Féderation Internationale des Football Associations’ (Zurich, Switzerland) regulation of the materials and methods associated with the construction of synthetic turf pitches (FIFA, 2012a, 2012b) has led to the development of widely accepted synthetic grass sport surfaces. This improvement was achieved thanks to the standardization procedures, which were implemented through the use of a series of machinery and instruments for laboratory and field evaluation of synthetic turf: such methods show great potential for natural turf evaluation (Lulli et al., 2010).
The bulk of research on the playability of natural turf football pitches on cool-season turfgrass species was carried out in the 1980 to 1990 period, with some research papers reaching the goal of setting preferable playing characteristics parameters for football pitches (Baker et al., 1992) and methods (Baker and Canaway, 1993). Research has focused mainly in comparing different playability parameters. Most of these works have concentrated on comparing different playing characteristics obtained by different construction methods and pitch drainage layouts (Baker and Canaway, 1991), different turfgrass mowing heights (Grossi et al., 2003; Rogers and Waddington, 1989), comparisons between synthetic and natural turf pitches (Baker and Woollacott, 2005), and different sports field construction methods (Canaway, 1983). The playability results generated by different turfgrass species have been less frequently investigated (McNitt et al., 2003; Orchard et al., 2005) or reviewed (Chivers, 2008), but have consistently highlighted the fact that different turfgrass species generate sports surfaces with different playing characteristics.
Between latitudes 40°N and 40°S (and increasingly between latitudes 43°N and 43°S) football pitches, including some famous, high-capacity stadiums, make use of warm-season (C4) turfgrass species. The reasons for the widespread use of these species lie in their great adaptability to wide pH and salinity ranges (Marcum, 1999), high temperature and drought tolerance (Croce et al., 2004; Pompeiano et al., 2012), pest resistance and a high colonization and recuperation capability deriving from their stoloniferous and/or rhizomatous growth habit (Beard, 1973), and wear tolerance (Brosnan and Deputy, 2009). Furthermore, the ongoing implementation of recent legislation (European Council, 2009) effectively limiting the use of pesticides in the European Union (EU) in urban green area (including sports fields) could lead to an even wider adoption of C4 turfgrass for sports fields in the temperate climate areas.
In previous studies, FIFA-standard tissue strength (Alamar et al., 2008; Lulli et al., 2011) and wear simulation (Lulli et al., 2012) tests have been conducted to evaluate physiological and morphological features of C3 (plants with a C3 metabolic pathway for carbon fixation) and C4 turfgrass species, with investigations on the contribution to the results for turfgrass canopy morphological parameters, and plant key constituents (mainly lignin and silica). These two common plant tissue compounds are often called upon to explain wear tolerance in both warm-season (Trenholm et al., 2000) and cool-season turfgrass species (Shearman and Beard, 1975), and generally seem to affect most of the mechanical properties of turfgrass leaves.
However, since no previous research was found that compares the playability characteristics of different C4 turfgrass surfaces under identical root zone and with identical agronomic management practices, this study was conceived to evaluate the playing characteristics of turfgrasses obtained from the following C4 turfgrasses that are commonly used in soccer fields and in general sports surfaces: 1) ‘Tifway 419’ hybrid bermudagrass, 2) ‘Zeon’ manilagrass, and 3) ‘Salam’ seashore paspalum. To increase the understanding of how turfgrass biological and morphological factors effectively influence the playing characteristics of a turfgrass surface, the playability results obtained on the field through a complete set of FIFA-standard tests [with the addition of penetrography and Clegg impact soil tester [0.5 kg hammer dropped from 0.3 m (Clegg, 1976)] were plotted against laboratory analyses of plant tissue lignin and silica, and relevant plant and canopy morphological parameters.
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