Is That Normal?
When you have questions about your new courts or maintenance, don’t hesitate to check with your contractor.
It finally happened. That new tennis court is up and running. It looks great. It plays great. It’s the showpiece of your facility and everyone wants to play on it.
There’s only one problem: It has been so long since you had a brand-new court, you’re not sure if certain things are normal. You want to protect your investment, you want to keep your players happy — but you do have questions. So how do you find out?
Easy. You talk to a tennis court contractor. Many who have installed courts in various regions of the country say that first-time court owners — or even experienced court managers who are working with brand-new courts or a brand-new facility for the first time in many years — can be expected to have certain questions.
Marks on the Surface
In a new facility, says Richard Zaino of Orange, Calif.-based Zaino Tennis Courts, “The court surface may seem slower due to the newness of the courts.” Squeegee marks are normal in acrylic-coated hard courts; in fact, contractors sometimes joke that the only sure way to avoid such marks (which occur naturally while the court surfacing material is being applied) is to use a squeegee that is as wide as the court itself.
Scuff marks, generally caused by players’ shoes, are normal, but black marks are not. Be sure to post a sign of rules for the court. The first rule should be that court shoes are required (rather than just “suggested”). Remember that many players who are new to the game often wear running shoes or cross trainers or other types of sneakers that have black soles.
Even hard courts, which are sometimes called “all-weather courts,” are not meant to be used in all types of weather. “A non-slip surface does not mean you can play tennis in the rain and not slip,” says Zaino. Likewise, no court is meant to be shoveled or de-iced for use in cold weather.
‘Seasoning’ the Lights
Does the new court have lighting? If you’ve recently upgraded to a new system, such as metal halide lights, remember that once turned off, those types of lights will take time to re-ignite and come back to full power, sometimes 10 to 15 minutes.
In addition, says Bruce Frasure of LSI Industries in Cincinnati, “Metal halide lamps require a 100-hour burn-in period, or ‘seasoning,’ before they will reach stable operation. The chemicals in the arc tube of the lamp will settle during the seasoning period. During the 100 hours, the lamps may demonstrate rapid shifts in color, referred to as ‘flaring.’ In addition, the light output of the metal halide lamps over the 100 hours will depreciate as much as 20 percent. Both of these characteristics are normal, and the light output and the flaring will stabilize within the first 100 hours.”
Windscreens and Nets
A new windscreen, the pros add, can add to the aesthetic appeal of the court, and to the playing experience. However, no windscreen will last if it’s subject to high winds, so take down the screens during harsh or extreme weather.
“If we don’t install windscreen, we inform the client that windscreens can easily damage fences if sized wrong or improperly installed,” says Matt Hale of Halecon Inc., Bridgewater, N.J. “There is no standard windscreen size and they are not interchangeable. The client must know that a windscreen design calculation must be made, as all fence systems and locations are different.”
Keep an eye on the net, too. “In the cold weather, the net cable shrinks,” notes Hale. “This can either heave the net-post footings or bend the net posts. A simple solution is to reduce the tension on the net during the cold weather.” (Some contractors recommend removing the nets entirely if it is unlikely that play will take place during the winter.)
“Also, we never leave the cranks for the nets on the net post,” says Hale. “We feel it invites a problem. Many times people will tamper with the net height.” Many manufacturers make net posts with internal wind mechanisms so that the court owner or manager can set the net to the proper height and tension, then remove the handle.
But perhaps the most important thing the manager or owner of a new court needs to know, say the experts, is that all tennis facilities — new or old — will require periodic upkeep. (The March 2009 issue of RSI contains a “Court Maintenance Planner” for regular court maintenance; the same chart also is in “Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual,” jointly published by the ASBA and USTA and available at sportsbuilders.org.)
“Courts will not last forever. They need maintenance,” says Zaino. “Plan for and budget long-term care for the courts. Start now with the builder to understand what and when items need care, replacement and budget costs and get on a program to take care of these items.”
Throughout the year, the surface should be kept free of debris, says David Baird of Industrial Surface Sealer Inc. in Cleveland. “Outdoor courts must be kept free of leaves and algae,” he says. “The leaves sitting in a corner will stain the color, promote mildew and let algae grow. The first signs of mildew should be washed off with a mild solution of TSP or other mild cleaner. Do not use bleach, as it will stain color coats.”
Make sure the area under the court stays clean too, adds Baird. “Check drain tiles once per year. Put a hose in one of the clean-outs on the corner of the court.”
“We recommend you give your court a thorough cleaning once per month,” adds Tom Magner of DecoTurf in Andover, Mass. However, he notes, let the court dry thoroughly before resuming play.
No court surface is indestructible; attacking a stain with a harsh abrasive may damage the acrylic surfacing. Professionals recommend starting with the mildest equipment. “A soft nylon or hair-type broom can be used for sweeping and scrubbing,” says Magner. “Beware that scrubbing too hard can damage the surface. Connect a water broom to a standard garden hose (max. 70 psi) for hard-to-clean areas. Do not use a power washer.”
The most important thing an owner or manager can do, say the pros, is to keep a close eye on the surface of the court. Look for signs of wear (many of which are normal) and for cracks, depressions or other problems. Document these problems to find out if they are worsening with time.
Baird recommends that owners and managers “review color coats at the baseline area, which is the first area of the court to wear. If the subgrade, either asphalt or concrete, shows through, the court needs to be resurfaced, usually every five to seven years. Too often, owners ignore little signs of trouble because they see the court every day and don’t really inspect it. That means the court can deteriorate slowly.”
What’s the most important tool to use in keeping a court looking good? Communication. Encourage players to voice any concerns they have about the state of the facility. Take photos of anything questionable and e-mail them to your court contractor, who can evaluate the situation or come out for a consult.
Remember that a little time now can pay dividends in years to come.
Tips for keeping the court looking new
- Use a leaf blower to remove leaves, pine needles, etc.
- Take players’ concerns seriously.
- Call the contractor with questions about any irregularities.
- Nothing stays new forever. Eventually, aging of the surface will take place, no matter how well made the court is.
Note: 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. 866-501-ASBA (2722) or 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.