The new natural grass sport complex being developed in Amsterdam is really taking shape. Congrats to the City of Haarlemmermeer / Hoofddorp and the Pioneers Club team. The construction of the mound and home plates are almost complete and the sand based root zone is being installed. Chad Olsen is also proofing the finish grade this week before seeding the bluegrass blend. Looking back on the planning process of this project provided some interesting thoughts. I’ve been asked a few times by some of my peers as to why they didn’t go with synthetic grass. After all, here is a country that sees a lot of rain and cloud cover as well as low temps and they have a short outdoor sports season. However, its a question I could see coming from folks. The Grass /turf selection was discussed extensively and through a few testimonials from dutch horticulturists and local sportsturf managers, we stayed the course with natural grass. It was the right choice for many reasons, but the municipality needed to collect accurate information to justify the decision.
The Dutch grow some of the most beautiful plant material in the world. The ground and soils are designed for agriculture and the culture embraces nature and a natural lifestyle. The land of bicycles , the windmills for energy are abundant, garden after beautiful garden criss-cross the countryside and recreational athletic fields are managed at a very high level. I could go on and on about this forward thinking country. The streets are clean of trash, all the common ground areas are free of weeds/high grass and the landscaping is well-kept. Bottom line, the deciding factor to go with natural grass was due to the country having a huge appreciation for maintaining things as well as the drive to develop a state of the art playing surface for their baseball and softball community.
Over the years I have had the chance to work at a few great places. Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando was one of them. The complex was programmed and designed to be open 365 days a year. Ive heard the question a couple times as to why we didn’t consider going with synthetic turf. One of the reasons… Reggie Williams , the VP of Sport for Disney was a former NFL Bengals football player and had spent many years playing on synthetic turf which he was not a big fan of at the time. We all followed his lead and designed the fields and event management system with the ability to host multiple events. For example we were able to host 1500 baseball games in a 6 week slot during the heat of summer. We proved that natural grass could sustain extremely high use if the fields were designed and maintained properly. The fact that Disney has a culture of maintaining things at a high level also helped with planning the maintenance operations.
When you are building that new ballpark or field, do your homework before selecting a playing surface whether it be synthetic or natural. Both have pros and cons, Many of you have played on both good and bad surfaces. It may appear to be an easy financial choice but in the long run when you weigh all the facts, there really isn’t a major cost savings when you compare both surfaces. For many years I have managed the baseball field at Hiram bithorn stadium in Puerto Rico for multiple MLB games. It’s a synthetic surface and the staff, equipment and products we use are equal to managing a professional natural grass baseball field. The turf was replaced in 2004 for a new in-fill turf product and since this was the Montreal Expos home ground they wanted to keep it similar to what they had at Olympic stadium. The City of San Juan has struggled with budgets like many around the world making it tough to justify field maintenance over police protection. After 8 years of moderate use, the turf is ready to be replaced/renovated and either option is an expensive process.
Some countries take the “synthetic turf needs less maintenance” pitch to the extreme which is unfortunate. I’ve seen neglected turf fields that need to be replaced after just a few of years of use because they were not groomed properly. Maintenance is key to any surface selected. The playing surface selection process should also be based on how the community views cultural practices and if they have the capacity, resources or ability to maintain either surface at a safe level. If you are thinking about changing out your field do your homework about all the different options. Reach out to your local natural grass professionals or contact the STMA (www.stma.org) for up to date info on some of the new varieties of turfgrass. At the end of the day I’m hoping you can “keep it real” !