Artificial grass is an increasingly popular way of maintaining the perfect garden lawn all year round, but just how did this product come about? Artificial grass or turf is a synthetic surface manufactured from fibres made to look like natural grass. Originally used primarily in sports arenas, it is now a convenient choice for residential and commercial properties desiring a low maintenance garden surface.
In the 1950s, the Ford Foundation conducted a study that found children from rural backgrounds were much more active than those from urban areas. As a result of these findings, the foundation sought to develop a synthetic playing surface that could be used to make urban spaces more appealing. Their hope was to give children in cities a better quality of play area, that they could use at any time of year. In 1964, the first installation of this new playing surface, originally called ChemGrass, was completed at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island.
Artificial turf was initially created in the early 1960s, however, it came into public prominence in 1966, when it was installed in the AstroDome – America’s first indoor, major-league baseball stadium in Houston, Texas. The state-of-the-art venue had initially attempted to use natural grass, however, ground conditions and repeated use meant that the grass quickly died. As a temporary measure the dead grass and dirt were painted green!
Thankfully, a team of researchers working on behalf of the Ford Foundation had just created the first notable artificial turf, and it proved perfect for the job. The team was run by David Chaney, head of research at the textile company Chemstrand, working alongside Research Triangle Park staff. Although the new product was originally named ChemGrass, it quickly became known as ‘AstroTurf’ due to its association with the innovative sporting venue.
The use of AstroTurf and similar products became widespread in the US and Canada in the early 1970s, in both indoor and outdoor stadiums, and continues to this day in sporting venues around the world.
Since it’s inception artificial grass has been manufactured in much the same way, however, technological advances have seen developments in the raw materials used and the way the grass is laid.
Synthetic turf is produced in a similar way to a carpet – using a tufting machine. Large numbers of needles insert fibre strands into a fabric backing and a flexible adhesive is then used to bind the fibres to the backing.
In the early days, nylon was used to create the original artificial turf surface, however, the material had a tendency to cause friction burns and blisters when used for sports. It was also fairly expensive, which meant using it for large playing fields would require a significant investment.
In the 1980s, manufacturers began using polypropylene yarn instead of nylon. The material was less expensive, and a sand infill meant the playing surface could be stabilised to produce more natural reactions for sports use. Unfortunately, the sand still caused the problems of grazes and burns when players slid across the surface.
Towards the end of the 1990s, another new generation of artificial grass was developed using polyethylene. This new, softer material could be used to make longer, more realistic fibres and was installed with a granulated rubber infill. These advances resulted in fewer contact burns and grazing – the sports functionality was much better, and the grass had a much more natural appearance.
Modern day processes also use shock-pads, produced from polyester foam/rubber, which are installed underneath the artificial grass. These are particularly useful for areas such as around children’s play equipment and in certain sports, reducing risk of injury.
The first installations of the synthetic lawn surface encountered issues such as seams coming apart and the turf wearing too quickly, as well as the top layer fading and discolouring due to exposure to sunlight.
Up until the 1990s, there were complaints that artificial grass surfaces were too rough, causing severe friction burns and blisters. In addition to this, the surface temperature of the older artificial grass could become uncomfortably hot, while sports players also claimed that balls bounced harder and in less predictable directions – affecting their game play and techniques. These problems caused a significant fall in the popularity of artificial grass and some venues reverted to installing natural grass.
During the 1990s, improvements were made, ensuring artificial turf would look and feel more similar to natural grass. Recent developments have also seen artificial grass fibres supported by infill materials to ensure the surface does not become compacted. These advances significantly improved the use and appearance of artificial grass, and have helped ensure it continues to be a popular ground surface, used by communities, schools, and professional sports teams.
Baseball might have been the first sport to adopt artificial grass but it wasn’t long until many other sports followed, including American football, golf, field hockey and tennis.
The first American football team to play on artificial grass was the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans). Eight stadiums in the Canadian Football League and the majority of American football stadiums now have artificial grass playing surfaces. The use of synthetic turf provides the players with a perfect surface to play on, no matter the season, and means there are no worn, bare patches.
In total, there are 500 stadiums in 30 countries which use artificial turf.
Golf is probably the sport most well-known for their use of artificial grass. The surface is perfect for the sport as it greatly reduces the maintenance needed from the use of clubs on natural grass. However, many residential properties in the UK and US are now installing putting greens at home using artificial grass – so amateur golfers can practice all year-round.
As well as golfing greens, artificial grass is frequently used for sports such as football, where the natural lawn can wear away and create muddy patches. Artificial turf surfacing can also provide a shock absorbing base which creates extra comfort for players.
Rugby has also recognised the benefits of artificial grass, as the RFU look to supplement the natural with the synthetic. During the Winter seasons games are frequently cancelled due to bad weather and the resulting condition of pitches. Rugby players might be used to sliding in the mud, but by the time it comes round to Summer there is no grass left, making it a much harder surface on which to land. Installing artificial grass ensures less maintenance work, as well as a surface suitable to play on all year round.
RFU Rugby Development Director Steve Grainger explained the reasons for the move:
“Over the past four years, RFU data shows that wetter Winters are having a serious impact on the rugby season, resulting in more games and training sessions being cancelled…Each new artificial grass pitch built will enable between 1,500 and 2,000 additional hours of rugby within the respective local communities each year, giving 58,000 new players the opportunity to play rugby each year while ensuring poor weather will no longer compromise play.”
With artificial grass originating in the United States, it has certainly seen the biggest growth in the industry. The USA has also seen the biggest increase in adoption for domestic use, there has been a rise of 10% – 15% each year in the US, and the UK is now following the trend. The UK’s unpredictable weather means artificial grass is increasingly appealing, as it requires little maintenance and always looks great.
The Global Artificial Grass Market 2007 published a research report in February 2008 of the amount of artificial grass sold.