Synthetic grass substitutes came to life, so to speak, in the early ’60s. They first gained renown when “Astroturf” was applied to the playing field of the Houston Astrodome. These early surfaces were hard and unforgiving. Athletes today cringe at the idea of playing on the original artificial grass. Today’s iterations are designed for specific sports or purposes. They produce fewer turf-caused injuries and repel the elements better than their predecessors. Artificial grass has come a long way.
It All Started with Nylon for Durability
The original turf was made from nylon, chosen exclusively for its durability. The surface was hard and the infill was non-existent. The blades were stiff and produced a “turf-burn” when athletes fell or dove. Occasionally, a knee became injured when a cleat snagged in the material. It was basically an injury factory. More a novelty than a legitimate playing surface, these early attempts were passable, but hardly great.
New Materials for Increased Performance
Over time, manufacturers refined the material composition of artificial turf. New materials were found, such as polyethylene, which offered durability while remaining flexible. The blades were made to bend like natural grass and were cut to different lengths, giving the surface a natural look. Artificial turf better resembled actual grass with each product generation.
Infill served the key ingredient to improving the function and look of faux grass. Infill is used to anchor the turf and keep the blades standing upright. It also provides softness to the field of play by incorporating various degrees of bounce. Early materials included a mix of sand and crumb rubber.
Athlete Safety Inspired Many Innovations
As stadiums grew larger and venues started hosting multiple sports, the demand grew for a synthetic field which could be used throughout the year while maintaining its condition. Consequently, more refinements were made to synthetic grass to improve its playability and its safety factor pertaining to athletes’ injuries.
Substrates were softened and traction improved in a way that prevented the snagging of cleats. More advanced infills became standard, such as EPDM and coated silica sand, both created solely for use in artificial fields.
Synthetic Grass Becomes Specialized for Different Uses
As synthetic grass continued to gain popularity, new uses were found for the product. Specialized applications such as dog runs and putting greens became commonplace. The one size-fits-all turf, however, was not ideal for multiple purposes.
New types of turf were created to meet the needs of each application, resulting in a diverse collection of artificial grasses. For pets, synthetics that remained clean at the bottom of a kennel were developed. Short, hard turf was developed to approximate putting greens at the finest courses. It soon became available for premium golf clubs and backyard enthusiasts alike.
A Diverse Array of Artificial Grasses Are Now Available
Today, shopping for artificial grass requires research into the best type available for your specific purpose. The style of surface varies greatly, depending on its use, as does the infill. A wide variety of materials are available in accordance to budget and locale.
Artificial surfaces continue to evolve, still driven by major sports applications. On a never-ending quest to provide the safest and most playable athletic surfaces possible, better blades and infill materials regularly roll out of the manufacturing plants. Studies are conducted on every new entry into the market, providing a wealth of information for every buyer.
From the early days of nylon over concrete, artificial grass now constitutes a popular, functional addition to any stadium. It requires little maintenance, speeds up the game, and looks great on television. With new materials, synthetic turf now presents a safe alternative to natural grass and its use continues to grow every year. Synthetic fields are here to stay. Indeed, as enhancements and innovations continue to unfold, it is not unrealistic to predict that all playing fields will be using synthetic surfaces in the not-too-distant future.
The Truth About Artificial Sports Injuries, sportswithoutinjury.com