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Berkeleyan

Plastic fantastic ground cover
Players and coaches alike laud the new Momentum turf that has replaced natural grass at Memorial Stadium

| 20 August 2003

 

turf

Momentum’s boosters say its structure makes it far superior to Astroturf. A dense carpet of polyethylene blades is woven into a multi-layered backing, then filled in with a mixture of sand and ground-up rubber. The result, says head football coach Jeff Tedford, is the closest thing to grass itself — minus the maintenance hassle and expense.
D. Lyn Hunter photo

A new, bright-green, synthetic era has dawned at Memorial Stadium, in time for the start of the 2003 football season. Last month, crews removed the arena’s natural grass and replaced it with “Momentum,” the latest innovation in turf technology.

This isn’t your father’s Astroturf, infamous for the injuries and rugburns it inflicted on players during the 1970s and 1980s. Momentum, says football head coach Jeff Tedford, is a near-perfect replication of nature’s carpet. “It looks like grass, it feels like grass, and it performs like grass. Everything’s there but the smell.”

Momentum is structurally distinct from Astroturf. Visualize a dense carpet of 2.5-inch-long polyethylene blades woven into a sturdy, multilayered backing material. Once installed, it is filled in with a combination of sand and ground-up rubber, leaving a 5/8-inch tip of exposed blade.

“This system,” says assistant athletic director Bob Milano, Jr., “provides the traction and bounce that makes playing on grass fields so desirable.”

It also provides a safer, more consistent surface for his players, adds Tedford. Natural grass, especially late in the season, develops bald, slippery spots that can be treacherous. And while grass nicely cushions a blow from a massive tackle, it requires a lot of expensive maintenance, including watering, mowing, weekly painting (of yardage lines and such), and annual re-sodding, all of which cost money — at Berkeley, about $100,000 a year.

The tough new surface also frees up more athletic space, which is at a premium on this crowded campus. Before Momentum, the team was unable to practice in Memorial Stadium because the field could not handle the daily wear and tear and still be in prime condition for game day. As a result, the team had to share neighboring Witter Field with lacrosse, rugby, and soccer team practices and matches. The synthetic turf will allow the football squad and other Cal sports teams to play in Memorial Stadium year round.

“It’s awesome,” says defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander, a junior majoring in legal studies, of the stadium’s new turf. “I played on grass here last year, and I like this a lot better. We’re already a fast team, and this surface is going to make us even faster.”

Before the Momentum turf could be installed, the old grass had to be removed, along with several layers of earth. The existing irrigation system was reconfigured to accommodate the synthetic surface.

“We can actually water the turf to cool its surface on hot days,” says Milano. “We can also adjust the traction by adding moisture.”

Once this work was completed, soil, drainage gravel, sand, a plastic reinforcement grid, and more gravel were layered on top of each other. Finally the synthetic turf itself was put down, installed by specially trained technicians and fastened along the edge of the stadium floor.

Though it doesn’t need to be mowed, the turf still requires some maintenance: it must be groomed once a week, using a special brush that fluffs up the fibers and sand-rubber infill. However, because the lines, hash marks, and end-zone logos are permanently inlaid on the turf, game-day painting is eliminated.

Funding for the installation of the stadium’s Momentum turf, which cost approximately $975,000, was covered completely by private donations.

“I know some of our fans are skeptical about this return to a synthetic surface,” admits Tedford. “But once they see how well our team performs on this turf, and how great it looks, I think they’ll see that it was the right move.”