D-I-Y or Call the Pros?
Looking to save on court maintenance expenses? You can do some things yourself, but other jobs are best left to the professionals.
If you’re working on your budget (and who isn’t?) and if you’re trying for cost-efficiency (and again, who isn’t?), you might be looking at your tennis-court maintenance expenses. You’re probably thinking, I wonder if we could bring that number down a little. How much of that can we do ourselves?
It’s a valid question. In tough economic times, park directors, club managers and facility owners are all thinking ahead. Everyone is cognizant of the bottom line, and of what they can do to help keep a lid on spiraling costs. So what can you do — and what can’t you do?
DO IT YOURSELF
The good news is there are many things that can help make tennis courts last longer and therefore, to delay the need for professional maintenance. Be proactive about regular maintenance, say tennis court builders. Keeping the “to do” list checked off on a regular basis can keep small problems from becoming big (and big-ticket) repair jobs. A daily walk-through will help court managers address problems immediately.
“Keep hard courts clean,” says David Baird of Industrial Surface Sealer in Cleveland. “Power wash algae and mildew in the spring and keep off leaves, pine needles, etc., in the fall.” Because such materials can stain the surface over time, builders recommend using a leaf blower to remove all debris, whether that means litter left behind by players and spectators, or pollen, leaves and other natural materials. Putting welcome mats and shoe cleaners near the entrances to the court can help keep abrasive materials from being tracked onto the court and save wear on the surface.
If there are stains on the court, try removing them with the gentlest means possible — warm water and a soft brush. If that doesn’t work, call your tennis court contractor and ask for recommendations. Different problems require different treatments; for example, a stain made by sap might necessitate a different treatment from scuff marks left by the player who disregarded the sign requiring that court shoes be worn during play. The type of surface, the coating and other factors also will dictate cleaning regimens.
Another important tip, says Baird, is to “keep the drains clean. Open up drain tile clean-outs and look in the pipes during a rain if the water is not running toward an outlet and is backing up in the clean-out. Jet out the lines. Plugged-up drains can cause major damage to the courts. Also clean debris out of French drains if the courts are so equipped.”
Other naturally-occurring problems might include tree roots that raise the pavement, according to Alex Levitsky of Global Sports & Tennis Design Group LLC in Fair Haven, N.J. If there are nearby trees, keep roots trimmed back so that they do not find their way under the courts.
Clay or fast-dry courts can be kept in good condition with regular sweeping, watering and rolling to preserve the integrity of the surface. Remember that regular maintenance will ensure a surface that has uniform bounce and slide, and that excess loose material tends to gather under the net, on the perimeter and in corners. Keep these areas free of buildup.
Keep an eye on the playing lines on fast-dry courts, says Levitsky, and secure any that may begin to pop up. In addition, he notes, insufficient maintenance of surrounding landscaping may allow grass or weeds to migrate to soft courts.
Some facilities have begun hanging signs asking players to drag the courts after they finish playing, and even to sweep the lines. Having two jobs means that two players can get the court finished without feeling like one is doing all the work. Delegating the easy tasks to players allows the pro to attend to lessons and more complicated duties, and keeps the courts playing well.
All Kinds of Courts
In addition, say the pros, keep the nets in shape. Look for frays, holes or rips, and make sure there are no chips or rust spots in the posts. Posts can be repainted with a rust-proof paint, as long as the net is removed and the court surface nearby is protected from drips and spatters. In addition, cranks and winding mechanisms should be kept in good repair.
Levitsky also advises managers to keep an eye on the fences surrounding courts, and to look for various problems. Leaving windscreens tied to fences during storms with gusty winds, for example, can overstress the fences and cause posts to bend and fabric to bulge.
Some fixes are low-tech, but can make a profound difference. If courts are surrounded by grass or mulch that comes to the edge of the fence, make sure there is a clear path so that water can drain following a heavy rain. “One court I recently looked at, right after a rain, the water was backed up on the low side because the grass must have been 3 inches above the court surface,” says Richard Zaino of Zaino Tennis Courts in Orange, Calif. “There was terrible drainage and the surface was damaged due to the standing water. Any irrigation watering was adding to the problem.”
Keep a log of any problems you see. Many problems can be fixed by the manager or his or her maintenance team. For example, gates that are dragging across the surface of the court can be adjusted.
DON’T TRY THIS YOURSELF
Sometimes, the problems may require professional intervention, and in cases like this, it doesn’t pay to cheap out. Builders advise owners to call in the professionals to take care of specific items, since having a professional correct a failed do-it-yourself job may actually cost more money in the long run.
A small crack, depression or raised area in a hard court may be something simple — or it may be the symptom of a deeper, or even structural, problem. And while there are kits that can be purchased to help make various fixes, particularly to cracks, many tennis court contractors advise owners to call in a professional to make a definitive diagnosis before taking action.
Don’t try to save money by putting on your own surfacing. It’s a specialized skill, and a job done by someone who is not used to working with the materials will look bad and play worse. Same with the playing lines — don’t try to touch them up yourself. A specialty contractor has the correct paint, the right tools and the expertise to make it look sharp. An amateur’s job can ruin the court’s appearance, necessitating a resurfacing job and the application of new lines (which costs substantially more than just having the lines done right the first time).
Another job that not just anyone can do is paving. A tennis court isn’t a parking lot or a road; it takes a specialty contractor to create a worthwhile playing facility.
Seasonal maintenance of soft courts, including top-dressing, patching and leveling, is essential. Professionals will use laser-guided equipment to ensure correct slope. There are, however, grounds crews at many clubs and camps who are skilled in the process of getting courts ready for spring play; whichever option is chosen, the court owner should ascertain that the efforts result in courts that look and play their very best. Getting soft courts in shape is not a job that should be handed off to an inexperienced worker.
There’s a difference between saving money and being just plain miserly. Don’t make the mistake at the expense of your courts — or your players, who are sure to notice.
The American Sports Builders Association 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 ASBA, as well as the ASBA Membership Directory. Info: 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.