perth. There are two additional synthetic turf pitches
scheduled for installation in Perth in the near future, both of them in
private schools. This will see only two of the ten metropolitan
synthetic turf pitches located on council reserves, whilst all of the
country synthetic turf pitches are on council reserves.
prefers shorter length turf in comparison to sports such as soccer,
Australian Rules football and rugby union, regardless of whether it is
played on natural grass or synthetic turf.
are various types of synthetic turf surfaces available including
filled, dressed and water-based surfaces. Synthetic turf yarns are
usually made of nylon, polypropylene or polyethylene. The turf carpet
can be made in various ways but must meet the International Hockey
Federation (FIH) requirements. Three of the more common synthetic turf
types used for Hockey are Sand-filled, Hybrid (part sand-filled and part
water based, and water based. FIH requirements also include a
shock-pad under the synthetic turf carpet. The shock-pad can be
constructed in various ways, but an in situ pad is generally preferred
(a hot mix of rubber shreds/crumbs bound with polyurethane and laid
using a small highway type paving machine).
FIH’s ‘standard’ category synthetic turf is usually sand-filled or sand-dressed while the ‘global’10category
is water-based unfilled. In a water-based unfilled surface the water
is applied through an irrigation system to the surface immediately
before play, it reduces the player-to-surface friction, modifies the
speed of the hockey ball and cools the surface in hot weather. In order
to maintain adequate playing and training conditions, large amounts of
water are often required. Due to the significant cost of the
high-density unfilled carpet, required irrigation systems, and high
water usage, unfilled carpet suppliers are now responding to the call
from FIH to develop a dry unfilled carpet that can perform to elite
level standard. Recent technology is now focused on producing
non-watered, unfilled carpet that can replicate the playing
characteristics of watered fields. The major difference is a move from
abrasive nylon fibre to softer polyethylene yarn. Several such
polyethylene-based installations are being trialled in Australia.
Figure 1: Water-based unfilled synthetic hockey pitch surface and irrigation point
The FIH ‘Handbook of Performance Requirements for Synthetic Hockey Pitches –Outdoor’sets
out the specifications for approved synthetic turf pitches and
certified fields. The typical length for synthetic turf hockey pitches
is short pile (8-13mm) for wet dressed and the newly developed hybrid
pitches and medium pile (20-35mm) for the conventional sand dressed
pitches. Synthetic turf of a pile length of 40mm or greater is unlikely
to be suitable for higher level competition hockey although it may be
suitable for junior, school and social level hockey.
requires a consistent even turf coverage and density. Desirable natural
grass species is couch grass (Cynodon sp.) or Kikuyu (Pennisetum
clandestinum) Natural turf surfaces should be cut at between 15 – 25mm
and thatch should be kept to a minimum to produce an even true ball
roll. The surface must be even and stable, free from pot holes, divots,
loose or saturated areas. Surface hardness should be within the desired
range of 4 – 15 CIV when tested using a Clegg Impact Hammer.
The ‘Hockey WA Fact Sheet for Competition’
outlines the structure of the hockey competition in WA and provides
information on which games are played on natural grass and on synthetic
turf, in summary they are as follows:
is historically a winter sport, with the increase of the provision of
synthetic turf pitches around the state, there is a shift to two seasons
of competition, leading to hockey becoming a year round sport in many
areas of Western Australia.
pitches are capable of sustaining greater use than natural turf
pitches. Essentially, synthetic turf pitches can be programmed to be
used 7 days a week. Intensive sustained use of synthetic turf will
reduce its overall lifespan. High traffic areas around the goals and
the centre corridor will tend to deteriorate more quickly for both
natural grass and synthetic turf pitches. Natural grass pitches cannot
sustain the high levels of use that synthetic turf pitches can and need
to be ‘rested’ from use. Research around natural grass sports ground
capacity is being conducted and based on the level of use indicative
results show that 10 teams per hockey pitch is deemed to be high use and
may have detrimental impact on the playability of grass depending upon
the season and amount of rainfall.
Hockey is traditionally played
in winter when wet weather conditions and slow growth rates and
recovery of natural grass may reduce capacity. If played in summer the
capacity of natural grass surfaces would be improved.
turf used for hockey is suitable for a number of other sports, the most
common use is for tennis and this is predominantly on sand dressed
synthetic turf. Depending on the type and fibre length of the synthetic
turf surface other sports that can use the pitch include junior cricket
(development level), lacrosse, soccer, gridiron and touch football.
However, it is normally at a social or community level as the surface
often does not meet the specifications for higher level competition for
these sports. Natural turf hockey pitches can also be shared with other
sports such as junior cricket (development level), lacrosse, soccer,
gridiron and touch football.
FIH Global category
pitches are mandatory for all FIH world-level competitions and
qualifying tournaments such as Olympic Games, World Cup and Champions
to the high costs of maintaining natural grass greens, lawn bowls was
one of the sports to investigate the use of synthetic turf surfaces over
30 years ago. Since then there has been rapid development in the
quality of synthetic turf available for the sport and the use of
synthetic turf greens has increased dramatically. In Western Australia
both natural grass and synthetic turf greens are used at all levels of
competition, approximately half of the greens are natural grass and the
other half synthetic turf. Bowls WA ‘Greens Policy’ does not stipulate
which type of surface is to be used for competition but is more
concerned that it adheres to the green specifications which include:
length of the green, level playing surface, quality of the surface, and
Bowls WA have seen a shift over the past few
years towards synthetic turf, especially for the smaller country and
social clubs. Although the upfront cost is generally higher, the
ongoing maintenance cost is much lower and it is difficult to find
experienced green keepers in some areas to maintain natural grass
Lawn bowls synthetic turfs can be either tufted woven or needle-punched products. The characteristics of these products are:
Bowls WA doesn’t stipulate
which type of synthetic turf must be used but its greens policy states
that the surface must be of uniform colour and is free of tears or other
requires a consistent even grass coverage and density. Desirable natural
grass species is either hybrid couch (Tift dwarf / Santa Anna) in warm
climates or creeping bent grass (Agrostis sp.) in cooler climates.
Grass should be of creeping habit and cut closely between 4 – 6 mm.
Thatch should be kept to a minimum. The surface must be even and stable,
free from pot holes, divots, loose or saturated areas. The surface
should be firm but no excessively hard to create a consistent ball roll.
Bowls WA greens policy does not stipulate which type of grass should be
used, but states there must be good grass cover over all (especially
around the mat line) and the grass is of uniform colour and free of
All levels of bowls are
played on both natural grass and synthetic turf surfaces depending on
which surfaces are available. State and International competitions will
have a preference for high quality natural grass, but if this is
unavailable then high quality synthetic turf will be used.
competitions are played throughout the week. Synthetic turf greens
allow for play throughout the year. Natural grass greens constructed
with high drainage capacity can be used all year round. Couch grass
greens do however have a dormant period during winter, when turf
recovery rates are slower.
turf bowling greens are able to sustain more usage than natural grass
greens. One issue with synthetic turf is the ‘heat island’ effect in
which the high summer temperatures can be more of an issue than natural
turf, current research is being conducted by the University of Ballarat
on behalf of the City of Melbourne in relation to this issue on a soccer
field and it is anticipated that the outcomes will be transferable to
other sports using 3G synthetic turf surfaces.
natural grass and synthetic turf bowling greens, primarily due to their
dimensions and relatively small size, are typically not compatible with
other sports, at the moment.
Union has historically been played on natural grass and throughout WA
rugby games at all levels are played on natural grass surfaces. There is
recognition by the International Rugby Board (IRB) that it is necessary
in some parts of the world for rugby to be played on synthetic turf ,
for example, in Europe, climatic conditions often result in natural
grass surfaces becoming badly worn and unsuitable in winter. As a
result the IRB has produced the IRB ‘Artificial Rugby Turf Performance Specification’
to set a minimum standard for synthetic turf playing surfaces which may
be used in rugby, offering a solution to those parts of the world where
climate or resources make good quality natural grass pitches difficult
or impossible to achieve.
It is important to note that this
specification for the use of synthetic turf surfaces is a developmental
or temporary standard and is currently under review. Rugby authorities
are clearly monitoring ongoing developments with synthetic turf and are
still seeking to satisfy themselves regarding suitability for the
specific demands of their sport.
The IRB ‘Artificial Rugby Turf Performance Specification’
stipulates the testing and approval procedures which manufacturers and
other entities involved in the installation of synthetic turf playing
surfaces must comply with, in order for their products to be approved
for use in rugby. This document specifies the use of 3G synthetic turf
with pile height 65mm (give or take 2mm) with adequate shock pads
Natural grass is the preferred surface for rugby. Rugby
requires a consistent even grass coverage and density. Desirable
natural grass species is either warm season (couch grass or kikuyu) or
cool season (Rye grass). Grass should be cut at between 15 – 25 mm and
thatch should be kept to a minimum. The surface must be even and stable,
free from pot holes, divots, loose or saturated areas. The surface
should be firm but no excessively hard. Surface hardness should be
within the desired range of 4 – 15 CIV for local competition and between
4 – 12 CIV for premier and elite levels, when tested using a Clegg
At this point in time all levels of rugby in WA are played on natural grass.
is a winter sport that is traditionally played on weekends, with
training and social competitions typically conducted throughout the
As the advent of
synthetic turf rugby fields is in its infancy, it can only be assumed
that synthetic turf grounds will be able to withstand additional usage
than natural grass, similar to sports such as soccer and hockey.
grass rugby fields cannot sustain the high levels of use that synthetic
turf fields are able to and need to be ‘rested’ from use to enable the
grass to recover. Current industry research around natural grass sports
ground capacity is being conducted based on the level of use. Indicative
results show that more than 10 teams per rugby field is deemed to be
high use and may have detrimental impact on the playability of grass
depending upon the season and amount of rainfall. Rugby is played in
winter when wet weather conditions and slow growth rates and recovery of
natural grass may reduce capacity. Due to the nature of the game it is
unlikely that it will be played all year round, particularly in the heat
At a local competition
level natural grass rugby fields can be shared with other codes such as
junior cricket, soccer, hockey, and lacrosse.
Australian Rules football grounds, if a synthetic turf surface satisfies
the criteria for rugby union, it also satisfies the criteria for
soccer. The compatibility of rugby league may be possible although the
line markings may be an issue. It has not been found at this point in
time that rugby league has any standards on synthetic turf sports
Traditionally soccer has been
played on natural grass and will continue to be played on natural grass
at the elite level in Australia for many years to come. The interest in
the use of synthetic turf for community level use is growing in
Australia and around the world. With changing climatic conditions and
an increased demand for high quality pitches Football West recognises
the increased interest in synthetic playing surfaces at the community
level, and will encourage clubs to look at this as a viable option.
the 1980’s soccer experimented with short piled synthetic turf and
found it to be unsuccessful, as the earlier versions were not
specifically designed for soccer. The turf was too short and tightly
packed and changed the game dramatically. In recent years, soccer
has had success with 3G long pile carpet (usually 35-65mm) for their
synthetic turf pitches. This new generation of synthetic turf has
similar characteristics to natural grass, it has longer more thinly
spaced tufts and is usually filled with a combination of sand/and or
rubber granules to give bounce. 
West has adopted Federation Internationale de Football Association
(FIFA) requirements as the basis for approval of synthetic turf pitches
for competition matches. Synthetic turf requirements are driven by FIFA
recommendations and must be installed by FIFA approved nominated
The aim of FIFA’s synthetic turf standards is to
replicate as closely as possible the playing characteristics of
high-quality natural grass.
There are two FIFA recommended quality star levels:
FIFA recommended star levels are only awarded to those synthetic turf
pitches which have passed a series of stringent laboratory and field
tests. Natural grass in ideal condition is the benchmark for these FIFA
test criteria in order to insure highest playing comfort and to
constantly improve the quality of synthetic turf soccer pitches.
product must first pass laboratory tests to determine its composition
and then must be tested for durability, joint strength, climatic
resistance, player-to-surface interaction and ball-to-surface
interaction. Every installed pitch must then be tested on site.
the synthetic turf pitch passes all the laboratory tests and all the
field tests then it will qualify for one of the two FIFA recommended
star levels. The marks will only be given to an installed pitch and not
simply to the turf carpet. This is because the underlying base surface
is just as important to the playability of the pitch as the turf itself.
FIFA approved suppliers should know and carry out all of the
specific requirements, detailed information can be found in FIFA’s
handbook of test methods and requirements.
Natural grass is the preferred surface for soccer. Soccer
requires a consistent even turf coverage and density. Desirable natural
grass species is either warm season (couch grass or kikuyu) or cool
season (Rye grass). Natural grass should be cut at between 15–25 mm and
thatch should be kept to a minimum. The surface must be even and stable,
free from pot holes, divots, loose or saturated areas. The surface
should be firm but no excessively hard. Surface hardness should be
within the desired range of 4–15 CIV when tested using a Clegg Impact
All elite level games are
currently played on natural grass in Western Australia. A League and
International games can only be played on a FIFA approved 2 Star
surface, Western Australia does not currently have any 2 Star surfaces.
the community level the majority of games are currently played on
natural grass. Competitions that are affiliated with Football West, at
any level, may be played on synthetic turf but they must be to FIFA 1
Star standard. The City of Swan council is currently constructing the
first 1 Star synthetic turf soccer pitch in Western Australia which will
be available for recreation, community and municipal use.
that are not affiliated with Football West can be played on any
surface. Nationally, there have been W-League (Women’s National League)
and National Youth League matches sanctioned by Football Federation
Australia played on synthetic turf pitches. A-League matches are yet to
be played on synthetic turf pitches.
is a winter sport. Generally competition games are played on weekends,
social competition and training occurs throughout the week.
discussed above in relation to synthetic turf hockey pitches, synthetic
soccer turf is capable of sustaining greater use than natural grass
pitches. Essentially synthetic turf pitches can be programmed to be
used 7 days a week. Intensive sustained use of synthetic turf will
reduce its overall lifespan. High traffic areas around the goals and
the centre corridor will tend to deteriorate more quickly for both
natural grass and synthetic turf pitches. Natural grass pitches cannot
sustain the high levels of use that synthetic turf pitches are able to
and need to be ‘rested’ from use, current industry research around
natural grass sports ground capacity is being conducted based on the
level of use. Indicative results show that more than 10 teams per soccer
pitch is deemed to be high use and may have detrimental impact on the
playability of grass depending upon the season and amount of rainfall.
Soccer is traditionally played in winter when wet weather conditions,
slow growth rates and recovery of natural grass may reduce capacity. If
played in summer the capacity of natural grass surfaces would be
Compatible sports for both synthetic turf and natural grass pitches
include community and social level cricket, and Australian Rules
football training providing a shock pad is included under the carpet
(refer Australian Rules football section below). Soccer pitches are
often incorporated within athletics tracks as Figure 4 below highlights.
Hockey, lacrosse, and touch football can also be used on soccer pitches
at a local competitive and social level.
Figure 1: Synthetic soccer pitch and community/school level athletics track.
Tennis is one of
the few international elite level sports that is played on a variety of
surfaces. The International Tennis Federation recognises the use of
several surfaces, including natural grass and synthetic turf. Tennis
Australia’s court surface policy only recognises three surfaces as
player development surfaces. These are based on the Grand Slam surfaces
and include porous/clay, natural grass and hard court (including
cushioned and non-cushioned acrylic variations). Despite synthetic
turf not being a supported player development surface by Tennis
Australia, it is still widely used and promoted for community and club
use throughout Western Australia and nationally. From a state
perspective, Tennis WA follow Tennis Australia’s surface guidelines for
the elite levels of competition but at the community level there are
limited restrictions on the type of surface used.
Tennis Australia Court Rebate funding scheme has provided rebates for
resurfacing courts in one of the four Tennis Australia approved surfaces
(cushioned acrylic, hard court, natural clay or natural grass). The
highest rebate is available for resurfacing the courts in the same
acrylic surface used at the Australian Open; this has resulted in a high
number of courts throughout Australia being resurfaced with this type
of surface, since the rebate has been available. It is important to note
that rebates are available for natural grass surfaces but no rebate is
available for resurfacing a court in synthetic turf or carpet.
filled synthetic turf is the most commonly used synthetic turf for
tennis, a sand filled surface is a tufted synthetic carpet laid on a
base usually constructed of concrete, asphalt or crushed rock. The
carpet is filled with sand to occupy the space between the carpet fibres
to within about 2mm of the top of the pile. The pile length needs to be
a playable length for tennis (generally not longer than 19mm). The use
of shock pads underneath synthetic turf (used for various other sports)
is not ideal for tennis ball bounce, therefore if the surface needs to
be shared with other sports then a compromise using a thinner shock pad
has to be reached.
Tennis requires a
consistent even turf coverage and density. Desirable natural grass
species is couch grass (Cynodon sp.) Grass should be cut at between 6 –
10mm and thatch should be kept to a minimum. The surface must be even
and stable, free from pot holes, divots, loose or saturated areas. The
surface should be firm to produce an even bounce. Generally tennis is
constructed using loam soil type to enable consolidation of the surface
and create even bounce characteristics.
are no restrictions on the type of surface used for club competitions
and community level tennis in WA. Unlike natural grass courts,
synthetic turf courts are not an accredited surface within Tennis
Australia’s court surface policy and as a result are not to be used for
Australian ranking point’s tournaments (at senior or junior level).
is historically a summer sport, however, synthetic turf and hard court
surfaces permit tennis to be played all year round. Tennis is played
mid week and weekends, traditionally on a Saturday, but as with many
sports, competitions are held throughout the week.
turf courts are capable of sustaining greater use than lawn courts.
Synthetic courts can be programmed to be used 7 days a week. Intensive
sustained use of synthetic courts will reduce their overall lifespan.
Lawn courts cannot sustain the high levels of use that synthetic courts
are able to and need to be ‘rested’ from use to enable recovery of the
turf. Principal wear areas are baselines and centre lines where activity
is most intensive. Lawn courts are often unavailable, or have limited
use, during the winter season as the grass remains dormant in the cooler
conditions. The clubs that do use lawn courts during winter need to
manage them carefully and the courts require recovery time after use.
grass or ‘lawn’ tennis courts and clay courts are generally not
compatible with any other sport. Synthetic turf courts can be used for
other sports primarily hockey (see Figure 5 ) if a suitable shock pad
has been installed and sufficient space is provided. Acrylic hard
courts at a community level can be line marked for multiple sports such
as netball and basketball although multiple court line markings may not
be suitable or permitted for competitive tennis use.
There are many environmental issues that need to be considered when
making a decision on a preferred surface. Many factors come into
consideration and rather providing advice on which is the more
environmentally sustainable choice the information below, is provided as
a initial starting point and to help initiate thinking and discussion.
it is an area that is important in the decision making process then it
is advisable to conduct and seek further research and information in
this area, as there are many helpful resources available. These are
referenced but not fully expanded on within this report.
turf is often promoted as being a ‘green’ alternative to natural grass.
The main ecological benefits of synthetic turf that are promoted are:
other environmental considerations such as water issues, carbon
emissions, materials manufacture, maintenance and disposal and the
impact on local environments. These need to be taken into account when
considering the full environmental impact of each surface. They are
elaborated on in the following.
many states of Australia experiencing extreme drought and water
shortages over the past decade, the heavy irrigation needs of
maintaining natural grass sports grounds has been questioned and
alternatives have been sought. These include better management and use
of water by harvesting rainwater for re-use, or using recycled waste
water for irrigation. Another alternative is to install a synthetic turf
surface, which, from a water perspective has a major advantage over
natural grass for most sports. Irrigation is a key component in
maintaining good quality natural grass, whereas, synthetic turf does not
require irrigation in most situations. There are some types of
synthetic turf that do perform better when watered, as it helps to
decrease static cling, helps to wash away bacteria and fluids on fields,
improves playability in some sports, such as hockey and helps to cool
(at least temporarily) the often high temperatures of synthetic turf.
This water usage is generally significantly less than that needed to
irrigate and maintain natural grass.
Water Use ML/yr
example, elite level hockey pitches are water based synthetic turf and
require large amounts of water, this is something that the sport is
conducting further research on and alternatives are currently being
developed, which reduce the level of water required to ‘wet down’ a
pitch. Estimates are that a single hockey pitch requires 12,000 to
18,000 litres to take the pitch from a dry condition to a playable
Irrigation not only requires the resource of water, but also needs energy to deliver it to the end user.
addition to irrigation demands for water, a field’s ability to take in
storm water is another environmental consideration. There are several
environmental problems associated with storm water runoff. In general,
natural habitats absorb storm water better than impermeable surfaces.
is little groundwater retention when the soil surface is bare or when
there are impervious surfaces such as streets, driveways, parking lots,
rooves and synthetic turf. However, synthetic turfs can include drainage
systems that compensate for their inability to take in water. A thick,
healthy area of natural grass reduces rainwater runoff to practically
nothing. The natural grass areas and the soil beneath create a good
quality medium to purify water as it leaches through the root zone and
the soil into underground aquifers.
Studies in relation to
the water quality of the runoff from synthetic turf compared to natural
grass are conflicting and depend on the type of synthetic turf used.
There are reports available that show the run-off into waterways from
natural grass (that contain pesticides and fertilisers) compares poorly
with the quality of runoff from synthetic turf. However, other
studies show that leaching of zinc and other metals from rubber infill
can be found in runoff from synthetic turf which may affect water
quality and aquatic organisms. The lack of consistency in the
reported literature makes it difficult to draw conclusions, but it seems
that the synthetic turf manufacturers are addressing the issues of
contamination as the need for water harvesting becomes more important.
natural grass, synthetic turf does not absorb rainwater—it simply
drains through the surface or along the ground into storm sewers. The
harvesting of this water runoff, for re-use on site or locally, is an
area that has been investigated and there are several reports available
on this topic. The general consensus is that whilst the idea has merit
and can been seen as being environmentally responsible the
practicalities of setting up the infrastructure and ongoing management
require significant capital investment, often making it economically
unviable. However, this has been achieved and there are a number of
cases in Australia where hockey fields have been designed to incorporate
stormwater runoff and reuse technology, in which much of the water is
recycled and re-used for watering the field.
State Netball Hockey Centre in Parkville is a world-class sporting
venue catering to a variety of sports at a local, state and
international level. Maintaining the centre's two synthetic wet hockey
pitches to international standards required around 24 megalitres of
drinking quality water every year. This significant use of water
resources was a concern shared by the players, the wider community and
the Centre's management. In response, the State Netball Hockey Centre
took up the challenge to find an alternative source of water.
The Centre was awarded a government grant to research and
introduce a recycled water harvesting scheme allowing for the irrigation
of pitches with recycled water from a range of sources. Instead of
using mains water, the scheme allows rainwater collected from pitch
areas and roofing to be stored in four 45 kilolitre underground tanks.
The stored water is treated before use. Overflow from the tanks
irrigates the centre's native plants, while the bulk of the water
irrigates the hockey pitches.
The new recycled water
system will save 19 of the 24 megalitres the State Netball Hockey Centre
uses each year on the pitches, reducing its use of drinking quality
water by 80 per cent. The initiative will not only result in
significant water savings but will also deliver financial savings for
the Centre. (Content supplied by Hockey Victoria).
When comparing the
carbon footprint of natural grass and synthetic turf the whole life
cycle of the product, not just the maintenance component needs to be
investigated. The carbon footprint for natural grass tends to come from
the installation and maintenance stage (fertiliser production, mowing
and lawn management), whereas for synthetic turf it is derived from
production, transportation and disposal of materials. Synthetic turf is
a petro-chemical product which requires the use of virgin materials,
high levels of processing and production, transportation and disposal at
end of life. When considering the entire life cycle, these material
impacts of synthetic turf significantly increase the total emission of
this product and far outweigh the emissions that occur from maintaining
In 2007, a Canadian study set out to estimate
the greenhouse gases emitted during the life cycle of the synthetic turf
system as opposed to a natural grass surface. The study also determined
the number of trees to be planted to achieve a 10-year carbon neutral
synthetic turf installation. This was a very complicated process and
many assumptions were made, but the findings give an indication of the
greenhouse gas emissions related to the life cycle (from raw material
acquisition through manufacturing, transportation, use and maintenance,
and end-of-life disposal) of the synthetic turf field. In conclusion,
the study found for a 9,000 square metre facility over a 10-year period,
a total CO2 emission of 55.6 tons plus additional greenhouse
gases. The tree planting offset requirements to achieve a 10-year
carbon neutral synthetic turf installation for the same sized facility
was estimated to be 1861 trees (based on a medium growth coniferous
tree, planted in an urban setting allowed to grow for 10 years).
grass helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through
photosynthesis and stores it as organic carbon in soil, making them
important “carbon sinks.” A typical lawn (2,500 sq. ft./232 m2)
converts enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to provide adequate
oxygen for a family of four.  There is some recent research from the
United States that suggests greenhouse gas emissions from fertiliser
production (mowing, leaf blowing and other lawn management practices)
are greater than, the amount of carbon that can be stored in them,
suggesting that natural grass may contribute to global warming rather
than reduce it. This study also found that athletic sports fields do
not store as much carbon as ornamental grass due to soil disruption by
tilling and resodding. However, it was later discovered that there
were several computation errors in this research and when the
computations were corrected, it was found that natural grass actually is
a net sequesterer of carbon dioxide, reversing the conclusions of the
original report. This is backed up by another recent US study that
concludes “After reviewing the direct carbon sequestration of
grasses and their root systems, we found that managed lawns sequester,
or store, significant amounts of carbon, capturing four times more
carbon from the air than is produced by the engine of today’s typical
lawnmower. The study also finds that well-managed turfgrasses (natural)
that are cut regularly and at the appropriate height, fed with nutrients
left by grass clippings, watered in a responsible way, and not
disturbed at the root zone actively pull pollutants from the air,
creating a greater carbon benefit.”
It must also be
noted that whilst synthetic turf does not require mowing, it still does
require ongoing maintenance, often using fuel powered machinery to help
keep it clean and performing well. Ride on mowers with brushes rather
than mowing blades are used to brush the surface and leaf blowers are
also used to remove leaves from fields. This maintenance equipment
produces greenhouse gas emissions but unlike natural grass there is no
carbon sink to counter balance it.
Figure 2: Ride on grooming and cleaning machine with petrol engine used to maintain synthetic turf.
artificial turf replaces a natural grass surface, so another
contribution synthetic turf makes to global warming is the removal of a
natural grass surface that reduces carbon dioxide, by converting it into
Some of the key environmental issues related to
synthetic turf revolve around the production, transportation and
disposal of materials.
The crumb rubber used as infill in synthetic turf fields is often
made from recycled tyres. Products made from recycled content are
generally preferable to those made from virgin material in two respects,
firstly, they do not draw on resources that may be limited, and
secondly they address issues of waste. It is estimated that a large
synthetic soccer pitch uses approximately 27,000 tyres. Many see
the use of recycled waste products for field infill as one of the
primary environmental benefits of synthetic turf and whilst this is an
environmental positive, synthetic turf also requires the use of many
virgin materials in its production.34
used underneath the synthetic turf can also be made from reused
materials. The shockpad underneath the new facility at Point Cook in
Victoria is made from reused running shoe soles. Figure 2: Shock pad
made from recycled sports shoe soles being incorporated into the
Australian Rules football and Cricket ground at Point Cooke, Victoria.
There has been some concern over the use of
recycled car tyres as rubber infill. Whilst it is considered
sustainable to use recycled tyres, it has been suggested, but not yet
proven, that tyres have the ability to leach out volatile organic
hydrocarbons and other toxic materials causing concern for human health
(if ingested or absorbed) and also concern over leaching toxic chemicals
into soil and groundwater.
A review of existing literature
points to the relative safety of crumb rubber fill playground and
athletic field surfaces. Generally, these surfaces, though containing
numerous elements potentially toxic to humans, do not provide the
opportunity in ordinary circumstances for exposure at levels that are
actually dangerous. Numerous studies have been carried out on this
material and have addressed numerous different aspects of the issue. For
the most part, the studies have identified it as a safe,
cost-effective, and responsible use for tyre rubber40.
remain a few objects of concern, though. First, the allergen potential
of latex in tyres used for athletic (sports) fields remains obscure.
Though there has not been experimental confirmation of the risk of crumb
rubber triggering a latex allergy, the possibility cannot be ruled out
and needs to be investigated more thoroughly.
exposure remains an object of some concern. The results of experimental
evaluation of lead in these fields have been thus far inconclusive. Most
studies have cleared the fields as safe in terms of lead risk, but
others have noted an elevated presence of lead. Given the fact that
lead levels in tyres varies significantly, according to production
processes, it is advisable, as part of the tender process to insist upon
suppliers that all materials are lead-free.
Finally, and most
significantly, repeated testing has shown that the presence of zinc in
leachate from crumb rubber fields remains problematically high. It would
appear that levels of zinc leaching into groundwater from crumb rubber
fields are significant. Further research needs to be conducted into this
question to determine whether it is a real issue, and if it is, greater
innovation needs to be carried out at the level of product development
to eliminate this issue.40
Given these continual
questions and concerns, alternatives to crumbed rubber infill are being
sought, the new facility at Point Cook in Victoria has chosen to use
round sand sourced from the Middle East as the infill for its facility
(Figure 3). The roundness of the sand means that it is not as abrasive
on the player’s skin as other sand particles and it removes any of the
concerns outlined above about using rubber infill.
Figure 4: Rounded sand being used as the turf infill in place of rubber granules
Generally speaking, synthetic turf is
transported long distances (usually all or part of the product is made
overseas), whereas ‘instant’ natural grass fields have short shelf lives
and can only be transported shorter distances, or are planted from
seeds which have minimal transportation costs and the associated reduced
additional environmental (and financial) challenge associated with
synthetic turf comes in its disposal. Synthetic turf is not designed to
breakdown quickly (that is one of its advantages) which means that when
the surface has passed its useful life it has the potential to stay in
landfill for long periods of time.
Figure 4: Disused sand filled synthetic turf waiting for transport to landfill
End of life disposal involves costs associated with removal,
transportation and landfill charges (which are generally based on
weight, and synthetic turf is a relatively weighty product), making the
disposal of a disused surface a significant expense. It is beneficial
to try and re-sell or recycle parts of the synthetic turf wherever
possible, for example often community groups can utilise different
aspects of an elite playing surface that is being replaced. Whilst this
enables the surface to achieve a greater life span it is important to
note that this option does not remove the disposal issue, it just delays
it, and at some point in time the surface will need to be disposed
of. Currently, in Western Australia, if the surface cannot be reused
in any way it ends up in landfill. There is ongoing research into
better ways in which synthetic turf can be removed, cleaned and re-used,
or components of it recycled. Currently in the United States and the
United Kingdom, there are cement plants that turn disused synthetic turf
surfaces into a clean burning energy source by using it to fuel kilns
and furnaces in the production of their products. With the increase
in the number of fields being installed, this is a technology that may
make its way into Australia in the future.
Natural grass surfaces have no end of life costs as it is naturally renewing and regenerating.
takes thousands of years to develop. It is lost quickly by wind and
water erosion. Natural grass sends many fine rootlets into crevices of
the soil where they grow and, as they decay, add organic matter to the
soil. Natural grass is the most effective plant in conditioning the
soil. Natural grass roots are continually developing, dying,
decomposing and redeveloping. By leaving clippings on the lawn and by
allowing them to decay, the equivalent of three applications of lawn
fertiliser is made. This process builds humus, keeps soils
microbiologically active and, over time, improves soils both physically
and chemically. Natural grass improves the soil by stimulating
biological life and by creating a more favourable soil structure.
the other hand, before installing synthetic turf it is recommended that
all soil be heavily compacted. This damages soil structure, soil
microbes and soil life. It can also significantly damage any tree roots
in the vicinity.
Healthy, well maintained natural grass
helps with dust stabilisation and soil erosion control. Healthy grass
surfaces capture dirt and dust from the atmosphere.38 During
severe drought periods and tight water restrictions, natural grass can
deteriorate and loss of natural grass can create ‘dust bowls’. During
prolonged periods of drought synthetic turf has an advantage in this
Most synthetic turf surfaces
absorb rather than reflect sunlight, causing the emission of heat.
These high temperatures not only impact the surrounding environment, but
they can also affect the health and safety of athletes and children who
use the synthetic turf grounds. They can become an uncomfortable
playing surface very quickly, especially for summer sports like cricket,
tennis and lawn bowls. (Refer to section 9 for more information on the
health impacts of heat related issues).
Recent local research
for the AFL and CA, suggests that in hot conditions, an artificial grass
sporting area can be up to 40% hotter than a natural field, although
this increased heat dissipates quickly on a windy day.
grass plays an important role in controlling climate. Natural grass is
one of the best exterior solar radiation control ground covers, because
it absorbs radiation and converts it to food for growth through
photosynthesis. Natural grass surfaces reduce temperature extremes by
absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and releasing it slowly in the
The replacement of natural grass with
synthetic turf has the opposite effect and can contribute to rising
temperatures in urban settings, known as the urban heat island effect.
Urban heat islands are created when natural grass and trees are replaced
by impervious surfaces which absorb heat. Urban heat islands increase
demand for energy (particularly air conditioning), intensify air
pollution, and increase heat-related health problems. Not only does
removing natural grass exacerbate the urban heat island effect – most
synthetic turf fields absorb rather than reflect sunlight, causing them
to emit heat.
Natural grass provides greater noise abatement and glare reduction when
compared with synthetic turf. Natural grass plants have the ability to
absorb sound. Noise levels are affected by the softness or hardness of
the surface over which sound travels. Because grassed areas present
such an irregular soft surface, they are very effective at reducing
noise levels. To help reduce glare from synthetic turf fields it is
important in the design stage, that the pitch is orientated correctly
to avoid high sun glare during peak playing times, it is also important
to place lights in the correct position to avoid glare.
Figure 6: Sun glare arising from a recently installed synthetic turf soccer pitch in Melton, Victoria
Natural grass offers habitats for
insects, plants, and other organisms, and provides food for birds.
Natural grass and the topsoil are home to zillions of beneficial
organisms that break down and recycle organic and inorganic products
that fall into the grass. Plants absorb gaseous pollutants into their
leaves and assimilate them, helping to clean the air and create oxygen.
Synthetic turf does nothing to enhance biodiversity, though most
synthetic turf fields have drainage systems, they do not contain
microorganisms that can break down pollutants.
detailed consideration of a variety of environmental factors needs to
be taken into account when planning the installation of a synthetic turf
or natural grass surface. It is advisable to conduct and seek further
research and information in this area, as there are many helpful
resources available that are referenced but not fully expanded on within
use of synthetic turf outfields for cricket is a new frontier. In 2008
the AFL and CA released the criteria for synthetic turf to be used at
the community level and the first certified field following these
specifications is currently being developed at Point Cook, Victoria on
the outskirts of Melbourne. This ground will be used for training, and
community competitions for both cricket and Australian Rules football.
with other sports a major benefit of a synthetic turf oval will be the
ability to schedule activity at any time and have consistent playing
surface conditions. There may also be a use in remote areas where water
and maintenance is an issue, as it may be the only means of providing a
quality playing ground.
The Western Australian Cricket
Association sees the benefit for outfielding in terms of consistency of
roll and the opportunity to program modified small games on a synthetic
turf ground as they don’t require a cricket pitch.
use of synthetic turf for Australian Rules football is also a new
frontier. Synthetic turf ovals are not currently used in Australian
Rules football and the AFL see the long term future of the game, at the
elite level (State and National), being played on natural grass.
However, as discussed previously in this study, in 2008 the AFL and CA
released the criteria for synthetic turf to be used at the community
level and the first certified field following these specifications is
currently being developed at Point Cooke, Victoria on the outskirts of
Melbourne (Figure 1). This ground will be used for training, and
competitions for various levels of football and cricket.
Figure 1: Construction of the first AFL and CA endorsed synthetic turf oval in Australia at Point Cooke, Melbourne.
with other sports, a major benefit of synthetic turf grounds will be
the ability to schedule activity at any time and the consistent playing
surface conditions. As more games are scheduled, there is the
likelihood of an increase in participation which also has a positive
There may also be a use in remote areas where
water and maintenance is an issue, as it may be the only means of
providing a quality playing ground.
As stated previously in this report hockey is well
advanced in the provision of synthetic turf surfaces and these surfaces
have been used for over three decades.
Hockey West have advised
that natural grass is still preferred by the majority of veteran
players, particularly given the recent rule changes that have increased
the speed of the game. They have seen a significant increase in the
number of older in hockey teams (30+) that are moving from playing on
synthetic turf to playing on natural grass.
Wet surfaces are
still preferred by higher level players and juniors, and most grades are
played on this type of surface in the Perth metropolitan area.
dressed pitches can generally not be used for other sports although
some junior sports have used the surface for modified games. Sand
dressed/filled pitches can be used for other sports such as tennis and
The international body for hockey the FIH has been instigating
innovation in terms of providing a surface that has similar levels of
playability of a wet dressed synthetic turf but requires significantly
less water to use. A number of ‘hybrid’ or wet/dry products have been
released to the market in recent years and this type of pitch has been
installed at Aquinis College in Perth.
Figure 2: WA Hockey Stadium which has two wet dressed hockey pitches
The bowls community, particularly at the elite
level, has a preference in general for the use of natural grass greens.
Natural grass is dormant between April and August and therefore is
generally not used during this period. Synthetic turf provides the
opportunity for bowls to be played all year round.
In addition the following perceptions were provided by Bowls WA:
Figure 3: Synthetic turf lawn bowls green
Union is a niche sport in WA, but there is a demand, as the sport has
grown by over 65% in recent years. The growth has primarily been in the
Perth metropolitan area. Clubs are often competing with other sports
for green space to play competitions and train on, and the current
facilities are accommodating the need, however, if the strong growth
continues additional facilities/grounds will be required.
turf surfaces are seen by Rugby WA as an option for training, however
at this stage they could not see a need for access to synthetic turf
fields for competition matches.
Other issues raised by Rugby WA included:
Figure 4: Rugby being played overseas on a synthetic turf field
Although soccer is well advanced in terms of
synthetic turf pitch provision worldwide within Australia it is a
relatively new development. Victoria is the state that is the most
advanced, with over 40 synthetic turf pitches now in existence. WA does
not currently have a synthetic turf soccer pitch suitable for senior
Synthetic turf is supported by the Football
Federation of Western Australia (FFWA) and it is understood a prominent
club in Perth is currently investigating the installation of a synthetic
The following perceptions were raised by the FFWA
Figure 5: Synthetic Soccer Pitch at Cheltenham, Victoria
like hockey, has been exposed to synthetic turf surfaces for a number
of decades. As stated previously, tennis is the only sport that has
multiple surface types for their elite competitions, i.e.; lawn, hard
court (acrylic) and clay. Synthetic turf is not endorsed for high level
competitions but has proven to be a popular choice for clubs
particularly in regional areas of WA.
The following perceptions and issues were raised by Tennis West
many variables when assessing people’s perceptions and personal views
and benefits derived by the type of surface they prefer to play their
sport on. Some sports such as hockey and tennis, which have been using
synthetic turf surfaces for many years, have participants that now
prefer synthetic turf surfaces to traditional natural grass playing
surfaces. In other sports, where the technology is very new, and hasn’t
had the time to advance and develop, many people may yet be unaware
that endorsed synthetic turf options are available.
points are subjective and based on discussions with players, officials,
researchers, product suppliers and visual inspections of a range of
sites by the consulting team, but do offer some insight into the various
qualities both surfaces offer.
addition to the many issues raised in the previous sections of this
report, there are some general social elements and impacts that need to
be considered when investigating synthetic turf surfaces.
effect on traditional club environments, including programming and
scheduling needs to be considered. For example, hockey was a
traditional Saturday afternoon sport prior to the advent of synthetic
turf. As the number of synthetic turf pitches increased additional
games were programmed at the new facilities. Hockey is now played from
Friday evenings to Sunday evenings with training on every other night of
This is good from a facility usage perspective,
however, it does interfere with the traditional after games social
events and dinners that were previously scheduled on a Saturday
evening. This aspect does need to be considered for sports that are
beginning to embrace synthetic turf surfaces as a district/regional
level facility which will cater for a number of clubs. They will have
to address this issue as it goes to the core of many sporting club
The benefit of this is having multiple clubs and
users utilising the one facility. In some cases, the facilities may be
used for multiple sports and will assist in ensuring the ongoing
viability of the facilities which have synthetic turf surfaces, as the
initial cost of construction of synthetic surfaces, in many cases is
higher than traditional natural grass surfaces.
Synthetic turf has changed considerably since its inception in the
1960’s, however, concerns still exist around the potential negative
health impacts of the surface. The perceived increase in injury risk on
synthetic turf, compared to natural grass, has been debated for many
years. Recently, the potential harm from heat-related exposure and
toxicity have become a major focus of attention. This section will
present the current knowledge and evidence on the differences between
natural grass and synthetic turf in terms of injury risk, and
There has been a considerable lack of consensus
on whether there is a higher risk of injury on natural grass or
synthetic turf playing fields in the literature to date. This may be a
consequence of inconsistencies in injury definitions, the lack of
evaluating surface–related injuries only, or even the inherent
variations between different synthetic products or different natural
grass types. The surface properties of first and second generation
synthetic turf were very different, in many respects, to the current
third generation (3G) turf. The lack of impact absorption and the high
friction/traction on the earlier surfaces were associated with an
increased risk of injury.
In a review of the effects of synthetic
turf and natural grass on surface –related injuries in soccer by
Ekstrand & Nigg in 1989, they reported that there were more
abrasion injuries sustained on the synthetic turf than the natural grass
but no difference in the number of traumatic injury incidences between
the two surfaces. Many subsequent studies, primarily in soccer and
American football, reported an increase in injury risk on synthetic turf
compared to natural grass. While abrasions and lower extremity
sprains were the most common injuries to have a higher rates on
synthetic turf, an important study by Naunheim et al in 2002 examined
the risk of head injuries between natural grass and synthetic turf.
They found a difference in impact attenuation (i.e., the ability of the
surface to absorb the force) between three surfaces; two indoor
synthetic Astroturf (synthetic turf) and one outdoor natural grass
playing surface. They suggested that a surface with low impact
attenuation may contribute to a higher incidence of concussion injuries
in American football players.
Figure 1: Injury photos on natural grass.
negative experiences and perceptions that ensued were to some extent
responsible for the improvements to synthetic turf surfaces to replicate
the characteristics of natural grass more closely. It is notable that
one study on first/second generation turf reported an increase in
injuries on natural grass. That particular study was an analysis of
injuries in the National Football League (NFL) in the United States from
1989 to 1993 and showed that anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries
were five times more likely on natural grass than synthetic turf. This
was an important finding as ACL injuries are both debilitating for the
athlete and a high cost burden on the health care system. However,
training injuries revealed the exact opposite result, with a higher risk
of ACL injuries on the synthetic turf surface.48 Overall,
injury rates appeared to be higher on first/second generations of
synthetic turf compared to natural grass but despite all the research it
remains uncertain whether footwear, environmental conditions or the
surface itself was predominantly responsible.
Despite the fact
that third generation or 3G turf playing fields began to appear in the
late 1990s, the first study of injuries on these fields was not
published until 2006. That study by Ekstrand et al (2006) compared
injuries on natural grass and 3G synthetic turf across 10 Swedish elite
level male soccer clubs over three seasons and found no significant
differences in injury rates and hence no greater risk on either surface.
However, there was a higher incidence of ankle injuries on the 3G
synthetic turf and a lower incidence of muscle strains. The authors
acknowledged that the differences in injury patterns must be interpreted
with caution as the numbers for specific injury subgroups were small.
Notably, abrasion and friction burn injuries, which had been commonly
reported on the previous generations of synthetic turf, were not
identified as a problem in this study. However, the injury definition
used by Ekstrand et al.49 only included those injuries that
resulted in time loss from full training or matches and hence may have
underestimated the abrasion type injuries.
Following this, Fuller
et al (2007)  compared injuries on natural grass and synthetic
turf in the 2005 and 2006 American college soccer playing seasons,
across genders and all games and training, and found no significant
differences in the overall incidence, severity, nature or mechanism of
injury. Although there was a significantly higher incidence of head/neck
injuries in the male cohort on synthetic turf, none of those injuries
were as a result of player-surface contact. The incidences of dermal
injuries were also higher for the men on the synthetic turf and
interestingly, the women recorded less ankle sprains on the synthetic
turf. In training, the men had more incidences of ankle, foot and joint
injuries and the women had less joint injuries on the synthetic turf.
Similar results were reported in another study of 14-16 year old
Norwegian female soccer players for the 2005 playing season. They also
reported no significant difference in the overall risk of acute injuries
between the surfaces but found a higher incidence of severe match
injuries on the synthetic turf.
Figure 2: Broken leg injury
past 18 months, there has been a significant increase in the number of
studies on injury risk on the latest 3G synthetic turf. Bjorneboe et al
(2010) published the first study on Federation Internationale de
Football Association (FIFA) certified 3G synthetic turf. The
significance of the certification is that the product would have
undergone rigorous testing to satisfied a number of surface property
standards before being played on. These standards are based on
durability and performance /safety and therefore the expectation is that
the synthetic turf closely replicates natural grass. They studied the
injuries of Norwegian male professional soccer players over four playing
seasons and found no significant difference between injury location,
type or severity between turf types for both training and match
injuries. The injury definition used was time-loss based, i.e. an injury
was registered if a player was unable to take part fully in soccer
related activity for at least 1 day after the day of injury.
Consequently, the study was limited to reporting acute injuries only.
support of Bjorneboe et al’s work, a recent study published by Ekstrand
et al (2010) comparing the incidences and patterns of injury for
female and male elite soccer players when playing on 3G turf and natural
grass, found no differences in injury risk between the two surfaces.
Their analysis of injury type revealed no significant differences but
there were indications of a lower injury risk of quadriceps strains and a
higher risk of ankle sprains on the synthetic turf during matches.
Interestingly, they also indicated that men were more likely to sustain a
calf strain on natural grass, but the number of injuries was small and
therefore the differences didn’t reach a significant level. Similar to
previous studies on 3G turf, they found a low number (0.4% of all
injuries) of wounds, burns and friction injuries were sustained. This
result is somewhat expected as the standards set by the governing bodies
of the sports are demanding that the 3G surfaces satisfy friction
standards before play. However, it is important to note that in their
study they only included time-loss injuries and may have underestimated
these types of injuries.
The results of a study undertaken over
four consecutive Norway Cup tournaments, which is a youth soccer
tournament played over 6 consecutive days, comparing injuries on 3G
synthetic turf compared to natural grass further supported the findings
of Ekstrand et al55. They found that minor abrasions and
friction burns associated with synthetic turf in early studies was not
the case on 3G synthetic turf.56 The occurrence of abrasions
and lacerations was low on both surfaces. A strength of this study was
that it spanned 4 years and therefore included a wide range of
conditions of the natural grass. Similar to all previous 3G studies,
there was no difference in the overall risk of injury between the two
In recognition of the limitations of previous studies
to include chronic /overuse injuries Aoki et al (2010) undertook a
study comparing the incidence of injury, especially chronic injuries of
adolescent soccer players, between natural grass and FIFA certified 3G
synthetic turf. They monitored six teams of 12-17 year old males and
again found no significant difference between the turf types but there
was an association between chronic back pain and training on synthetic
turf. However, they did postulate that it could be due to physical
maturity or training hours as this differed between the natural grass
and synthetic turf group. In light of this, they undertook further
analysis and found that longer training hours on synthetic turf was a
risk factor for younger, less mature adolescents. Although these results
are interesting, the challenge with reporting and interpreting overuse
injuries is controlling for confounding factors such as adaptation,
event identification and other physical activity undertaken.
contrast to all other studies, there has been one recent study that
found a greater incidence of injuries on natural grass compared to
synthetic turf. The synthetic turf product in their study was
Fieldturf, which was specifically developed to replicate the playing
characteristics of natural grass. They evaluated injuries from 2006 –
2008 in American college level football players and found more injuries
on natural grass than synthetic turf (53.4% compared to 46.6%). They did
not observe any differences in the category of injury between the
surfaces or in head, knee or shoulder traumas. The factors that
influenced the overall difference between the Fieldturf and natural
grass were injury time loss, injury situation, grade of injury, injuries
under various field conditions, and temperature.16 They
suggested that the contrast in their results to previous studies were
reflective of the advancements in synthetic materials.
As the use
of synthetic turf is relatively new for rugby union, there has only
been one study published to date comparing rugby union injuries on
natural grass and 3G synthetic turf. They found that there were no
significant differences in the overall incidence or severity of injuries
on synthetic turf compared to natural grass, although the incidence of
minor injuries during training was significantly higher on synthetic
turf. There was also a higher incidence (four times higher) of anterior
cruciate ligament injuries during match play on synthetic turf but the
sample size was too small to achieve a level of significance. It was
also notable that in their study all concussion and skin lacerations
were a result of player to player contact rather than player – surface
contact. Although, the sample size in their study was small, the
findings present some preliminary evidence to suggest that rugby union
can continue to be played on synthetic turf but needs close monitoring
as new products are evolving.60
A recent addition to
the standards for synthetic turf has been the inclusion of a critical
fall height in sports such as rugby union, Australian Rules football and
Gaelic football. Critical fall height is an approximation of the height
below which an individual may fall and most likely not sustain a severe
head injury. 
Since there is little published work to
date on injuries on synthetic turf for these sports, the risk of head
injuries from impacts has not been well established. A study by Theobald
et al (2010) on a variety of third generation soccer surfaces found
that shockpads and infill were important in maximising the impact
attenuation properties of the surface. Also they reported that moisture
content did not influence the critical fall height and so safety
remained consistent between arid and extremely wet conditions. They also
found that impact attenuation of natural grass was dependent on its use
and for players on poorly attended natural grass fields, the risk of a
mild traumatic brain injury may be increased. Of the six 3G surfaces
they tested, the fall heights ranged from 0.46 - 0.77 m for a 10% risk
of sustaining a mild traumatic brain injury. With the increasing use of
3G synthetic turf for rugby union, and the impending use for Australian
Rules football and Gaelic football, empirical evidence on the risk of
head injuries on synthetic turf will hopefully be addressed in the near
A limitation of the work thus far is that it has focussed
solely on the epidemiology of injuries or on the mechanistic nature of
shoe-surface interactions but there is an immense need to develop an
understanding of the underlying causes of injury on the different
surfaces. As mentioned by Naunheim et al (2002) in their work on
head injuries on various surfaces, reporting the condition of the
surface is critical to the correct interpretation of the results as the
condition of all outdoor surfaces will vary according to environmental
and maintenance conditions. A good description of the condition of the
synthetic turf has not been included in most studies to date. An
unmaintained field or moisture content could influence injury rates.
Similarly, substandard natural grass fields or well worn areas on
natural grass fields have been associated with a higher injury risk.
Future studies investigating the mechanistic nature of injuries in the
real-world context combined with details of the surface and footwear
properties at the location of the injury will make a significant
contribution to this area.
In summary, there were more injuries
recorded on first and second generation synthetic turf compared to
natural grass but currently there is insufficient evidence on third
generation turf to draw the same conclusions. There appears to be a
difference in injury patterns but not overall injury rates on third
generation turf compared to natural grass. The multi-factorial nature of
injuries makes it difficult to determine the exact contribution of the
surface to the injury sustained. Future studies that include data on
footwear, surface properties and detailed mechanistic information are
In addition to an increased injury risk on synthetic turf, heat has
become a factor of growing interest and concern. The lack of a natural
cooling effect in synthetic turf compared to natural grass seems to have
formed the basis for the unease. We know that the surface temperature
increases with solar radiation load and is poorly related to air
temperature but to date the issue of the surface temperature of
synthetic surfaces for outdoor sports has been poorly researched.
Not only has the research been limited, but in some cases this
potential problem has been ignored. Despite the increased use of
synthetic turf, little thought has been given to the inherent qualities
of the surface and the amount of heat radiated or reflected in
Australian climatic conditions. Nonetheless, there is evidence to
suggest that there is a difference between the effect of a synthetic
surface versus natural grass on the heat load experienced by those
exercising on outdoor grounds e.g., football, soccer, cricket.
early work on surface temperature on first /second generation synthetic
turf identified increases in temperature on the synthetic compared to
the natural grass, particularly when exposed to sunlight. For
example, a study by Buskirk et al. (1971) reported differences in
maximum temperature ranging from 35-60°C between the natural grass and
synthetic turf. Similarly, Kandelin (1976) found that over a 21 day
period the maximum temperature reached by the natural grass was 45
degrees and 59 degrees by the synthetic turf. In general, heat-related
research on the earlier generations of synthetic turf concluded that the
physiological stress from the increased heat could be problematic.
there have been relatively few studies to date on 3G synthetic turf,
the results have elicited the same findings. A study of heat on
synthetic turf at Brigham Young University in the USA in 2009
reported temperatures as high as 93°C on the synthetic turf. They
watered the synthetic turf in an attempt to reduce the temperature and
found that the immediate effect was remarkable, a reduction from
approximately 73.9°C to 29.4°C in the first few minutes. However, this
effect was not sustained with the temperature rose to 73.3°C within
twenty minutes. Watering has regularly been suggested to reduce the
surface temperatures of the synthetic turf fields, but despite the fact
that it is not always possible in drought-stricken regions, it is very
temporary, unless large volumes of water are administered.
study that examined the differences between a synthetic outdoor futsal
field and a natural grass field in Japan reported a difference of 16.4
degrees between the surfaces in September but that difference was
reduced to 4.5 degrees in December. These results highlight the
effect of direct sunlight compared to days of cloud cover. Data was also
published on the differences between natural grass, synthetic turf,
tennis courts and a running track. The results have been summarised
in Table 8 below and demonstrate that the temperatures on natural grass
are lower than the other surfaces.
Green synthetic turf
White synthetic turf
Artificial turf tennis
Williams & Pulley (2009)#
Devitt et al (2007)
These data were reported as average temperatures for a period between
7am and 7pm and the temperatures have been converted from Fahrenheit to
Celsius. * estimated from graph as exact temperature was not reported.
the development of guidelines for synthetic turf for Australian Rules
football and cricket, some pilot data was collected on the temperatures
on a synthetic turf field in Australia. Despite the limited data,
it provides some indication of the temperatures that can be expected in
the Australian climate refer to Table 2 .
Air temp (0C)
Ratio Surface - Air
Sunny (3pm)No wind
Table 2: A summary of all field testing sites and temperatures recorded at each site (adapted with permission from Twomey et al29).
information above shows that on all occasions, the surface temperature
of synthetic turf was greater than natural grass. The effect of these
temperature differences on sports participants is unknown and untested
in Australian conditions. Currently guidelines for safe exercising in
the heat have been developed by Sports Medicine Australia. This peak
organisation have produced three resources which cover hot weather
guidelines and tips for preventing heat related illnesses and strategies
for sporting organisations.
They provide general guidelines and deal only with ambient temperatures
and relative humidity and are not related to surface temperatures of
the grounds. It is known that children and adolescents do not adapt as
well to heat stress as an adult when exercising and therefore are more
vulnerable to heat illnesses and extra precautions need to be taken.
conclusion, the evidence to date suggests that there is an increase in
peak temperatures on 3G synthetic turf. The composition of the 3G turf
makes it difficult to ascertain what component(s) of the product are
responsible for the increased temperatures. In addition, factors such as
wind, humidity and cloud cover may all contribute to the surface
temperature and have not yet been tested simultaneously. Recently, there
has been a move in the synthetic turf industry to produce
‘heat-resistant’ products but currently they have not been sufficiently
tested in the natural environment to compare them to natural grass.
Future research is needed to quantify temperatures on the latest
products and where necessary develop heat safety policies for synthetic
turf on surface temperatures and not solely based on air temperatures.
cycle costing is a key asset management tool that takes into account the
whole life implications of planning, acquiring, operating, maintaining
and disposing of an asset.
The process is an evaluation method that considers all ownership and management costs. These include;
There are four primary principles to consider when assessing life cycle costs. They are:
cycle costing will help you to get the most out of your facility by
making sure construction, redevelopment, or asset replacement is
achieved at the lowest “whole of life” cycle cost. Life cycle cost
analysis may mean you trade higher initial construction or plant costs
for lower future operating costs. The department has a comprehensive resource tool
that enables facility developers to develop life cycle cost reports and
understand the full cost impact of owning and managing a facility.
This can be accessed on the department's website and should be followed
when assessing the life cycle costs of natural grass and synthetic turf
To assess the life cycle cost of a
proposed surface the initial capital cost, the operational costs and
the replacement costs need to be determined. The initial capital cost
would include items such as:
the purposes of this decision making guideline, a series of capital,
operating and replacement costs have been prepared for each of the
sports included in the scope of this study namely:
terms of construction costs a comparison was made between various
standards of natural grass and synthetic turf suitable for community and
elite level sporting activity. Comprehensive cost estimate
calculations have been prepared and these are included in a series of
spreadsheets (refer Appendix 2).
As an example of the difference
between the capital costs to establish a natural grass versus synthetic
turf, a summary of the costs to develop a community level natural grass
and a community level synthetic turf facility are provided in Table 1.
As can be seen the costs to construct synthetic turf facilities are
significantly higher in all sports studied and in some cases are more
than five times the cost.
Table 1: Comparison of Natural Grass and Synthetic Turf Sports Surfaces for Select Sports
Supporting facilities i.e. clubrooms, lights, fencing, goals &
accessories not included in construction costs. Costs exclude
professional fees and contingencies.
** Sand filled pitch
Note: Escalation has not been factored into any of these calculations all costs are in 2011 dollars and include GST.
costs are the recurring expenses which are related to the operation of a
business, or to the operation of a device, component, piece of
equipment or facility.
Although the common perception is that
synthetic turf requires limited maintenance and hence lower operating
costs, this is not necessarily the case. Many synthetic turf surfaces
require significant levels of maintenance and in some cases higher
levels of maintenance compared to natural grass alternatives. The cost
of the maintenance equipment is a substantial contributor to the
operating cost. Table 2 outlines the typical maintenance requirements
for both types of surfaces. These have been described in further detail
in section 3.2.3 of the report.
Table 2: Maintenance requirements for Natural Grass and Synthetic Turf
to construction costs a comparison was made between various standards
of natural grass and synthetic turf suitable for community and elite
level sporting activity in relation to operating costs. Comprehensive
cost estimate calculations have been prepared and these are included in a
series of spreadsheets (refer Appendix 2).
As an example of the
difference between the operating costs to maintain a natural grass
versus synthetic turf playing surface a summary of the costs to operate a
community level natural grass and a community level synthetic turf
facility are provided in the tables below. The costs to maintain
synthetic turf are of a similar magnitude to that of natural grass if
the surface is to be used at a community level.
Operating Cost (Annual)
Natural Grass (Community)
$10,000 (Sand filled)
Table 3: Comparison of Annual Operating Costs to Maintain Natural Grass (community level) versus Synthetic Turf
a comparison is made between a natural grass surface maintained at a
level for elite level sport maintenance costs are lower for synthetic
turf than natural grass for all sports with the exception of hockey
which are very similar.
Natural Grass (Elite)
$24,000 (Water Based)
Table 4: Comparison of Annual Operating Costs to Maintain Natural Grass (elite level) versus Synthetic Turf
natural grass, synthetic turf must be replaced at the end of its useful
life. This varies from sport to sport and the timeframe in which it is
replaced is dependent on a number of factors. These include the level
of usage, level and type of maintenance undertaken on the surface and
the performance requirements expected from the surface. For example the
need to replace a synthetic turf hockey field surface used for elite
level training and competition may be every four – five years where a
similar surface used for club based hockey could last 8-10 years.
natural grass has an indefinite lifespan if properly maintained but to
maintain optimum performance it may be resurfaced anywhere between 10 to
20 years. For the purpose of the lifecycle cost analysis it has been
assumed that resurfacing of natural grass occurs every 15 years. The
shockpad required for some sports typically will last much longer than
one cycle of synthetic turf resurfacing, it may however require minor
maintenance during the resurfacing process.
determine full lifecycle costing a comparison has been made between
natural grass and synthetic turf over a 25 and 50 year period. This has
been conducted for all sports and includes the capital (construction),
operating (maintenance) and replacement costs. The lifecycle costing
spreadsheets contained within Appendix 2 outline these total lifecycle
costs for each sport. An example where this analysis has been performed
for lawn bowling greens is included in Table 13 below. In both the 25
and 50 year scenarios the synthetic turf has a higher lifecycle cost.
Cost of Ownership
Total Cost of Ownership
Table 5: Total Cost of Ownership over 25 years and 50 years for various Lawn Bowls Surfaces
all of the sports synthetic turf over a 25 year and 50 year lifecycle
synthetic turf had a higher life cycle cost than natural grass as
displayed in Table 6.
Natural Grass (community)
The costings prepared are indicative and are based on a series of
assumptions which are contained in the lifecycle spreadsheet included as
an Appendix to this report.
Table 6: Total Cost of Natural Grass and Synthetic Turf over a 25 and 50 Year Period
is important to note that it would be too simplistic to state that due
to the fact that natural grass has a lower life cycle cost then this is
the best option. As discussed elsewhere in this report there are many
other factors that need to be considered when determining which surface
is going to best meet the needs of a particular sport or club. For
example, one of the major benefits of synthetic turf is that it can be
programmed non-stop with little impact on the playing surface (but
influences its longevity), whereas natural grass has only a finite
capacity before the condition of the surface effects playability and in
some cases player safety. All factors need to be considered when making
a choice as to the preferred surface and this cost modelling also
dispels the myth that synthetic turf has a lower cost in the long term.
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Design Standards for Urban Infrastructure 24 Sportsground Designs (PDF 834 KB)
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