A decision making guide when determining whether to use natural grass or synthetic turf.
The use of synthetic turf playing surfaces is becoming more widespread in Australia and Internationally.
An organisation’s (sport club, association, local or state government) decision whether to have a natural grass or synthetic turf sports ground comes down to their specific objectives for environmental, social, health and financial outcomes.
The purpose of this decision making guide (the guide) is to help organisations make an informed choice on surface type — natural grass v synthetic turf for sports grounds specifically football, cricket, lawn bowls, hockey, soccer, rugby, tennis, and other
relevant multi-purpose facilities.
The guide will step through a range of considerations including:
The intention of the guide is not to recommend natural grass or synthetic turf, but to provide the known evidence and facts relating to each surface type to allow your organisation to make an informed decision. The diagram to the right outlines the steps
you need to follow in determining the most suitable surface for your situation.
This guide provides an outline of the considerations that need to be taken. A detailed report ‘Natural Grass v Synthetic Turf Study’ accompanies this guide and provides extensive information on each of the key considerations. This report should
be referred to as you work through this guide, with links to the relevant sections provided at each step.
Natural grass refers to any natural turf species used for sports ground construction i.e. Kikuyu, Couch and Rye grass.
Synthetic turf refers to any artificial turf surface used in sports ground construction including unfilled, filled and water-based surfaces.
Traditionally sport has been played on natural grass surfaces. Natural grass sports surfaces were developed on open space sites set aside for recreation as towns and cities evolved. The nature of the sporting activity determined the requirements for
the sports ground in relation to size and surface characteristics.
Synthetic turf was first invented in the mid 1960’s in the United States of America; it originally came into existence in the marketplace 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
Since the development of first generation synthetic turf sporting surfaces ongoing research and consequent improvements in synthetic turf technology, have overcome some initial issues experienced in the early days and have made synthetic turf more
acceptable for a number of sports.
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 their project.
Have you determined the trends in your sport/s and the capacity of your existing playing courts, grounds and greens?
In addition to statewide trends local factors need to be considered, such as:
These all impact on participation rates and need to be considered when determining the demand for your sport.
When assessing the capacity of a sports field, two principle considerations are asset management and player safety.
Given sports fields 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 appropriate for elite sports standards to also apply to local level sports
fields. However, all sports fields should be maintained to a ‘fit for use’ condition to minimise the risk to users.
The factors that directly impact on the capacity of a sports ground include:
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 week”.
Have you determined the local climatic and environmental conditions in your area?
A 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.
Key questions regarding water supply that need to be answered when determining your surface type include:
Another key consideration is the average temperature of your local environment, particularly during anticipated playing times. Synthetic surface's can be up to 40% hotter than a natural field, although this can be affected by other environmental considerations
such as wind and humidity.
Have you considered the sports specific requirements for your playing surface?
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:
A number of these sports can use the same type of surface, for example Australian Rules Football and cricket often use the same oval.
In Western Australia natural grass playing grounds are still extensively used for all the sports. A number of the sports such as hockey and tennis have been using synthetic turf surfaces since the 1970s.
There are currently no synthetic turf sports grounds for Australian Rules Football, cricket (outfield only), rugby union, and soccer in Western Australia. The first official Australian Football League and Cricket Australia endorsed synthetic turf ground
is due to open at Point Cook in Victoria in late 2011.
Hockey is played on both synthetic turf and natural grass fields with nearly all higher level competitions in WA being played on synthetic turf.
Lawn bowls over the last decade has seen a number of associations shift to synthetic due to factors such as the lack of skilled groundskeepers, water shortages and the desire to play all year round.
Tennis has some unique factors compared with the other sports as there are four types of surfaces that can be used they are:
Historically the majority of tennis courts in WA have been natural grass (lawn) and there has been a transition in recent years to hard and synthetic surfaces for a variety of reasons.
Have you considered the broader environmental impacts of the playing surface?
There are many environmental issues that need to be considered when making a decision on a suitable surface. Rather than provide 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.
With many states of Australia including WA experiencing extreme drought and water shortages over the past decade, the heavy irrigation needs of maintaining natural grass playing fields 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 wastewater 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 (excludes wet-dressed synthetic surfaces).
Synthetic turf is often promoted as being a ‘green’ alternative to natural grass. The main ecological benefits of synthetic turf that are promoted are:
However, there are other environmental considerations such as:
These issues need to be taken into account when considering the full environmental impact of each surface.
The table below provides a summary of the environmental impacts of natural grass and synthetic turf.
Requires significant amounts of irrigation for growth.
Does not require irrigation for growth, some watering required for maintenance of specific types of synthetic turf i.e. water based hockey pitches.
Provides for natural infiltration of water through the soil profile reducing runoff.
Inhibits natural infiltration of water increasing runoff (synthetic turf can include drainage systems to compensate for their inability to take in water and capture and storage systems that can harvest rainwater for re-use).
Runoff Water Quality
Potential for nutrient/chemical leaching from pesticide and fertilisers into waterways if not managed carefully.
Potential for leaching of heavy metals and other residues from synthetic material and/or rubber infill (depending on type of surface and materials used).
Carbon emissions generally come from the installation and maintenance stage (fertiliser production, mowing and lawn management). Tends to have lower carbon footprint over entire lifecycle.
Carbon emissions come from the processing, production, transportation, installation, maintenance and disposal stages. These material impacts over the entire lifecycle significantly increase the carbon footprint
Helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and stores it as organic carbon in soil, making it an important carbon sink.
Does not have the ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
Natural product grown from seed. Requires water and chemical inputs in the form of fertiliser and pesticides for growth and quality.
Petrochemical product which uses mostly virgin materials, some of the materials can be made from recycled content(e.g. rubber granules infill and shock pad)
Natural instant lawns have short shelf lives and can only be transported shorter distances, or they are planted from seeds which have minimal transportation costs.
Generally speaking synthetic turf is transported long distances (even if it is supplied by a local company the manufacturing of the product is often performed overseas) resulting in high transport costs.
End of Life
Natural grass does not have a definitive end of life however may be replaced to enhance the current surface. Disposal is not normally required.
Ends up in landfill where it takes a long time to break down. High disposal costs.
Natural grass improves the soil by stimulating biological life and by creating a more favourable soil structure.
Heavily compacting the soil before installing synthetic turf damages soil structure, soil microbes and soil life.
Well maintained grass captures dirt and dust from the atmosphere.
During severe drought periods and tight water restrictions natural grass can deteriorate and dust may become an issue.
Covered surfaces are effective dust stabilisers and synthetic turf will provide dust stabilisation even through drought periods.
Natural heat dissipation. Heat is absorbed by turf grass. Cools the surrounding environment.
Heat reflection. Absorbs and radiates heat. Heats the surrounding environment. Can be uncomfortable and unsafe in hot weather conditions. Colour of the synthetic turf may influence the level of reflection.
Grassed areas present an irregular soft surface which makes them effective at reducing noise levels.
Synthetic turf fibres absorb some noise but not as much as natural grass.
Natural grass assists to soften and reduce reflected light, lessening glare.
High levels of glare can be created from sunlight and floodlight depending on the type of surface used.
Biodiversity and Habitat
Provides natural environment for organic biodiversity in the soil.
No organic biodiversity due to compacted base and synthetic surface.
Have you considered the social impacts associated with the playing surface?
As mentioned previously the various sports are at different stages of adopting synthetic turf and consequently the perception in the community of using synthetic surfaces is mixed. For sports such as hockey and tennis where the use of synthetic surfaces
has been commonplace for many years there is a general acceptance of the practice. However with other sports such as Australian Rules football, cricket and rugby league there may be some trepidation in the shift to synthetic turf surfaces.
When considering your options consultation with the state and national sports bodies is always recommended as they should be able to provide you with examples of similar projects that have been successfully implemented and suggestions on how to deal with
any resistance within a community.
The following points are subjective and are 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
Have you considered the Health impacts of the playing surface?
Due to the limited reported research to date on injuries on the latest versions of synthetic turf, there is little consensus on whether the risk of injury is greater than on natural turf surfaces. The main report gives a detailed account of the knowledge
on injuries between the surfaces. However, the following are properties that could contribute to an increased injury risk and need to be considered.
The heat difference between natural and synthetic turf surfaces is significant and needs to be considered in the selection of a surface.
As mentioned under the environmental considerations section above there have been some concerns raised about the health risks of the crumbed rubber infill used in later synthetic surfaces. There is a need to check the quality of the rubber supplied if
this type of infill is being considered.
Have you considered the management needs and lifecycle cost of the playing surface?
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.
There are four primary principles to consider when assessing life cycle costs:
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 and should be followed when assessing the
life cycle costs of natural grass and synthetic turf options.
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 based on 2011 cost estimates show that 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.
Although the common perception is that
synthetic turf requires limited maintenance and hence 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 in comparison to natural grass alternatives. The
cost of the maintenance equipment is a substantial contributor to the
operating cost, although it could be spread across multiple venues.
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, weather
conditions and the performance requirements expected from the surface.
Natural grass (community)
$10,000 (sand filled)
note that these figures are indicative only and should not be used in
place of a proper quote or quantity surveyor estimate.
Make a decision on the best suited playing surface.
The information in this guide, as well as the detailed report Natural Grass v Synthetic Turf Study,
was intended to help you arrive at an informed decision as to which
surface type is best suited for your needs. Each surface type has their
advantages and disadvantages and individual circumstances will require
Other key steps in the planning process
that should be undertaken before committing to the project include a
needs analysis, feasibility study and management plan.
For more information regarding this guide or strategic planning principles, please contact one of our officers below:
Do not submit enquiries with this form.