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Sustainable Sportsfields

Friday 18, Oct 2019


Sustainability has been a buzzword throughout the turf industry for a while now. But as ATM expert columnist John Neylan writes, when it comes to improving the sustainability of sportsfields, it requires a substantial change in mind set and work practices to achieve.

In recent times, primarily due to the cost and availability of water, there has been an increasing interest in local government to construct and maintain more sustainable sportsfields.  An admirable sentiment, however, can it be achieved and, more importantly, what do we think is meant by ‘sustainability’.  The sustainability word is easy to use and does have some generic appeal and provides a feel-good response, but making it happen requires substantial commitment. 

In various discussions there have been generic theories being floated that the use of finer textured soils that have greater water holding capacity or the use of compost will improve the sustainability of sportsfields.  While this may have some merit, there is no short cut to improved sustainability and as with all things related to turf management the devil is in the detail.

Definition of sustainability

So what does sustainability mean? The broad, global definition is where sustainability is about living within the resources of the planet without damaging the environment now or in the future.

This is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.  It has three main pillars – economic, environmental and social.  These three pillars are informally referred to as people, planet and profits.

From a turf perspective, the late great Dr James Beard (2005) defined sustainability as “managing soil and plant cultural practices so as not to degrade or impair environmental quality on or off site, and without eventually reducing the yield potential as a result of the chosen practice through exhaustion of either on-site resources or non-renewable inputs.”


At the 2019 Asia Pacific Turfgrass Conference, Steve Isaac spoke on sustainable golf and low input golf and is a topic which is the centrepiece of how The R&A consider that golf courses should be managed.  The R&A considers sustainability to be a key priority for golf, and to be considered sustainable, the golf operation (be that a new development, existing facility or golf tournament) should protect nature, benefit communities and conserve resources (

Golf is relatively unique compared to sportsfields because of the area of land involved.  For example, it has huge potential to develop the natural landscape/environment of out of play areas and has increased capacity to collect and store water.  Due to the confined space of sportsfields, the ability to exploit the greenspace for this purpose is considerably limited. 

Sustainability and its relevance to sportsfields

So do any of these definitions have relevance to sportsfields? 

In their own way they all have relevance, but they produce some challenges for local government entities and in particular how to work out what is sustainable. 

Cisar (2004), in a review paper titled Managing Turfgrass Sustainability, highlighted the drivers for more sustainable turf including concerns over turf environmental impacts, regulations ending the use of certain pesticides and limiting the use of natural resources (i.e. water, fertiliser etc.).




Cisar states that the turfgrass industry has developed turfgrass management systems which require fewer inputs.  This has been achieved through the breeding of more resource-efficient turfgasses, increased use of effluent water and new agrichemicals applied at lower rates of active ingredient and less frequently.

These have combined with traditional programmes such as integrated pest management (IPM) and best management practices (BMPs) to provide a path toward the goal of real turf sustainability.  In reality we may well be there, however, there hasn’t been enough research to determine one way or the other.


To read the full article click here.