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ARTIFICIAL TURF JUST TURNED 30

The synthetic rug that made carpet burns a sports injury, allowed baseball and football to be played indoors and banished natural grass from many an American stadium is 30 years old.

Artificial turf has been cursed and praised by athletes, groundskeepers and fans for all three of those decades.Purists decry the replacement of pastoral fields with a surface more akin to a pool table, while baseball and football players blame artificial turf for injuries ranging from turf toe to blown-out knees.

The first artificial turf was developed by Monsanto Co., a St. Louis chemicals manufacturer. The company came up with with ChemGrass and installed it in 1964 at Moses Brown, an all-boys' boarding school in Providence.

"(Monsanto) told us that many of the big schools would be using it," said Jerry Zeoli, then Moses Brown athletic director. "The Monsanto people were selling it and we were the showplace. Shortly after (it was installed) the people from the Astrodome came and saw it."

It was Houston Astros owner Judge Roy Hofheinz who made artificial turf part of professional sports - and gave the surface the name by which it is best known - when he used it to carpet his 1-year-old Astrodome in 1966.

AstroTurf Industries spokesman Charles Fleishman said artificial turf's place in American stadiums is secured by economics. Use of a natural grass field is limited to 10 to 15 football games per year, while an artificial surface can be used as often as necessary.