For our annual guide, we went right to the source for court construction, the American Sports Builders Association, for advice on adding courts, fixing cracks, and keeping courts clean.
You’ve heard the grousing from your members about waiting too long for court time, and the pleas from your pros for more flexibility in scheduling. It’s getting more difficult to accommodate all the different programming needs for your facility. And after much consideration and examining your available space — not to mention your available cash flow — you’ve decided to add another court or two. So what’s next?
Well, there are still a lot of questions to be answered and decisions to be made. A tennis court is a complex facility that should be built by an expert who has taken into consideration the needs of the owner, his or her budget, all aspects of the site, legal and zoning issues, and a host of other things. There is indeed a lot to think about, and chances are you’ll need some help to guide you along. So consider this your help manual.
Find the Right Partner
The best way to start is by going straight to the source. The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA), the trade organization for athletic facility design and construction, recommends that you locate an experienced industry professional. But don’t just open the phone book and start hunting around under “contractors”; there are all kinds of contractors, with all kinds of specialties.
Instead, look under “tennis court builders.” Seek out individuals and companies with sports facility construction experience. Remember, you’re looking for someone who has actual experience with the construction of tennis courts — not just someone who says he can put one in.
Do a quick check of athletic facilities in your local area. Talk to other club managers and owners, to school athletic directors and to directors of recreation at nearby municipalities that have recently put in courts.
No matter whom you talk to, have a list of questions ready. Who was the contractor? Was it someone they’d recommend? What were the design and construction processes like? Were there any unpleasant surprises? Hidden charges? Unexpected delays? Are they satisfied with the result? Has the contractor been responsive to questions since the project’s completion, or has he been willing to help address any problems that might have cropped up?
“My suggestion is to find a court contractor that has good references and a proven track record, is agreeable to build a facility that fits your needs rather than his, and is a trustworthy contractor that keeps open lines of communication with the court owner,” says David Marsden of Boston Tennis Court Construction Co. of Hanover, Mass.
Give It Space
“As a court builder, the first qualifying question I ask is, ‘Do you have enough space?’” says Marsden. Space has to be the first consideration. A surprising number of club owners or managers have little or no idea of the actual measurements of a tennis court, or of how much space it takes up.
A regulation tennis court is 60 feet wide by 120 feet long. The actual playing area of a doubles court is 36 feet by 78 feet, but additional space is needed once fencing, lighting, seating, and any other structures are taken into consideration. But Marsden says there’s more to take into consideration than just basic measurements.
“The fence line for one tennis court is 60 feet by 120 feet, two courts 108 by 120 feet, and three courts 156 by 120 feet, adding 48 feet for each additional court in a battery within the same fence,” Marsden says.
“A critical point, however, is that the 120-foot dimension should be on a north-south axis, or as close as possible,” he adds. “This minimizes the sun’s impact on play.”
Another consideration is space beyond the fence line for slopes and drainage. “This is less critical in an area that is flat and has naturally draining soils,” notes Marsden. “But in a hilly area or on a site that needs underground drainage, more space will be required to perform the perimeter work outside the fence.”
Space can vary, however, say some builders. “If you don’t have quite enough space, the court can be built at 55 feet by 110 feet and still be usable,” says John Welborn of Lee Tennis in Charlottesville, Va.
Still, say contractors, there are other factors to take into consideration. “Even a single tennis court takes up a bigger footprint than many imagine, 7,200 square feet within the fence line as well as a perimeter for drainage, sloping, landscaping, etc., which means a quarter-acre or more in most cases,” says Marsden.
Another thing to keep in mind is that installing a tennis court is, in fact, a construction project and is subject to zoning restrictions. Your contractor and your attorney should be able to check with local permitting authorities and make all necessary applications. Make sure you’ve done all research.
Who Wants What, Where?
Even if you’ve determined that you have the space, you still need to decide if it’s the right kind of space, and in the right place. For example, consider the desired player population. Is this a court for beginners? If so, you might want it set off from the courts where your more hardcore members practice and play. Why? For one thing, beginners are self-conscious. They feel awkward practicing their serve and chasing balls across the court in the presence of others. For another, they often can’t control their shots well enough to keep them out of the next court.
Having a designated “teaching court” with higher fencing and heavy windscreen will spare your beginners from some embarrassment, your longtime players from some aggravation, and will mean that you won’t have to hear complaints — from both sides.
Or maybe you’ve decided that you want the opposite — a court that would be perfect for tournaments, with benches for seating, plenty of places for spectators and room for things like scoreboards, umpires’ chairs, and so forth. Or perhaps you were thinking of a facility to entice your older doubles players, who like to socialize after play. They might want a court with plenty of shaded spaces outside the fence line for tables and chairs.
Maybe you just want to add a few more courts to your existing bank, so that you can expand your programming and allow for more court time. Talk to your contractor about your needs, your player population, and your available space. Listen carefully to the recommendations and work together to come to the right conclusion for your facility and your players.
Can You Afford It?
Once you’ve established the type of facility you want and its location, and once all necessary paperwork is in order, it’s time to create a budget. You may already know how much you have to spend, but you may not be aware of the whole picture. According to the ASBA’s Buyer’s Guide for Tennis Court Construction, the owner needs to answer some important questions:
- How much can you afford to spend? Developing a budget may be the most difficult step in the construction process. You may have to make some concessions, but in order to make informed choices, you should know what is important to you.
- Do you need a completed facility now, or can you wait a while for landscaping, court amenities and other finishing touches?
- Do you want a first-class facility regardless of cost, or is cost a limiting factor?
- Are you absolutely certain about a given surface, or type of fencing, or specific site? Or are you willing to consider substitutions? Once you see the number of options available in today’s tennis court market, it may be easy to spend far more than you had in mind. Working within a budget involves considering various alternatives and making choices, but choices don’t have to mean compromising the end result. Knowledge of which factors are most important to the court you are planning and a desire to seek creative solutions can bring the project in at a reasonable cost.
Many factors will affect the cost of your court, including the choice of surface. Different surfaces have different maintenance considerations, and all of these have the potential to impact both the short-term cost (and the cost of installation and materials alone) and the long-term cost (which includes regular maintenance and repairs needed over the duration of the tennis facility’s lifespan).
(Previous articles by the ASBA that have appeared in RSI have dealt with surface selection and maintenance, and more detailed information is available on the ASBA website, sportsbuilders.org, as well as in its publications. Those interested in specific detailed information on court surfaces should consider purchasing the ASBA’s book, Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual.)
Briefly, tennis players generally group courts into two categories: hard and soft. A hard court is one made of asphalt or concrete, usually covered with an acrylic coating. The coating protects the court from the elements, enhances its appearance, and affects the playing characteristics of the court. Properly installed, hard courts are generally considered to be durable and to require relatively little maintenance. Cushioned hard courts are those courts onto which a resilient layer (or layers) of cushioning material have been applied over the asphalt or concrete. These courts, while reducing impact to joints from running, are more expensive to install (and also to repair) than their uncushioned counterparts.
Soft courts, including clay, fast-dry, grass, and sand-filled synthetic turf, find favor among players who like the fact that they cause less of an impact on feet, backs, and legs. They generally provide a cool, glare-free surface. In some areas, fast-dry, clay, and grass courts are less expensive to construct than hard courts, but they require regular care and, for clay and fast-dry courts, annual repair and/or resurfacing. Soft courts are easier to damage, but also easier to repair.
The site of the proposed court also has a great deal to do with the final cost. “The biggest variable is the site work [excavation] that is required to prepare and stabilize the ground to receive a tennis court,” says Marsden.
“The second biggest variable is the optional items that a court buyer chooses, such as lighting, extent and type of fence enclosure, actual playing surface [cushioned acrylic vs. uncushioned, fast-dry vs. natural clay, sand-filled turf], above-surface vs. sub-surface irrigation, amenities such as shade shelters, ball machines, water coolers, or windscreen,” he adds. “These items can add up quickly, so owners need to define both their wish-list and budget.”
Lighting and Fencing
As club owners know, the two most popular times for nine-to-fivers to work out are in the evening and early in the morning, so good lighting during these darkened periods is essential.
A good tennis court contractor who has a working relationship with a particular lighting company should be able to work with you to address any lighting issues, and to suggest the option that best meets your needs. If, for example, the addition to your tennis facilities means that the court is closer to a residential area, your lighting company and contractor can help to head off potential problems, such as those relating to “light trespass” or “light spill” — terms that describe an excess of light that distracts others.
“Over the last five years, concerns about the impact of lighting systems on residential areas have increased dramatically,” says Bruce Frasure of LSI Industries, a Cincinnati-based company that manufactures lighting for tennis courts. “To avoid any problems, we encourage potential court owners and their contractors to thoroughly investigate their local lighting ordinances before construction.”
The height of fencing surrounding courts is a decision best left up to the owner and pro. But there are several factors you need to consider, including the court surface (the harder the surface, the higher the ball has the potential to bounce), the chance that loose balls will bother or endanger those nearby, the players’ skill levels, and ultimately, the owner’s preference.
Another important consideration is whether, and which, amenities and accessories will be needed on the new court. If it’s a soft court, you’ll want equipment like drag brooms, which can be used between games. Hard court? Squeegees will help remove water after a rainstorm.
Is it a competition court? Don’t forget a scoreboard and officials’ chairs. Creature comforts might include benches, shade shelters, shoe cleaners, water fountains, and of course, power outlets for soft drink or food vending machines or ball machines.
How Long Will It Take?
There isn’t really a hard-and-fast rule on how long it takes to build courts, particularly since construction is weather-dependent. According to Marsden, the total construction time of the facility will vary depending upon the time of year, the surface being built, and, the biggest variable, the site work required. Also affecting construction time is the number of courts and their layout, the weather, and the performance of subcontractors.
Typically, a single court or a battery of courts within a common fence will take six to 10 weeks under reasonable circumstances. If a facility breaks up into a series of one or multiple-court batteries, it can take longer. A more complex facility, such as one that requires installation of water and electrical lines, benches or bleachers, sitting areas and other amenities — not to mention one that has its own separate lighting system — might require additional time.
To be on the safe side, hold off on those “grand opening” celebrations or that special tournament until your contractor gives you the all-clear sign.
The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a non-profit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators, and users understand quality sports facility construction. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings and publishes newsletters, books and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities including tennis courts. 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 sportsbuilders.org.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.