silica and moulding sands association (samsa) part of the Mineral Products Association (MPA)


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sands association


Silca uses

Sports and leisure

Sports turf

It is no surprise then that the science of sports turf has turned its attention to pitches that cushion the impact. And it applies not just to the sort inflicted by crunching tackles but the everyday effect on joints for sportsmen whose short careers can be reduced further by simple wear and tear.

While a mix of silica sand and fibres has long been favoured to enable professional standard pitches to stand up to heavy wear, the experts have now come up with a variation which incorporates a mix of polypropylene and elastic fibres into the top 100mm of the surface.

Samsa members are leading the way with what it calls its Fibre based turf systems. The effect is to reduce surface hardness with less consequent jarring of limbs and less risk of player injury. But it also means an increase in surface resilience which effectively gives more energy feedback to players’ feet, so they become less tired.”

All of which is good news, not just for the players, but for hard-pressed grounds men because fibre and elastic surfaces also have the benefit of better traction and less damage.

With precise use of fertilisers, irrigation and undersoil heating, top class pitches are far removed from the mud bath on which England won the 1966 World Cup.

While the mix of sand and fibre is now in use at the great majority of English Premier and Championship grounds.

Riding surfaces

But it is the whole area of leisure industry that is increasingly driving the industry forward and sportsmen aren’t alone in favouring softer surfaces. Horses too are turning to silica sand with a dose of rubber for dressage rings and for everyday exercise areas that are essential when wet weather waterlogs their gallops.

Most would agree that the ideal riding surface is good quality turf. Turf exhibits good drainage qualities (otherwise the grass would not grow on it), it is resilient, it gives a good firm footing, it has a fibrous root structure which binds it together, and it is self-regenerating. The average horse already knows all of this, having evolved over millennia on grasslands across the globe, and if an arena surface is poorly constructed, with an inconsistent riding surface, then the horse will automatically try to aim for the best bits, to the frustration of the rider.

Since turf regeneration is relatively slow, the aim of using a silica sand arena is to emulate its properties, but with more durable materials. Samsa members specialise in supplying the needs of horse arenas, supplying all the elements of a sandwich which starts with stone for drainage. The sand is then laid and compacted on top of a dividing membrane. The sand can be augmented by a variety of materials such as chopped rubber and fibre with petroleum jelly to bind it into the sand.

Golf courses

Top dressing use for golf courses

The Appliance of Science

In the search for ever-improved quality of greens, the production and application of high quality, consistent top dressings have become increasingly important and scientific.

The status and reputation of a golf course is all too often judged on the quality of its greens which is why treatments and materials which can improve a playing surface have been a key part of every green keeper’s armoury since golf began.

Up until as recently as 30 years ago, most green keepers were still producing their own top dressings on site for fine turf areas such as greens and tees. Using a mix of local sands, soils and grass clippings they produced a composted soil product which was then screened using a traditional hand-riddle method. Made largely from the same materials as rootzone they ensured a consistent green construction.

As commercial production of top dressings developed, the need for golf clubs to maintain their own on site production diminished and today every golf club will source top dressings from a specialist supplier.

As to which top dressing, and indeed which supplier, to use, this really can depend on the location and aspect of the golf course and the specific construction type of your greens. But it is perhaps best to firstly recap why top dressings are used and why they are such a key ingredient when it comes to producing successful putting greens.

Essentially the role of top dressings is to assist the green keeper in producing a true and level, top quality playing surface. Top dressing helps to break down a green’s thatched layer, it smoothes out surface irregularities and improves the utilisation of natural and man-made irrigation sources. Used as part of a verti-draining process, top dressing aerates the underlying root level and improves drought tolerance.

High Performance

Given that top dressing has so many performance criteria to fulfil, more careful consideration is needed as to what actually constitutes a top dressing. Essentially the key ingredients are sand (the bulk constituent), silt and clay and a small percentage of organic matter which may be soil, peat or green compost. The industry talks in terms of ratios, for example 80/20 or 70/30 which is essentially the percentage blend of a top dressing – i.e. 70% or 80% sand by volume. But that, of course, is only half the story because the most important detail is the type and grade of sand.


From a greenkeeeper’s perspective, however, all that really matters is finding a top dressing that is compatible with their own course’s greens profile and it is here that the importance of a reputable specialist supplier is invaluable. Laboratory-controlled sampling and testing of existing top dressing is essential, with pH, silt/clay and particle size distribution analysis all necessary. Taking soil profiles from a number of different greens is an additional service that most reputable specialists will offer.

The particle size distribution of a top dressing should be compatible with that of a green’s profile in order to maintain or enhance the drainage characteristics. A hydraulic conductivity test will determine whether particle size distribution is acceptable for effective drainage. Coarse over fine, for example, may result in a green surface that is deficient in nutrients and has a low water retention, whereas fine over coarse may result in a surface which retains water with very little air-filled porosity.

The pH of top dressings is also important, with neutral (7) or very slightly acidic dressings the optimal specification. A growing practice amongst some top dressing suppliers is the use of recycled composted green waste as one of the organic constituents. However, there remain some question marks over the effect this might have on consistent product quality, the argument being that no two batches of recycled waste can ever be the same and therefore the pH level of the dressings are bound to have variations.

Nor has the top dressings market been unaffected by the current ‘hot topic’ of climate change. Certainly in this country, the blurring of seasons and greater year-round rainfall consistency has had an impact on green upkeep, with a marked move towards slightly more coarser dressings being used.

Another major development in the top dressings market has been in application equipment. The traditional ‘belt and brush’ method of application was, for too many green keepers, seen as labour intensive, time-consuming and disruptive. New spinning plate ‘spray apply’ equipment can help deliver a more even spread of top dressing and in much quicker time.

Where once it might have taken a full day to apply top dressings to all 18 greens, it may now be done in just a couple of hours. Where once green keepers would only consider top dressing twice a year in spring and autumn, now the adage is ‘little and often’, with the new technology making light and frequent top dressing a cornerstone practice for more and more green keepers all through the growing season.

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