Tennis Technology

There are tennis courts, and then there are tennis courts. That is why the best of today's modern tennis courts combine the latest high-tech features with carefully chosen aesthetic qualities. So to make your club's tennis program stand out from the competition, the design of your courts is critical.

It is no secret that an outstanding tennis facility will increase a club's revenue. The sport's surge in popularity during the 70's and 80's led to unprecedented high levels of court construction across the country, in private and public venues. Municipal asphalt courts became a familiar sight in neighborhood parks, and many new players were introduced to the game. Therefore, to distinguish themselves from what had suddenly become mainstream, clubs were forced to offer a better brand of tennis.

The discerning tastes of club tennis players show that for this group of people, tennis is more than just a game. It is important for club managers to realize that their tennis courts are not only a sport facility, but also an extension of their members' personalities.

Sheldon Westervelt, an internationally acclaimed tennis facility consultant, has authored numerous articles on the subject of tennis design. According to Mr. Westervelt, it is important to hire an architect or engineer with a great deal of experience in all types of tennis court design. Some basic questions a club manager should ask before beginning work on a new tennis facility include:

Sheldon Westervelt feels that too many courts constructed today don't allow the necessary space for landscaping, walkways, spectator viewing and parking.

Proper lighting is also a major component of a quality tennis facility. Peggy Welch Beard of Welch Tennis Courts, Inc. ( described the benefits of the company's low profile environmental lighting system. "Low profile lighting allows the illumination to be concentrated in the court area, elevated 20-24 feet above the ground. Apartments and residences outside the court area are not affected by the light." Low profile lighting also uses less power than alternative lighting methods, saving a club significantly on its electric bills.

A good lighting system combined with a proper color s scheme will greatly enhance the overall visibility and quality of play. Opthamologists have suggested that tennis courts steer away from the use of multi-colored schemes (most often found on acrylic courts), and stick with a more eye-friendly single-color motif.

Playing on multi-colored courts causes the eye to tire from repeatedly shifting focus between light and dark areas. On the other hand, Mr. Westervelt has said that it is easier to keep track of the ball on courts with contrasting colors. Health experts, however, maintain that this minimal advantage does not compensate for the resulting eye-strain.

When selecting colors for a court, consider three questions:

1. What effect will the color of the court have on ball perception?

2. To what degree will a color hide or highlight wear marks and stains?

3. What is the color's compatibility with its surroundings?

As a general rule, the best two-tone color schemes are those that use varying shades of the same basic color. The reflectivity of a dark green and a light green, for example, is basically the same, so this causes less eye fatigue. Combinations such as green/red or green/beige should be avoided. And when used outdoors, the color blue produces extreme amounts of glare. Finally, don't use odd color schemes on your courts to make up for what may simply be an uninteresting design.

Clubs may also consider new ideas on where to build tennis courts. In Boca Raton, Florida, the Boca Raton Resort and Club's construction of a tennis complex on the rooftop of a parking facility emphasizes a new way of utilizing space. "The construction of rooftop facilities is being done more frequently in areas where land is at a premium," said Peggy Welch Beard.

The space-saving benefits of such a layout are obvious, not to mention its specialized look. And for clubs located in large urban areas, consideration of space limitations should be a given. "City clubs will generally be more cognizant of their space restrictions, as opposed to clubs found in suburban area," said Ms. Beard.

Features that have been used in court design for years are only becoming more pervasive. More clubs are including shade shelters along with water fountains and chairs. "Many of the newer installations feature diagonal corners, though the idea has been around for many years," said Ms Beard. The use of diagonal comers makes for easier ball retrieval, and allows for enhanced landscaping possibilities. Also important to remember is that when multiple courts are constructed as a battery of courts, most new full size courts have a space of 24 feet between the playing lines. These courts measure 60 feet by 120 feet with a divider fence separating the courts.

A major innovation in tennis soft court technology, however, is the process known as subsurface irrigation. In fact, it stands as the biggest change in the tennis industry since 1909. It was in this year that the British company En Tout Cas developed the fast-dry court, a tennis court capable of drying in a relatively short time after watering. A subsurface irrigated tennis court is simply a tennis court that is watered from below the surface of the court rather than from above with a conventional sprinkler system.

"Water is introduced to the court in the base through a series of pipes, which is then moved by capillary action," explained Ms Beard.

Subsurface irrigation's use of capillary action is what provides the benefits not found with traditional watering methods. With sprinklers, a court must be saturated and allowed enough lame for the moisture to seep all the way down to the base. "Subsurface systems allow less downtime for maintenance, and use one-third less water," she continued. And in areas of extreme temperatures, a subsurface system can result in water savings as high as 85 percent.

There are two different methods by which subsurface irrigation systems may work. The base material can be continuously watered via a reservoir system, which means there is a constant standing pool of water below the surface. However, the court can also be periodically injected with moisture in precise intervals with the use of an electronically-controlled timer. Welch Tennis Courts, Inc. offers both of these systems; their Hydrocourt system uses the reservoir method, while the HydroGrid system uses the injection method.

As with any innovation there are a few downsides to subsurface irrigation. For starters, it can add anywhere between $3,000 and $8,000 to the cost of a court, depending upon the quality of the system. Furthermore, in areas where temperatures dip well below freezing, the system will have to be winterized.

Lastly, court maintenance personnel will need to be instructed as to the differences between the new system and the old fast dry courts to which they have become accustomed. On a more positive note, however, club managers will be happy to hear that most facilities will see a significant payback within two to five years following installation.

Between the cost of new technology and the pursuit of an appealing design, club managers have a lot to consider when constructing new tennis facilities. But by setting priorities and investigating all of the options, it is possible to create a top-quality tennis facility that will satisfy the needs of members and management.

by Matt Zimmer, CM Sports - Club Management, 1999