Keep it Clean
No matter what type of courts you have, regular maintenance is a must.
Housekeeping, cleaning, maintenance — no matter what you call it, the regular process of keeping up a court in order to maintain its appearance and playability is a lot less appealing than playing on it. Still, like changing the oil in your car or replacing the filter in your furnace, it has to be done, and it’s part of the responsibility of being a court owner or manager.
According to the American Sports Builders Association, developing and implementing a regular schedule of maintenance is the most important thing you can do to maximize the useful life of any court. Keeping a court clean, preventing misuse and abuse, and repairing minor damage before it worsens is cost-effective, too.
Still grimacing? Maybe what you need is a primer to help you through the task.
Uncushioned courts (asphalt or concrete with an acrylic color coating), require “little daily maintenance,” says David Marsden of Boston Tennis Court Construction in Hanover, Mass. “Most important, keep the court clear of leaves, sticks and debris.”
Walk your courts daily and remove any debris or litter. If courts are near or shaded by trees, make sure any fallen leaves are swept away immediately. Rotting leaves — particularly those that sit in one place too long — cause slippery spots that can be dangerous to players. And if left in place, leaves can stain or degrade the surface. Hose away any debris on the court surface, and if necessary, dry the area with a blower.
If there are stains on your court, try removing them by scrubbing with warm water and a soft brush. If the stains remain, call your tennis court contractor and ask for recommendations. Different problems require different treatments.
Check the fenceline around the courts as well, advises Marsden. “A regular maintenance regimen should include keeping the low side of the court — both inside the fence and outside — free of any build-up that could impede water drainage,” he says.
Examine the surface of the court and the area around your net and fence posts. Do you see cracks? If so, give your contractor a call.
Like carpets in a home, tennis courts have “high traffic” areas. These are areas that show wear sooner than others. The baseline of the court, for example, will wear more quickly than the service box. Ditto the entrances to the court. Excessive wear can indicate that it is time to have the court resurfaced, so contact your contractor and ask for an opinion.
Essentially, equipment for cleaning hard courts includes foam sponge rollers or water-absorbent drums, air blowers, soft-bristle push brooms, wet/dry vacuums, and (if approved by your tennis court contractor) a jet sprayer, also known as a water broom.
Those who have cushioned hard courts — concrete or asphalt courts with a layer of cushioned material to help provide a more forgiving playing surface — also will require regular cleaning, such as sweeping or hosing the surface to remove dust, dirt, and debris. However, such courts are more vulnerable to damage from inappropriate use or footwear.
Make your walk-through a time to examine the surface very closely. High heels, street shoes, golf shoes, metal racquets, skate boards, inline skates, bicycles, or heavy loads are all the enemies of this type of surface. If damage is evident, contact your contractor immediately to discuss repair options.
Some of the most easily maintained courts are those with modular surfaces (generally, those made of interlocking tiles composed of polypropylene and rubber) that are put into place over a base of asphalt or concrete. Sweep or rinse the tiles to keep them clean.
Damaged tiles can be pried up and replaced quickly. The integrity of the court, however, will depend on the planarity of the surface beneath it. If there is a dip in the asphalt or concrete, the tiles will bridge the spot, creating a “dead” area that will affect ball bounce.
For those who have soft courts — those made of granular, fast-dry material — a regular maintenance schedule can mean a playable, enjoyable court. Randy Futty of Lee Tennis Products in Charlottesville, Va., recommends documenting maintenance work, indicating who did what on what date. Keeping to that schedule helps identify and correct potential problems — preventive maintenance, in other words.
Seasonal reconditioning of courts begins with patching and top-dressing (the process of adding new surfacing material to courts). This is necessary because the smaller particles of surfacing material (termed “fines”) will be lost from the court over time through rain, wind, and regular play. Make sure to remove any line tapes that might remain on the court.
Any depressions in the court should be repaired prior to top-dressing. Remove and discard any old surfacing material that has become loose and dry, or “dead.” In top-dressing, 1½ to 4 tons of material should be used for a single court.
“On a daily basis during the playing season, you have to brush, water, and roll the courts regularly,” Marsden says. “Probably bi-weekly or monthly, you’ll need to inspect line tapes to make sure they’re not lifting in any areas. Check the court for low areas.”
A fast-dry court requires line sweepers and drag brooms that can be used following each match. Rollers (for compacting the material) also are required. Subsurface watering systems, which keep the court moist from underground, will save water, and can be set on automated timers.
If your courts are of the sand-filled synthetic turf variety, you’ll be relieved to know there’s very little maintenance. Cleaning the surface of debris, such as leaves, sticks, etc. goes a long way toward keeping a turf court free of stains.
In your regular walk-throughs, always keep an eye out for standing water. Wet turf can be as slippery as ice, particularly if algae is present. If the court isn’t level, or if it isn’t draining properly, consult your contractor. Algae is easily dispatched using salt; simply water the area in question and spread salt over it. Within a few days, the algae will turn a telltale dark brown color, indicating it is dead. A mild bleach solution (one gallon of water to one cup of bleach) will work as well. Be certain to remove the killed algae with a soft brush and a good scrub or it will provide a medium for new growth.
Over time, the coarser particles of sand will migrate to the top of the turf, making it slippery. When that happens, the lost sand needs to be replaced, and the court groomed to bring it back to playing condition. ASBA recommends that the fibers of the turf that are exposed above the sand be between 1/16 and 1/8 of an inch (2 mm to 3 mm).
The net is an often-overlooked piece of equipment in terms of maintenance. Check it regularly for holes, tears and frayed areas, and make repairs as necessary. (New cables and headbands are available.)
Nets also suffer from abuse, often from players over-tightening them. If courts are in an area where players cannot be supervised, consider using a net with an internal wind mechanism, which allows your pro to set the net to the correct tension, and then remove the handle.
Windscreens are meant to help moderate wind and provide a background to see the ball. Keep windscreens in good shape by hosing them down and repairing any tears immediately. If your court is in an area known for heavy winds, secure the windscreens to the fence with polypropylene tie wraps, rather than lacing. The wraps will break away cleanly in a heavy wind, protecting the fence. If extreme winds are predicted, windscreens should be taken down since they will catch the wind like a sail and may bend the fence.
Lighting is an item that shouldn’t be overlooked either. Measure the light levels in your facility every six months or so, using a light meter. Take readings of the horizontal and vertical illumination 36 inches above the court surface, holding the light meter with the photo-sensitive cell facing upward and toward the baseline.
Cleaning fixtures regularly will help extend the lamp life, and will make the lights look brighter. The jury’s still out on whether lights should be kept on constantly, or set on a switch that players can activate. On one hand, frequently switching the lights on and off decreases lamp life in high-intensity discharge (HID) fixtures; on the other, constant burning will drive up energy costs. According to Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual, “As a compromise, if the lights are turned off any time the court will not be in use for two hours or more, the savings in electricity will generally offset any reduced lamp life.”
Listen to your players’ comments. If you hear someone say that a court feels slippery, that a net is damaged or that a light is out, don’t wait for another member to second that motion. Get out there and investigate immediately.
In all cases, the upkeep of your players’ happiness and well-being is the most important job on your maintenance schedule — no matter what kind of surface you have.
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.