Having a well-designed and constructed sports pitch is the goal of every sports club. In recent years, there has been a drive amongst numerous sporting organisations right throughout the UK and Ireland to improve existing facilities with the emphasis on their playing surfaces. However, through meeting many club representatives, I have come to realise that there is much confusion when it comes to actually deciding on how to go about their new construction or renovation project.
In my opinion, the first step that should be taken is by the organisation themselves. It is critical that right from the outset that everybody involved knows exactly what is proposed. There is no room for disputes half way through the project. The club must first of all decide on whether their existing site is adequate. I have seen so many situations where one pitch is catering for hundreds of games each year and to be honest, it would almost take a miracle for any pitch to live up to that type of wear. A pitch committee is often formed, who are responsible for decisions that must be made about the development. A site plan must be drawn up which details exactly the land owned by the club and this is the time to decide on any ideas to expand and procure if needed extra space. Once this is accomplished, I feel that it is essential that a well qualified and experienced turfgrass agronomist and consultant is drafted in to carry out the project. In my experience, this issue is one of the most contested ones, with so many clubs in the past having chosen to undertake the supervision and guidance of the project themselves, which all too often ends in disaster down the road. Once a suitable turfgrass consultant is chosen, then it is essential that they knows exactly the needs, expectations and budget, of the particular club right from the outset. The consultant needs to know and understand the expected number of games on the pitch per year, the amount of training, the time of year when use is at its peak. It is also essential that any previous problems, such as wet areas, poor drainage, or drought problems with the pitch be reported to the consultant.
Once this has taken place, the next step is carrying out a feasibility study, which should be conducted by the consultant. This study addresses numerous issues including:
o Soil type, percolation rate, and water table
o Information gathered from the pitch committee about the facility
o History of the site
o Type of rootzone to be used
o Level of pitch use
o Time of year when the pitch is used the most
o Planning issues in the locality
o Environmental issues (Ecological concerns, drainage outlets, etc)
o Construction budget
o Management budget
o Drainage and irrigation system if required
o Surface water runoff collection areas
o Expectations of the sports club
o Pitch size
o Pitch slope
o Location of clubhouse, stand and other facilities
o Expected renovation cost
o Safety issues
Depending on the available budget, various options exist in relation to the type of rootzone used. The majority of small clubs use the existing rootzone and incorporate a drainage system into this. However, numerous clubs are using sand based rootzones, whereby sand replaces the existing rootzone, in the idea of increasing water percolation rate from the pitch surface and having the pitch playable all year round. The Prunty Mulqueen sand rootzone is such an example. However, the club budget will determine if such a system is possible. If sand based rootzones are used, then sand particle size selection is critical, since poorly selected rootzones may have low infiltration rates, leading to water logging or excessive drainage leading to drought.
Probably one of the largest issues that almost every club will have to address is pitch drainage. Almost all new and reconstructed pitches nowadays contain some form of drainage system, some which work very well and some worked for a time and then began to fail. In my opinion, drainage is a critical component in developing an excellent playing surface. Different drainage systems are available with pipe drainage and pipe and slit drainage systems being very common. Pipe drainage systems basically consist of perforated plastic pipes, which are about 24" under the ground and connect to a main drain, which takes the water away. Pipe and drain systems contain the same type of pipe system, with gravel slit drains placed at a 90° angle to the main drain. Other issues such as irrigation must also be addressed.
Once this has been decided, the tendering process for the job will occur. The consultant involved should have many contacts and will be able to recommend numerous construction companies who may be suitable. Development or redevelopment of sports pitches seems to many, a daunting task. However, if you approach the issue from the outset professionally and employ a very-knowledgeable and recommended turfgrass consultant, then I firmly believe that you are already well on your way to achieving that excellent playing surface.