By Mary Helen Sprecher
Racquet Sports Industry.com
March 1, 2007
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding what tennis court accessories and amenities to add.
Anyone who has ever wandered the showroom of a car dealership knows the difference between the base model and the one with all the latest options and extras. And they sure know which one is more fun to drive.
A tennis court can be like that. It can include just the basic necessities, or it can involve spending a little more and choosing those things that punch up the experience a few notches.
Making choices can be pretty confusing. You might have thought that once you've selected a court surface, the rest of the decisions flow naturally. Well, yes and no. The choice of a surface (acrylic-coated asphalt or concrete, cushioned, sand-filled turf, modular, clay or fast-dry material) does tend to dictate some of the types of options and extras a court will have.
The type of court also will dictate some choices. A residential court, for example, may require amenities designed to make the court an activity and social center for the family, such as a seating area or outdoor kitchen. A club may have courts designed specifically for teaching and others tailored toward competition.
Do you need a ball machine? How about a shade shelter? Would changing booths come in handy? How about lights and divider netting? Do you need a practice wall? How about a trash can to help keep things neat and clean? The answers depend on your intended use, your budget, and your preferences.
It's easy to get carried away. So what is the best way to figure out what you need and what you want versus what you can afford? Simple. Just think of it the same way as if you were buying a car. All you need is a legal pad (or your computer or PDA) and a little time to think. Oh, and most important of all, a long conversation with the person who builds your tennis court.
"When building a facility, I discuss with the owner his specific needs," says Ray Desilets of Advantage Tennis Inc. in Passumpsic, Vt. According to Desilets, for example, an owner might want a court that converts quickly and easily to a surface for other sports. Many homeowners install a basketball hoop on their courts to encourage family use. School tennis courts may double as a location for volleyball or other activities.
In all cases, planned use, location, and owner preference should translate into how the court is appointed. Generally speaking, tennis-court builders translate those appointments into two categories: accessories and amenities.
Once you have the court itself (the base and surface), there are things that a builder generally will install since they are seen as necessary or extremely desirable for play. Court builders count accessories to include a net and posts, and generally speaking, a fence to contain stray balls. Lighting might also be considered a necessity, given the conditions of use.
Remember that although much of this equipment might be self-evident, it does include choices. Net posts, for example, can be round or square, with internal or external winding mechanisms. If the court surface is to be used for other purposes or other sports, such as volleyball or basketball, then the net posts can be set in sleeves so that they're removable.
The tennis net, although necessary to the game, is by no means standard-issue. Nets vary widely in quality, weather-resistance, and cost. A builder can provide sound advice on the best type of net to be used with regard to annual budget, expected type of player, whether the court will receive year-round or seasonal use, weather conditions, and other factors. Center straps and anchors, which are used to keep the net at the proper height, should also be recommended by the builder.
A fence, besides keeping balls on the court, can offer some degree of privacy to the players or play a role in protecting the court. (In areas where wildlife, such as deer, or pets present a problem, it can keep the court surface clean and safe). The choice of fence height is a personal one but generally depends on the surface. A 10-foot fence is suitable to most hard courts since balls tend to bounce higher, while in most cases, an 8-foot fence will do for a clay or fast-dry court.
Fencing can go all around the court, or can be only behind each baseline and partially along the sidelines. A shorter height along a portion of the sidelines is generally sufficient and can be quite attractive. It can be metal fencing, or in areas where aesthetics are a concern, it can be made of netting, wood, lattice or other ornamental material. Corners can be square or angled.
Windscreens, if used, provide privacy, help to cut glare, provide contrast to see the ball, contain artificial light and, of course, block the breeze. Windscreens should be attached to the inside of the fence and are generally attached with breakaway fasteners to reduce the risk of fence damage due to strong winds. Facilities or schools may want windscreens customized with their name or logo.
Lighting is actually an issue that straddles the line between accessory and amenity. If the court is to be used for evening, night, or early morning play, then lighting is a necessity. There are various types of lighting available, and a court builder can help sort through the options.
Once a specific type of lighting has been chosen, think about how lights should be controlled. At a club or public facility that has a specific opening and closing time, lights might be controlled by a timer. Do players have to register at the clubhouse to use courts? Lighting controls could be located there. For public or club courts, systems are available that require a player to pay for lighting. For a residential court, a switch could be located near the court, or close to the house — whichever is more convenient to the owner.
If lighting is to be installed, requiring that wiring be run, you may want to have electrical outlets around the court. These can power maintenance equipment, such as blowers or vacuums, or they can be used to power ball machines or other amenities discussed below.
Tennis court maintenance equipment is something all court owners will need. If used properly and on a regular basis, it can improve the court's playability and in many cases, extend its useful life. Even asphalt or concrete courts with an acrylic coating will need some care to keep them in top form.
"The 'must-haves' for such courts are a waste basket that clips to the net post, a push broom, a carpet near each entrance for cleaning off shoes, and for municipal and institutional courts, a sign of rules," said Desilets.
Water removal equipment includes squeegees or foam rubber rollers (the latter is preferable because squeegees can be hard on the court's acrylic surface). Either way, removing water from the surface of the court following a rain allows the court to become playable much more quickly.
Additional equipment to consider includes a power blower to clean off leaves and other debris and/or a wet-dry vacuum or jet-spray cleaner (also called a water broom) to keep the surface clean. Remember that leaves, pine needles, or other debris left on courts for too long can cause stains on the surface.
Fast-dry and clay-court owners have a little more to think about in terms of maintenance. Irrigation systems will probably be installed on all of today's courts, and the manufacturers of those systems, as well as court builders, should be able to provide owners with instructions on use and maintenance for such systems. Seasonal maintenance for soft courts includes removal of the court lines, patching, and top-dressing. ("Seasonal" may mean more than once per season, depending on the climate of the area where the court is located, the amount of use it gets, and so forth.)
"The 'gotta haves' are a roller, a line sweeper, a drag-brush, and a lute," says Randy Futty of Lee Tennis in Charlottesville, Va. "Within each of those four categories, there are at least four or five choices. For instance, with rollers, you can go with a roller at the high end of the buying spectrum, a gas powered tandem roller in the middle, or a steel hand roller at the low end. Beyond price, each will offer slightly different advantages and drawbacks."
Once you've dealt with the necessities, it's time to look at the options and extras — the things that make a court pleasurable to play on and enjoyable for spectators as well. What makes the court comfortable and enjoyable for you? What do your members think is a must-have? What do you think is extraneous? In many cases, it's a matter of the type of court — public, private club, or residential — and personal or member preference, say court builders, along with the available budget.
"A water source and shade are two items often considered amenities, but they should be considered safety related," says Lee Murray of Competition Athletic Surfaces in Chattanooga, Tenn. "Here in the Southeast, the heat and humidity can create a deadly combination. Providing ready access to water and a bit of shade for players can keep a heat-related stress situation from becoming life threatening."
A water source can be as simple as a net post-mounted cooler, or more complicated such as a vending machine that dispenses sodas, juice, bottled water, and energy drinks. For a private or club court, a small refrigerator may be a viable option.
"It is nice to have a shaded area to sit during changeovers, and possibly water-misters," says John Saviano of the Saviano Company Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. Shade shelters can include benches and tables. Remember that a comfortable area will invite guests to linger. And with concerns about UV exposure on the rise, your players will appreciate not having to sit in the sun.
Design options are practically unlimited, and if your budget allows, you can use your imagination. "Who's going to be playing?" asks Desilets. "If you're having lots of friends, then think about benches and a gazebo."
David Marsden of Boston Tennis Court Construction Co. in Hanover, Mass., recommends drink and towel holders (court-specific models are made that clip to the net or to the fence) to keep the things players bring within easy reach. Builders also say that for public facilities or clubs, small key-operated lockers where car keys, wallets, or loose change can be stored will also be appreciated if the courts are built in a group setting. At multi-court facilities, numbers on the courts will allow players to find the court they have reserved.
"The primary 'must have' for many tennis facilities is a ball machine," adds Marsden. "It can be used for practice when a playing partner is not available, it can be used by the pro for lessons, and it can be used as a revenue-generator by renting it to players."
"A basic practice wall is also a valuable amenity," adds Murray. "Should a player show up early for a match or lack a partner, it gives that player a chance to make good use of the time alone. A small, basic wall is all that is needed to provide a little warm-up."
In a public facility or a club where restrooms and showers are not located nearby, players may appreciate a changing booth if they don't want to drive to the court in their tennis clothes, or drive to work or home in them.
Maybe you're looking to appoint a court with all the trimmings that will turn it into the place for competitive matches. In that case, you'll need umpire chairs, scoreboards (a variety of options are available to suit any budget), and if desired, a net-tensioning system to set the net precisely, or an electronic line-calling system.
Remember that whether you need accessories, and how much to spend, will depend on the level of competition you expect. Lighting may need to be modified for higher-level competition, or for anticipated TV coverage. Also, more seating may need to be added.
There's no right or wrong way to appoint a court, and purchasing choices should be driven by the location and type of play on the court, by individual preferences, player needs, and budgetary considerations. Court builders can, and should, help decide what is necessary and what is, well, just plain nice to have.
The American Sports Builders Association is a non-profit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators, and users understand quality sports facility construction. The ASBA offers meetings and publications on running tracks, tennis courts, and indoor sports facilities. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the Association, as well as the ASBA's Membership Directory. For information, call 866-501-ASBA (2722) or visit www.sportsbuilders.org.
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is a frequent contributor to RSI magazine.