Made In The Shade
Fabric structures can provide attractive relief from sun and heat, and they’re becoming increasingly popular.
It seems that most of the innovations you hear about in the tennis industry are in the retail end of the business: fashion trends that influence tenniswear, new technology that racquet makers put into their latest frames. As far as court equipment or site amenities, new developments seem few and far between, and there’s generally not a lot of hype surrounding them.
But all that may be changing, due to one word: “shade.”
That’s the word from Larry Ball, CEO of BP International Inc. (formerly Ball Products), one of the country’s largest tennis court equipment manufacturers.
“Shade will be the next huge innovation in tennis courts and facilities,” Ball says, “not just for players, but also for spectators. The demand for shade will significantly change the look of tennis courts and clubs.”
As more and more people come to realize the detrimental effects that too much sun can have on their health, shade structures are becoming more important. Typically, shade structures have been made of wood, which, while attractive, requires building permits, needs a fair amount of upkeep and can be expensive. Or they’ve been made of metal, which costs less than wood but isn’t as appealing visually. However, both wood and metal structures have solid roofs, so they hold hot air close to the ground, which won’t provide as much relief from the heat. Other choices have been semi-permanent awnings or umbrellas.
But now, says Ball, permanent shade structures are being built using outdoor fabrics that not only provide shade and relief from the heat, but also are attractive and cost-effective. “Within the last several years, outdoor fabrics have changed,” says Ball. “They are now so UV-resistant, so incredibly tough, they are being used to build permanent shade structures that fill a niche previously lacking at tennis facilities.”
Ball says that permanent structures — from small courtside shelters, such as BPI’s “Court Cabana,” to huge grandstand covers — are using fabrics “that are as durable as solid roofing, and require less maintenance.”
“Fabrics are changing the look of tennis facilities because they are so beautiful, and they increase the use of those facilities by providing cool oases of shade during the heat of the day,” says Ball. “And fabric structures cost less than corresponding solid-roofed structures, so budget-conscious clubs can offer an amenity formerly reserved for exclusive country clubs.”
“Several years ago, I began looking at fabric shade structures for two primary reasons: cost and visual appeal,” says Mike Imbornone, owner of Signature Tennis in Atlanta. “Fabric gives you a more attractive, softer look than a wood or metal structure. It blends with existing landscaping and gives a country-club look without a country-club price.”
George Todd Jr., president of Welch Tennis Courts Inc., says he’s seen an increase in requests for shade facilities on or near courts. “A few years ago, shade on the court was just an option. Now it’s becoming a standard,” he says, adding that he’s regularly seeing shade structures included in the initial design of new projects and in renovations. “Also, we’re beginning to receive more requests for spectator shade, in the form of canopy-type structures,” Todd says.
At the 24-court Tennis Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., tennis director Dave Brown says he recently installed eight fabric bleacher covers. “Putting shade over my bleachers is one of the most important things I’ve done since I’ve been here,” says Brown. “We are an events-oriented facility, and lack of shade was the No. 1 complaint we had.”
Brown says engineers with BPI developed seven 12 × 18-foot structures and one 12 × 24-foot structure that fit in with the aesthetics of the facility, and importantly, fit into his tight budget. “If we had wanted solid roofs, wood and metal structures, we would not have been able to afford shade,” he says.
In general, the fabric part of a permanent shade structure represents about 20 percent of the total cost, according to Ball of BPI. What that means, though, is it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to replace the fabric, say, if the club or facility decides to change colors or décor. Adding decorative touches later, such as a scalloped edge, also is easy and inexpensive. In addition, permanent fabric structures are typically designed for quick take-down in the event of an approaching major storm or hurricane. The tops come off easily then are put back on easily, after the danger has passed. With wood or metal structures, damage to siding and shingles can be expensive to repair or replace.
And at least one court builder, Robert Young of US Tennis Co. Inc. of Naples, Fla., says that the fabric Court Cabanas he’s installed in the last few years have withstood some tough tests. “Originally our concern was for wind load, but we’ve had a lot of Cabanas up for several years with no problems,” he says.
Providing for shade between courts also can help keep courts filled. That’s what head tennis coach Scott Linn says he found happened at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach. Linn is overseeing the construction of a $2 million complex including a clubhouse and grandstand, with shade, including Court Cabanas between courts, designed into the ongoing project.
“The shade is one of the best features of our complex,” Linn says. “Where the courts used to be vacant during the heat of the day, now people want to play any time of the day, even in the summer.” Linn says the structures have allowed him to put shade right where he needs it, without the difficulty of pulling building permits.
“Fabric shade structures have a big future,” says BPI’s Ball, who says his company is developing ShadeZone, a fabric architecture product line that he’s been using for structures across the country.
“We’ve been building fabric structures at major athletic complexes, parks and recs, country clubs, and at commercial parking establishments. This market is huge,” Ball says. “And for tennis, the quest for shade is not going to go away.”
About the authorMagazine and newspaper writer Laurie Black Gross has her first two novels with publishers in New York. She is the marketing director for BP International Inc.
See all articles by Laurie Black Gross
About the Author
Laurie Black Gross is a magazine and newspaper writer. She has recently completed her third book.