Skift Take

Technical advances in synthetic grass — and practical considerations behind installing and maintaining it — deserve a second look.

Annalise Dewhurst will never forget event days on the grassy lawns at the California hotel she used to work at. Sprinklers would create huge pools of water that left groundskeepers scrambling to make the area attractive — and safe for guests.

“We constantly ran into issues. We’d have to put out sand or literally fans (to) dry the space,” Dewhurst said. 

But cords strewn across sprawling puddles aren’t an issue now for Dewhurst, the current director of marketing at La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, California. Hotels like hers are increasingly turning to artificial grass to save water and money — as well as simplify work for staff and expand the number of events they can host.

Severe and extreme droughts across most of southern California and destinations worldwide this year make conserving water a priority, especially in locations where water use is restricted.

There are all these rules about how frequently you can water and at what times. And it all comes with the threat of fines,” said Dewhurst. La Valencia recently resurfaced its synthetic grass to help it maintain a green appearance and accommodate two weddings each weekend this year, which would be a record for the property.

“But, we don’t have to worry about any of that.”

There are other factors to consider. Farrah Murphy, the chief horticulturist at Encore Boston Harbor, estimates the hotel saves thousands of hours annually by using artificial turf instead of grass requiring more labor-intensive maintenance. The property’s South Lawn, if it used traditional grass, would require up to three gardeners to spend a full day maintaining the roughly 35,000-square foot space. By resorting to a synthetic product, one gardener can simply spend an hour a day blowing leaves or monitoring the area for any divots or necessary patching.

Staff can then devote more time to taking care of flowers and plants outside and inside the casino, Murphy added, citing the Wynn Las Vegas as an example. Artificial grass on the South Lawn has also enabled Encore to accommodate pets and expands its scope of programming.

“Initially, we thought this would be a park for people to come and relax, maybe have some picnics,” Murphy said.

“But it’s ended up being more, with events and brunch service, a concert, even glamping. That green space just performs above and beyond.”

Artificial grass may become even more common at hotels. Melanie Taylor, the president and CEO of advocacy group Synthetic Turf Council, believes that advances in technology that lower the average temperature of such surfaces make them appealing to hotels. She cited the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas as one property that has used artificial grass to convert a rooftop space into a movie theater.

But hotels like the Mandarin Oriental in New York see benefits to artificial grass other than being able to accommodate more events. While its 38th floor Manhattan roof setback isn’t guest-accessible, Senior Communications Manager Gail Cowper believes the view is priceless.

“Artificial grass was chosen to ensure that New York guests may be able to see a beautiful garden view from their windows all year-round, no matter the season,” Cowper said.

However, despite more hotels worldwide installing such surfaces, longtime perceptions of artificial turf can die hard. The Palm Beach, Florida-based Brazilian Court Hotel‘s previous plans to install synthetic grass at the historic property ignited a turf war among four entities — the property, town council, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the Palm Beach Architectural Review Commission (ARCOM). The seven members of ARCOM review and approve modifications to new and existing publicly visible structures, as well as landscaping. 

It may be worth taking lessons from Boston — a city mired in tradition and history — to re-evaluate practicality over perspective. Murphy says patterns mimicking a freshly cut lawn at Encore often fool the untrained eye and visitors think the turf is real. If the casino could only imbue the space with the scent of freshly cut grass, that would be the ultimate upper hand. 

[UPDATE: The article has been updated to include paragraphs about objections to the Brazilian Court Hotel installing artificial grass and Murphy’s quote about the grass at Encore.]

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Tags: boston, climate change, ground crews, hotels, mandarin oriental, new york city, sustainability

Photo credit: The Encore Boston Harbor uses artificial turf Andy Ryan / Encore Boston Harbor