Tennis Industry magazine


Higher Learning

Across the country colleges of all sizes are upgrading or building new tennis facilities.

By Peter Francesconi

One of the fastest growing segments of court construction in the U.S. is on college campuses. Throughout the country, colleges have been spending money on upgrading existing courts or building new facilities.

“I think the past five years has seen a bit of a renaissance in terms of college tennis facilities,” says Casey Angle, the director of communications for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. “Right now is definitely a good time in terms of impressive facilities that are being built.”

University of Virginia tennis courts
University of Virginia

Colleges and universities, from the largest to the smallest, appear to be willing to spend on their tennis facilities for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that for some, new or upgraded facilities can help to attract top talent to their programs.

“The term they use is ‘arms race,’” says Angle. “With bigger and better facilities, you can outdo your competitors. There’s definitely motivation to have a facility on a par with or better than other schools in their conference, so that it’s attractive to new recruits.”

University of Floria tennis courts
University of Florida

This buildup has also been noticed by Scott Schultz, the USTA’s managing director for network and player services and the former founder of the Tennis Management Program at Ferris State University in Michigan. “It’s a snowball effect,” he says. “It happened in the Big 10. Michigan State built an absolutely beautiful indoor facility, then pretty soon Michigan did, Illinois did, Northwestern did.” One college in Florida, he says, “is on the verge of providing three different surfaces: red clay, grass and hard.”

And that market has not gone unnoticed by court builders. “We find more growth in new collegiate tennis facilities than before, with universities building bigger and better facilities, and many building indoors now,” says Sheldon Westervelt of Global Sports & Tennis Design Group. He adds that colleges are about 30 to 40 percent of his business. “They’re usually good-sized jobs, because there’s a lot to them,” he says.

Northwestern University tennis courts
Northwestern University

But college tennis courts aren’t just for the students anymore. “Today, some of the nicest tennis facilities you’ll find in the community are public facilities on a college campus, both indoors and outdoors,” says Schultz. “It’s a great thing for tennis because it’s open to the community at large.”

Not Just For the Team

But colleges and universities are interested in more than just attracting top varsity players. “Collegiate athletic facilities are part of an overall marketing program to attract students in general and market the college as a whole,” says Art Tucker of California Products. “Athletic facilities reflect the full range of things available at the university. Colleges don’t want the courts to be an embarrassment. There is an acknowledgement that ongoing upgrades are demanded by the students.”

College tennis facilities also are used for physical education classes and for intramural programs. In fact, a program that has been spreading rapidly over the last five years is the USA Team Tennis National Campus Championships, which pits coed teams against each other in a school vs. school format. (This year, approximately 40 teams are expected to compete for the national championships, which will be held in March in Daytona, Fla.)

College of William and Mary tennis courts
College of William & Mary

In addition, “one of the biggest things that’s happening at colleges are ‘sports clubs,’” says Glenn Arrington, a national administrator for the USTA. “They get money from the student union for running these clubs, and it might be someone that runs a league with a few hundred people playing team tennis.”

But college tennis courts aren’t just for the students anymore. “Today, some of the nicest tennis facilities you’ll find in the community are public facilities on a college campus, both indoors and outdoors,” says Schultz. “It’s a great thing for tennis because it’s open to the community at large.”

College of Charleston tennis courts
College of Charleston

Another reason for colleges to upgrade or build a new facility is to attract larger tournaments and USTA Pro Circuit events. “More and more USTA Circuits are being played on college facilities,” says Angle.

The University of Tulsa has a new indoor and outdoor facility, says Angle, which has led to the school playing host to this May’s NCAA men’s championships. Also, Stanford University recently built the six-court Encina Tennis Complex Winning the Hard (Court) Way”) across the street from its Taube Tennis Center to help draw the NCAA championships to that school, says Angle.

On the Surface

There seem to be two schools of thought with regard to campus tennis courts. One is that if the facility is to be used mostly for top-notch team play, then put down a cushioned surface to reduce the wear-and-tear on the tennis-team players. “The demand for cushioned materials is on the A-list of what coaches want,” says Tucker of California Products.

The second idea is that if the facility is also going to include access by the community at large, forgo the cushioned surface, because there’s a good chance the court will take a lot more abuse. For instance, the College of Charleston (S.C.) recently opened the nine-court Patriot’s Point facility, which is not cushioned. “With people other than [the college tennis team] going out and playing on them, they get a lot of wear,” says Frank Larkin of Howard B. Jones & Son of Lexington, S.C., which built the facility. “The college thought the courts would fair better if they were not cushioned.”

Casey Angle
Casey Angle

But the College of Charleston did install electronic scoreboards for each court and seating areas for spectators. And that points to another trend that court builders are seeing among college facilities: an increase in the amount and types of amenities being requested.

“For these colleges, other amenities are important, such as offices and a player lounge,” says Westervelt. “We like to have home team and visiting team locker rooms with showers. Scoreboards are nice to have, too.”

Schultz says that often, colleges will want to upgrade court lighting to a quality that will allow for matches to be televised. Also, he says, colleges are paying more attention to handicap accessibility and to accommodating wheelchair tennis players, including installing elevators rather than ramps. And some colleges are putting a little fun into their courts. The University of Minnesota recently completed an indoor facility that uses the school colors: the court surface is maroon and the lines are yellow.

However, contractors need to make sure they go over the plans closely with both the designers and university officials. There are some areas that require particular attention, says Westervelt.

“The things that we see go wrong are improper dimensions, improper spacing between courts, improper ceiling heights, improper lighting, space behind the courts, spectator environment,” says Westervelt.

How can you get in on this college court-building activity? “Maintain contact with the bureaucracies of these schools,” says Tucker. “There are so many pathways that have to be touched in order to get to the right people.”

Sometimes, it’s the coaches themselves pushing to upgrade the facilities that their players use. At other times, it could be the athletic director, who may be undertaking an upgrading of all the sports facilities at the college. In some instances, it can even be an engineering department that has the final word.

Tucker also says court builders should offer to inspect and evaluate facilities at colleges. Maybe the number of courts or the surface is OK, but there is a need for more seating, or other amenities. Another approach might be for a contractor to join forces with a design group or court-surface manufacturer and make a pitch to the college about upgrading its facilities.

The goal is to promote the college “arms race” in your area. These institutions, whether a small community college or a large university, should offer their students — and the community at large — the best tennis facilities possible.

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About the Author

Peter Francesconi is editorial director of Tennis Industry magazine.



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