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Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario




The importance of proper surface and sub-surface drainage and the development of a good overall maintenance plan for sports field drainage cannot be over stressed. Both of these will save money, provide better participant enjoyment, and add to the life of the field. Installing a sub-surface drainage system in an existing sports field is often necessary. It will be satisfactory if design specifications are met and a maintenance plan is laid out. In general, sports fields require a greater concentration of sub-surface drainage pipe installed at a shallower depth than do agricultural fields. Playing fields for football, soccer, baseball and similar sports are generally more difficult to drain than golf courses due to restrictions of a near level surface, compaction of the soil from heavy use, and usually a lack of funds available for soil improvement.

Tile drainage for agricultural use is an extensive activity. As a result, guidelines exist for the installation of drain tile, and for surface drainage techniques. Drainage guidelines for non-agricultural areas are not as well organized. Sports field drainage has been carried out in a patchwork way. Often one season after tile installation, or surface draining, field managers find their field over-or-under-drained, grasses have not rooted well, the soil is compacted and easily injured by use. Remedial action is then necessary, often involving higher costs than the original drainage system.

There is overlap in drainage technique between agricultural and sports field applications. The Drainage Guide for Ontario is an excellent base from which plans can be developed for the drainage of sports fields. Field work for sports facilities generally fall into two classes; that related to golf courses and that which is not.

Golf courses have many drainage aspects which are peculiar to them alone, although park land is similar. Other sport fields have the same general requirements and can be grouped together. This does not preclude the use of information from one category on another type of field. It merely serves as a logical separation of approach. General sports fields include football, soccer, rugger, baseball, tennis, field lacrosse, field hockey, track and field and equestrian events.

Drainage of sports fields is not a recent consideration. In 1931 it was written "No grass can be expected to produce satisfactory results on water logged soil, and where drainage is necessary, it must be provided." "A tile system of drainage under the entire field is not necessary unless seepage is a problem. Surface compaction usually renders a general tile system ineffective." These observations succinctly summarize the major problems of sport field drainage - surface compaction due to heavy use, and poor playing and turf conditions due to excess water.

One of the most important aspects of playability of a field is ongoing maintenance. A dense, resilient, aesthetically appealing, and safe athletic field does not just happen. It requires proper field construction and a total management program. Surface drainage is important as well as not allowing use when the field is wet or when it has been over-used. Maintenance of the drainage system will keep the system performing to its capabilities.

Basic recommendations are:-

1.Keep a copy of the drain layout on file to assist with maintenance and additions to the system.

2 Keep tile drain outlets clear, and keep rodent guards in place.

3 Root-proof drains near trees, or remove any trees within 15 to 25 m of a drain.

Sports field drainage is multi-dimensional having the four water problems (drainage, erosion, water deficiency and poor maintenance). Applying agricultural drainage criteria to sports fields is inadequate as the demands made on drainage are more rigorous then those made for agricultural purposes.

Golf and Recreational Areas

Drainage specifications for golf courses and recreational areas are much more concise and well documented than those for playing fields. The reasons are twofold. First is the similarity between park/golf areas and agricultural fields. Agricultural drainage, as mentioned earlier, has a huge volume of scientific and practical literature associated with it and can be he applied to grassed recreational areas and golf fairways. A second reason for the knowledge of golf course drainage is the strong United States Golf Association (USGA), golf course managers, and green keepers. The construction, drainage and maintenance of tees and greens usually conform to USGA standards.

Musser (1962), in conjunction with the USGA, wrote a book on golf course turf management which included an excellent section on drainage. He noted that poor drainage adversely affected playability, turf quality, aesthetic appeal, the freeze-thaw cycle and the usefulness of irrigation systems. On a golf course this adds up to lost revenue as golfers cannot, or prefer not to, play the course. One solution available to a golf course and recreational area designer that is not available to a playing field designer is contouring. Natural contours can be changed enough on a golf course to allow for good surface drainage while preserving the natural lines that make golf courses so appealing. Playing field designers are required to build each field to very rigid surface requirements although they may take advantage of surface grading. Proper drainage can help prevent turf damage and soil compaction and can bring a course into playable condition a month earlier in the spring.

Playing Field Considerations

One of the primary considerations in formulating criteria for drainage is the opinion of participants and field managers. Participants give the drainage designer an idea of ideal playing conditions. Field managers can help distinguish between ideal conditions and the best practical solution. Obviously a field or course will not suit every participant on every day no matter how perfect the turf and drainage system.

An ideal playing surface is soft enough to give bounce to the players legs, has no wet or bare areas, has few weeds in it, presents no danger from parts of the drainage or irrigation system, and has no stones or other hard objects on it. All of these points can be achieved by good drainage. The last point regarding stones on the field has to do with drainage indirectly. There are constant problems with stones and glass deposited with the sand used for top dressing the turf. The sand is to improve aeration and drainage and the stones and glass come with poor quality sand. The major problems on playing fields arise from overuse, poor overall management, and poor control of water (irrigation and drainage).

For a spectator or recreational participant the must important aspects of good drainage are that it provides a good-looking, good- feeling turf, it allows more playing time per year and it helps maintain a safe and reliable place to play the sport. These are the criteria the turf manager and drainage system designer should be following. Other important factors are the cost-benefit analysis for any drainage improvements, the physical limitations imposed by the soil, the climate, and the pattern of use, and the type of management available.

Drainage equipment should be light to prevent damage to the playing surface, or have wider tracks to reduce compaction and surface damage. Usually the problem to be solved is drainage of surface water rather than groundwater so the final system must include forms of vertical drainage such as sand galleries or pre-manufactured product to the underground system

Recommendations for the Drainage of Playing Fields

(Football, Baseball, Soccer, Track, Tennis, etc.)


1. Grade playing field to a slope the sport will allow, 1- 2% is recommended from the centre line crown out to the sidelines.

2. Provide surface ditches and/or flow diversions around the field, ensure that surface water has a removal path (open channel or storm sewer).

3. Absolutely no depressions in field.


I. Poor to good draining soils (clay loam — loam). Use Drainage Guide for Ontario.

[ i ] Spacing of drains - 10 to 18 m.

In heavy use areas (goal areas, baseball infield, bench areas) - 1.5 to 10 m.

[ ii ] Depth of drain - 45 to 75 cm (note this will not allow a football field of 160 yards to be drained at a 0.5% grade with continuous long axis pipe. If long axis drainage is planned it most he done in two separate header sections).

[ iii ] Grade of drains - 0.35 to 1.0% (laterals) and 0.5 to 1.0% (mains).

[ iv ] Trench backfill - 3/4 in. gravel is best with 10% less than No. 60 sieve and 100% less than l -1/2 in.

[ v ] Size of tiles - 4 in. laterals; 6 in. to 8 in headers; 8 in. to 12 in mains.

(vi) Trees nearby - use non-perforated pipe within 50 ft of problem trees.

2. Very poor to poor draining soils (clay - clay loam). Use Drainage Guide for Ontario.

[ i ] See construction note 4 below.

[ ii ] Spacing of tiles - 5 to 10 m; Heavy use areas 1.5 to 5 m.

[ iii ] Depth of tiles - 40 to 60 cm (See 1 (ii)); Heavy use areas — 30 to 40 cm.

(iv) Grade of tiles - 0.35 to 0.5% (laterals) and 0.5 to 1.0% (mains).

(v) Trench backfill — same as (iv).

(vi) Size of tiles — same as (v).

(vii) Trees nearby — same as (vi).


1. Avoid excessive compaction by machinery during construction.

2. Add soil ameliorants (ash, sand or organic matter) to top soil and mix in well.

3. Choose a good quality top soil, or create one using site soil and proper additives.

4. On very poorly drained soil a layer of sand-gravel 15 to 25 cm thick should be installed under the top soil and directly over the top of the backfilled drained trenches.

5. Top soil should be 25 to 35 cm thick after settling.

6. Cultivate after applying top soil.


1. Top dressing - recommended to improve soil porosity, use high quality sieved sand with absolutely no particles granter than 3 mm in diameter.

2. Aeration — by mechanical means when needed.

3. Care of turf — follow usual turf care maintenance.

4. Depressions — sometimes occur after construction due to settling or subsurface seepage and erosion; should be filled with sand or a sand—top soil mixture and re-seeded during a period of low field use (but as soon me possible).

5. Tile drains.

(i) Blockages - attempt to clear by flushing with water or by pipe cleaner rods; my have to dig up and clear or replace blocked section of tile.

(ii) Drain outlets - keep screens clean, vegetation away from outlet, watch for excessive discharge of silt or sand.

(iii) Retain drainage plan (preferably two copies) in a safe and accessible place.


1. Paved areas (parking lots and tennis courts) - surface grade 1 to 2%, drain as for playing fields if one or more of the following conditions exist:

(i) high water table.

(ii) active springs or seeps in area

(iii) surface water enters area.

2. Tracks around fields - hard surface or packed earth.

(i) Generally grade from the outside in, grade usually high on corners and 1.5 to 3% on straights.

(ii) With this high a surface grade drainage can be accomplished with a single 6 in. drain pipe 8 to 12 in. inside the inside edge of track.

(iii) Feed this single line into the playing field main.

(iv) Depth of pipe — same an in B 1 and 2.

Recommendations for the Drainage of Golf Courses and Recreational Areas

Fairways and Recreational Areas


1. Grade or contour wet areas so water runs to ditches, creeks or drains.

2. Provide surface ditches as necessary.


1. Provide tile drainage for wet areas. Wet areas should be located before construction.

2. Install a single drain tile at the base of slopes leading to low-lying areas. Drains should run perpendicular to the water flow direction.

3. On heavy clay soils a systematic drainage system may be necessary throughout; drains should run parallel to fairway lines except where slopes do not permit — 3 to 4 pipes per fairway; on recreational areas a general plan should be drawn up as for agricultural drainage but with spacing and depth as below.

4. It is advantageous to plan and install the drainage system before construction.


1. No special construction techniques are required for drainage. Clay soils should be improved by the addition of soil ameliorants.

2. Avoid excessive compaction during construction (do not work soil when wet).


1. The usual turf management practices should be observed.

2. Correct problems as soon an they occur since the drainage will worsen and the soil and turf will be damaged if water is allowed to stand on or in the soil.

3. Keep ditches, drains and inlet and outlet screens clear.

4. Retain all drainage plans in a safe and accessible place.

Golf Tees and Greens (and other specialty lawns)


1. Grading and contouring — at least 1% grade.

2. Do not grade to the fronts of tees or greens.

3. Provide surface or subsurface drainage paths away from the tee or green.


1. Spacing of tiles - 5 to 7 m.

2. Depth of tiles - 35 to 60 cm below final surface

3. Grade of tiles - 0.5 to 3.0%.

4. Trench backfill - pea gravel.

5. Size of tiles - 4 in.


1. Subgrade - graded to final contour specifications, 35 cm below final surface level.

2. Trenches - cut in subgrade.

3. 10 cm layer of pea gravel (same material as trench backfill) over subgrade.

4. 5 cm layer of fine gravel (15 to 25% of pea gravel size) over pea gravel.

5. 30 cm layer of topsoil over fine gravel - — allows 10 cm for settling.


1. Usual green and tee turf management.

2. Keep drains and screens clear.

3. Retain all drainage plans in a safe and accessible place.

Sand Traps

Drain as for greens; install a geo-fabric around tiles.


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