Builders and owners are using more colorful combinations for their courts.
Like TVs, tennis courts have gone high-def. Using unexpected colors, often in combination with one another, court builders are creating more eye-catching facilities that work with new player initiatives to help bump up interest in the sport. World TeamTennis was one of the first to think outside of the monochromatic box, introducing a multi-colored court in the early 1970s. The blue/green courts of the US Open gained a huge following almost immediately, and remain popular today. With expanded options in surfacing colors (and with court builders and coating manufacturers who are always happy to oblige a customer with a potentially high-visibility facility), aesthetic aspects of the hard court are becoming ever more varied. A few things aren’t open to negotiation. The standard court hasn’t changed. The rules of tennis state that regulation playing lines must be “of the same color clearly contrasting with the color of the surface,” and that they must be of certain widths and lengths. For sanctioned matches on 78-foot QuickStart Tennis format courts (when painted on an existing 60 x 120 court), the lines should be a color other than the regular lines (preferably in a color family close to that of the surface), and their placement (in relation to the regulation lines) is specified as well. After that … well, it’s not necessarily true that all bets are off, but let’s just say the betting pool is getting more colorful.
Science, or Aesthetics?
The Plexipave courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California, home of the BNP Paribas Open, are painted in a color called Pro Purple. The science behind it is fairly simple — on a standard “color wheel,” yellow (the color of the ball) is directly opposite purple, so the two colors together are “complementary” and create maximum contrast, allowing players, fans and TV viewers to see the ball better against the court surface. But, of course, court color decisions aren’t necessarily made based on the “color wheel.” “Color decisions still seem to be primarily motivated by popularity and personal aesthetics, rather than by anything scientific,” notes Gerry Wright of Court One in Youngsville, N.C. Wright is far from the only one to see this phenomenon at work. Through the years, much study has gone into the science of which colors, or combinations of colors, allow players to better track the moving ball. However, many court builders say that players generally come back to what they find aesthetically pleasing. “Occasionally, someone might ask about heat coming off the surface, and the best colors for seeing the ball, but not often,” says David Moore of Cape & Island Tennis & Track in Pocassett, Mass. “A majority of people like two colors and I think they believe they can see the ball better. Personally, I do not think that is true; strictly in my opinion, the solid color is less distracting to the eye.” Then there are the tennis enthusiasts who use the court to make a personal statement. Rob Werner of Sportsline in Exton, Pa., has found a groundswell of support for using NFL colors. “I’ve been suggesting home team colors,” notes Werner, “and I’ve gained some very positive feedback. I live and work primarily in football colors: Eagles green and a medium silver-gray. The Eagles green I’ve been doing is a very close match to the football team color and it has some bluish tints, so it really complements the US Open blue when we do two-tone colors.”
Werner also is seeing requests for courts coated in school colors, as well as requests for logos. Unlike sports fields, where it is common to see team or school logos placed at mid-field, tennis courts cannot have commercial graphics on the playing surface. Therefore, says Werner, logos are generally located outside the lines. The rules of tennis state where advertising, logos and other printing may be placed on a court, as well as the colors that can be used. Those who manage a surface that will be used for sanctioned competition should check to make sure they are in compliance. Werner says he has also been toying with other creative ideas — using fluorescent paint for court lines for his own personal facility (possibly in combination with a black-light for night play) and creating subtle artistic patterns in the areas outside the playing lines. A court for private home use, however, varies greatly from a battery of municipal courts, or for sanctioned competition use, where more conservative color theories prevail and rules must be followed. “The vast majority of public projects [i.e. schools and park & rec courts] are still going predominantly blue/green,” says Fred Kolkmann of Fred Kolkmann Tennis & Sport Surfaces, LLC in Grafton, Wis. “The private courts are going about 50/50 with blue/green or dark green/light green.” Sometimes, says Lee Murray of Competition Athletic Surfaces in Chattanooga, Tenn., what court owners are actually looking for is not so much a specific color, but a difference in general. “I’ve found that when these courts get resurfaced, the facility directors like the idea of changing color scheme to make the complex pop. They want the public to notice the change. For older courts that are two-tone green, all green, or red/green, a resurfacing job with the blue/green color scheme really makes for a noticeable change. This change says ‘Look at me!’ and encourages new players to notice and use the facility.”
New and Different
“I try to steer people into doing something different, like a maroon playing area/light green boundary combination, or a red playing area with a light green boundary combination,” says Colin Donovan of L.E. Renner Sports Surfaces in Denver. “Darker colors should always be inside the playing area to reduce glare. I see very few one-color courts for whatever reason, and they are almost always a shade of green.” Fred Manchester of Manchester Tennis Courts in Lexington, S.C., tries to walk court owners through the process of color selection by recounting the various properties of shades available. “In terms of heat, the lighter the color of the surface, the cooler the court will be, and the darker the color, the hotter it will be. In terms of stains or aging, we know that lighter colors show stains more than dark, but that both age at about the same rate. Visually, we tell them a two-color court makes it easier to call shots and makes the court appear smaller, and that greens, tans and blues can blend with the landscape.” There is no doubt in any contractor’s mind that the US Open court colors (blue in-bounds and green outside the lines) remain wildly popular. And of course, the fact that those courts see topnotch performance makes tennis players want them for themselves. “Even though the physiological aspects of color are addressed, the psychological aspects are hardly ever discussed,” says Alex Levitsky of Global Sports and Tennis Design Group in Fair Haven, N.J. “What makes a court ‘easy on the eyes’ psychologically? That’s an open question worth exploring. One current line of thinking is that the psychological aspect has more to do with using ‘accepted’ colors than the use of any particular colors. If a player is used to the court and its colors, they don’t complain. That’s why it is important to have some device, or sometimes a gimmick, when introducing new color combinations.” He laughs. “Something like ‘These are the colors of the US Open’ is one of those devices that help players bridge the discomfort gap. Oh, and obviously, it helps to win one’s matches on that court. That always makes a court color acceptable.”
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.