Sports Field Design, Construction and Establishment

Whether you are designing a brand-new facility or reconstructing an old field, the following provides information for achieving a successful playing surface.

Sports Field Design and Construction

Properly designed sports fields provide long lasting, safe playing surfaces. During the design process, following the appropriate steps will help achieve the desired playing surface.

  • Survey the area where the field is to be built. Determine the existing slope and assess how water moves over the area.
  • Determine the field layout. Consider field orientation and field dimensions.
  • Make a list of design criteria. Consider the following:
  • Determine the rootzone composition . The type of soil used influences nutrient and water holding capacity, compaction potential, drainage and turfgrass species.
  • Select the species of turfgrass that will be used on the field. Choose a species that is adapted to the local climate as well as the use it will receive.
  • Determine how water will drain and if drainage needs to be installed.
  • Develop an irrigation plan. Decide if an irrigation system will be installed or if a portable system will be utilized.
City of Wilmington - Legion Stadium
UVA Scott Football Stadium Field

Construction of a new playing surface involves transferring the design plan to the new construction. The construction process involves installation of the rootzone, installation of drainage and irrigation, grading the site correctly and turfgrass establishment.


Design and Construction Resources

The STMA Collection of ASTM Standards for Athletic Fields – ASTM International has developed various documents pertaining to safety and design specifications for athletic surface construction. ASTM documents are available for purchase through the ASTM website (

Sports Fields: A Construction and Maintenance Manual – The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a national organization for builders, designers and suppliers of materials for tennis courts, running tracks, natural and synthetic turf fields, indoor and outdoor synthetic sports surfaces. Visit their website to purchase publications specific to sports field and surface construction.  ASBA also offers a certification program to become a Certified Field Builder.  Visit their website to learn more about certification programs.


After drainage, irrigation and the rootzone have been installed and the site has been graded to specification, turfgrass establishment can take place. General steps in turfgrass establishment involve the following:

  • Secure a soil test to determine lime and fertilizer requirements. For soil testing services, contact your local Cooperative Extension office/university soil testing lab or consult with your fertilizer suppliers/product vendors regarding licensed private labs that they can recommend.
  • Apply lime, fertilizer and soil amendments based on soil test results.
  • Till the seedbed to a 4-6-inch depth to ensure the applications of lime (if required), soil amendments (if required) and fertilizer are uniformly mixed throughout the soil profile.
  • Finish grade the area.
  • Apply a starter fertilizer and work it into the top inch of soil. The fertilizer must be turf grade, having an approximate 2-1-1 ratio and containing 35 percent or more of the total nitrogen as water insoluble or controlled release nitrogen. Application at the recommended rate should provide adequate fertilization for a full growing season.
  • Apply a seed mixture adapted to use and climatic conditions of the area.
  • Ensure seed to soil contact by lightly raking, dragging and lightly rolling the area.
  • Use mulch to cover and protect the seed. Once seed has germinated, heavy mulches should be removed.

Establishment Resources

Sports Field Reconstruction

Age, overuse or poor construction can necessitate field reconstruction. Reconstruction of a field usually involves adjusting the grade. Determining what the entire field needs before starting a project can sometimes save a lot of time and money. The field may only need minor repairs to adjust the grade or complete reconstruction. The most accurate way to determine the correct grade is to survey the field.

On any field, elevation adjustments should begin at the highest point of the crown. For example, when reconstructing a baseball field, elevation adjustments should always begin between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, then work out to the baselines, the rest of the skinned area and finally the outfield. This will eliminate any possibility of a slope towards the infield, or the middle of any field. If soil needs to be added to adjust the grade, the soil being added must match the existing soil as closely as possible. Otherwise, layering and drainage problems could result. Common methods to regrade include removing the sod and adding soil or removing the sod and topsoil, adjusting the subsoil to the correct grade, then replacing the topsoil and sod.

References: The information for this section was taken from the book Sports Fields: A Manual for Design, Construction and Maintenance by Jim Pulhalla, Jeff Krans and Mike Goatley.