What are Sports Turf Irrigation & Sprinkler Systems? A Comprehensive Guide

What are Sports Turf Irrigation & Sprinkler Systems? A Comprehensive Guide

sports turf irrigation systems

In the realm of sports facility management, the quality of the playing surface is paramount. Whether it’s a high school football field or a professional soccer pitch, the turf’s condition can significantly impact the game’s flow and players’ safety. Enter sports turf sprinkler and irrigation systems, the unsung heroes of pristine playing fields. This article delves into these systems, shedding light on their importance and the different types available for both natural and artificial turfs.

If you are currently planning to invest in a sports turf irrigation or sprinkler system, try our cost calculator to get a customized cost estimate for your needs.

Table of Contents

The Need for Sports Turf Irrigation and Sprinkler Systems

Water serves as the vital essence for natural turf, sustaining its vibrancy, greenness, and suitability for play. Yet, the complexity arises in achieving uniform water dispersion over extensive sports fields. Excessive watering can engender muddiness, whereas insufficient watering may yield parched, unyielding surfaces susceptible to injuries. Thus, the significance of a thoughtfully crafted irrigation system cannot be overstated.

Moreover, artificial turf fields, although not reliant on water for growth, also benefit from watering mechanisms for an array of purposes. Artificial turf can accumulate heat, potentially affecting players’ comfort and performance. Incorporating cooling systems involving water circulation helps maintain an agreeable field temperature. Additionally, water-based cleaning systems preserve cleanliness and extend the longevity of artificial turf, ensuring optimal functionality and aesthetics.

Benefits of Proper Irrigation

A well-irrigated sports field is more than just a visual delight. It ensures:

  • Enhanced Playability: Players can perform at their best when the field is in top condition.
  • Safety: Properly maintained turf reduces the risk of injuries like sprains and falls.
  • Lifespan: Regular and adequate watering can extend the life of natural grass fields.
  • Water Conservation: Modern irrigation systems are designed to use water efficiently, aligning with today’s sustainability goals.
sports turf sprinkler systems

Types of Sports Turf

  • Natural Grass Sports Fields: The traditional choice for many sports, natural grass offers a unique feel and aesthetic. However, it demands regular maintenance, including mowing, fertilizing, and, of course, watering.
  • Artificial Turf Sports Fields: Gaining popularity due to its lower maintenance needs and consistent playing conditions, artificial turf isn’t entirely maintenance-free. It requires specific care, especially when it comes to temperature management and cleanliness.

Irrigation & Sprinkler Systems for Natural Grass Sports Fields

  • Surface Irrigation: A traditional method where water flows over the field’s surface, reaching the grass roots. While it’s cost-effective, it can lead to uneven water distribution.
  • Drip Irrigation: A more modern approach, drip irrigation delivers water directly to the grass roots through tubes, ensuring efficient water use. However, it can be more expensive to install and maintain.
  • Sprinkler Systems: The most common choice for sports fields, sprinkler systems can be customized to cover any field size. They offer even water distribution, but their efficiency can be affected by wind conditions.

Irrigation & Sprinkler Systems for Artificial Turf Sports Fields

  • Cooling Systems: Artificial turfs can become scorching under direct sunlight. Cooling systems, often integrated with sprinklers, help lower the surface temperature, ensuring player comfort.
  • Cleaning Systems: Over time, debris, dust, and other contaminants can accumulate on artificial turf. Cleaning systems, typically using water jets, help maintain the turf’s cleanliness and playability.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Irrigation System

The selection of an appropriate irrigation system for a sports facility is a multifaceted decision, influenced by the sport in question, the design of the playing area, the competition level, and the specific use cases of the field or court. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown:

1. Type of Sport

Each sport has unique turf irrigation requirements:

  • Football & Soccer: These sports demand a resilient turf capable of enduring constant foot traffic. The irrigation system should ensure uniform water distribution to maintain consistent playing conditions.
  • Baseball & Softball: With a combination of grass and dirt infields, these sports require a versatile irrigation approach. The grass areas need regular watering, while the infield dirt areas should be kept relatively dry for optimal play.
  • Tennis: Grass tennis courts need a consistent and even surface. Any irregularities in watering can lead to inconsistent ball bounces, affecting gameplay.
  • Golf Courses: Golf courses present unique irrigation challenges due to their varied terrain and large areas. The system must accommodate different grass types across fairways, greens, and roughs. Precision in water distribution is critical to avoid overwatering which can lead to turf diseases and under-watering which can create hard and fast playing surfaces.

2. Layout/Design of the Field or Court

The design and size of the playing area dictate the type of irrigation system:

  • Large Fields: Sports played on vast fields, like football and soccer, might benefit from underground irrigation systems for even water distribution and to avoid any obstructions during play.
  • Segmented Areas: Baseball fields, with separate infields and outfields, might require a combination of underground and above-field systems. The grassy outfields can utilize underground systems, while the dirt infields might use above-field sprinklers for occasional dust control.
  • Compact Courts: Tennis courts, being more compact, can often get away with above-field sprinkler systems, especially if they are only occasionally used for maintenance purposes.

3. Level of Competition

The intensity of the competition influences the turf maintenance:

  • Professional & Collegiate Levels: High-stakes games demand impeccable turf conditions. Underground irrigation systems, being more efficient and less obtrusive, are often preferred at these levels.
  • Recreational & School Levels: While turf quality remains important, there’s more flexibility in irrigation choices. Above-field systems might be sufficient, especially if budget constraints are a consideration.

4. Underground vs. Above-Field Systems

  • Underground Irrigation Systems: Ideal for high-competition levels and large fields where obstructions need to be minimized. They offer efficient water distribution and are aesthetically pleasing since the system components are hidden.
  • Above-Field Sprinkler Systems: Suitable for recreational levels, smaller courts, or segmented areas like baseball infields. They are generally easier to install and maintain but can be obtrusive during play if not managed properly.

Main Components of Sports Turf Irrigation and Sprinkler Systems

In the intricate world of sports turf management, understanding the components of irrigation and sprinkler systems is fundamental. These systems, though often operating behind the scenes, are composed of various parts working in harmony to ensure optimal turf health and playability. 

Let’s break down the main components:


1. Controller (Timer)

The brain of the irrigation system, the controller, allows facility managers to program when and how long the system will run. Modern controllers come with advanced features like weather sensors to adjust watering schedules based on real-time conditions.


2. Valves

Valves control the flow of water to different zones of the field. They can be turned on or off manually or automatically through the controller.

  • Solenoid Valves: Electrically operated, these are commonly used in automated systems.
  • Manual Valves: Operated by hand, they’re often used for system maintenance or in simpler setups.


3. Sprinkler Heads

These are the outlets that distribute water onto the field. They come in various designs to suit different watering needs.

  • Pop-up Sprinklers: Hidden when not in use, they rise above the ground during operation, making them ideal for sports fields to prevent tripping hazards.
  • Rotary Sprinklers: Designed to rotate and cover large areas, they’re suitable for vast sports fields.
  • Fixed Spray Heads: Best for smaller areas, they provide a constant spray pattern.


4. Pipes and Tubing

The pipes transport water from the source to the sprinkler heads. They’re typically buried underground to prevent damage and obstruction.

  • PVC Pipes: Durable and widely used for mainlines.
  • Polyethylene Tubing: Flexible and often used for drip irrigation systems.


5. Sensors

Modern irrigation systems often incorporate sensors to optimize water usage based on real-time conditions.


  • Rain Sensors: Automatically shut off the system during rainfall to prevent over-watering.
  • Soil Moisture Sensors: Measure the moisture level in the soil and adjust watering schedules accordingly.
  • Wind Sensors: Prevent watering during high winds to ensure even distribution and reduce water waste.


6. Backflow Preventers

A safety component, the backflow preventer ensures that water from the irrigation system doesn’t flow back into the main water supply, preventing potential contamination.


7. Filters

Especially crucial for drip irrigation systems, filters prevent debris and particles from clogging the emitters, ensuring a steady flow of water.


8. Pressure Regulators

These devices maintain a consistent water pressure throughout the system, ensuring even water distribution and preventing potential damage from high pressure.

Costs and Funding

The cost of installing a sports turf irrigation or sprinkler system can vary widely based on several factors, including the size of the field or court, the type of system chosen (underground vs. above-field), and the specific requirements of the sport in question. 

On average, for a standard soccer or football field, the installation of an irrigation system can range from $30,000 to $150,000 or more. This estimate includes the costs of materials, labor, and any additional features like sensors or advanced controllers.

Funding such a substantial investment can be approached in several ways. Traditional methods include allocating funds from the facility’s annual budget or securing a loan. However, many sports facilities also explore alternative funding sources. Grant programs, both governmental and private, often support infrastructure improvements for community sports facilities. 

Crowdfunding campaigns, especially for community or school fields, can rally local support and generate funds. Additionally, partnerships or sponsorships with local businesses can be a win-win, offering businesses advertising opportunities in exchange for financial support.

Read more about sports turf sprinkler and irrigation system cost considerations in our dedicated article.

You can also try our sports turf irrigation cost calculator to get a cost estimate for your project.

FAQ: Sports Turf Field Irrigation and Sprinkler Systems

Why do they water artificial turf fields? 

Watering artificial turf fields serves several purposes despite the turf not needing water for growth. It’s used for cooling, dust control, reducing static, cleaning, odor mitigation, surface restoration, temperature moderation, and addressing environmental factors. While minimal compared to natural grass, water helps ensure safety, comfort, and field longevity.

How do sports turf irrigation systems move? 

Traveling sports turf irrigation and sprinkler systems employ hydraulic mechanisms to navigate more extensive fields. Movement relies on a blend of water pressure, mechanical engineering, and occasionally electronic controls. The selection of the appropriate system hinges on factors like field dimensions, water availability, and financial considerations.

Traveling systems include several variations:

  • Wheel-Move Systems: These systems use carts with attached sprinklers and hoses to manually or mechanically cover the field.
  • Linear-Move Systems: Sprinklers mounted on pivoting pipes create circular coverage, commonly seen in larger fields.
  • Rotary Gun Systems: High-powered rotating sprinklers are used for extensive coverage, with adjustments made via water pressure.
  • Travelling Boom Systems: These systems span the field’s width, moving while providing irrigation.

How do sports turf irrigation systems work?

Sports turf irrigation systems deliver water efficiently to maintain field health and appearance. They consist of pipes connected to a water source, valves to control water flow, and sprinklers strategically placed in zones for even coverage. Electronic controllers set schedules, and sensors adjust based on soil moisture and weather. Backflow prevention ensures water safety. The system activates, distributing water through overlapping sprinklers, and shuts off when done, aiming to optimize turf health while conserving water. 


In the world of sports, where every detail can impact the game’s outcome, the importance of sports turf sprinkler and irrigation systems cannot be overstated. As we’ve seen, these systems are vital for both natural and artificial turfs, ensuring optimal playing conditions and player safety. For sports facility managers, investing in a robust irrigation system is not just a choice—it’s a necessity.

If you are currently planning to invest in a sports turf irrigation or sprinkler system, try our cost calculator to get a customized cost estimate for your needs.

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