Courts: Preventive Treatment
As a facility owner or manager, you can take small do-it-yourself steps to help avoid bigger problems down the road.
Think of it as preventive medicine — the same way you’ll get a flu shot for yourself or an anti-virus program for your computer, you can take small steps that help avoid problems with your tennis courts. The best news? These low-cost (and in some cases, no-cost) fixes can make a difference in the number of times you have to call in a specialist to address problems. And that translates into savings for you.
Keep It Clean
"I regularly remind court owners to remove leaves and debris from their court surface as soon as possible," says David Marsden of Boston Tennis Court Construction in Hanover, Mass. "This helps aesthetically as well as preventing stains on hard courts and a growth medium on soft courts."
Leaves and dry debris can be removed from hard courts using a leaf blower or a soft push broom. After a rainstorm, use the same type of broom to remove wet leaves, twigs and any other materials that can cause staining if allowed to sit on the court. Pine cones should also be taken away immediately as they can transfer sap onto a court, which can cause marking.
Ball hoppers now come in metal or plastic. If you’re using metal hoppers to pick up balls, check the bottoms or legs that come in contact with the court surface. Rust or sharp edges can damage or mark courts when pressed down or dragged across the surface. A quick sanding-down of any rough edges and a touch-up job with some rust-proof paint is a low-cost fix. Check the wheels of carts and other equipment as well to make sure they’re rolling smoothly and not causing damage.
Outside the Lines
"Another issue I regularly observe is the growth of grass or accumulation of debris outside the fence," says Marsden. "This is especially problematic on the low side of the court because it slows or prevents water from draining off the surface, which leads to puddles that leave silt and dirt along the court edge."
Builders also advise cutting back tree roots before they have a chance to sneak under court surfaces (or under walkways leading to courts) and cause damage. If mulch is used in landscaping, it should be kept off the court as well. Welcome mats near the entrance to the courts can help trap debris.
Walk the perimeter of the courts and look for any problems with fencing. Rust, snags, barbs or sagging rails should be fixed immediately before they can worsen. Gates should swing freely without touching the surface of the court, which can scar it over time.
Some of the factors that contribute to gates that sag are spectators who lean on the gate with one foot propped on the bottom rail, children who swing on the gate, and players who hang things (bags, etc.) on the gate itself. Provide benches to sit on, and places to put bags, and you’ll help eliminate many of the risk factors.
Everyone knows tennis shoes are the preferred footwear on court since they have non-marking soles. But of course, there are going to be beginners who don’t yet have court shoes, as well as just a few stubborn people who refuse to comply with rules, even when they’re posted.
Take care of shoe marks by using warm water and a soft brush. If that doesn’t work, call the builder who installed the surface and ask for recommendations for removing shoe marks. (Many builders have a favorite home remedy they’ll be glad to share with you over the phone.)
Lee Murray of Competition Athletic Surfaces in Chattanooga, Tenn., says he takes a fair number of calls about court stains, and that he always recommends a low-risk approach. "I am often asked about using bleach and cleansers on court surfaces. I tell court owners to just use water and hose the area after scrubbing with a push broom first. "
Many serious players have designated tennis shoes, and will keep them in their locker or carry them in their bag when they come to play, then remove them when they’re done playing. Some, however, will wear their shoes from home to the court, which opens the door to tracking dirt, gravel and other particulate matter onto courts. Shoe cleaners that allow players to wipe off debris as they come in will go a long way toward helping keep courts clean.
Some clubs ask members to drag hard courts and sweep the lines after playing. It saves time for the club personnel like the pro (who can concentrate on teaching) and staff (who can concentrate on working the desk and the pro shop). It also gives players a sense of stewardship over the court, and as a result, makes them more likely to watch out for the facility as a whole. Squeegees and sponge rollers can also be left out for players on hard courts.
As a precaution, instructions should be posted for use, and new players should be given a quick lesson on how to use equipment so as not to damage it or the court surface.
Ask players to let you know if they see anything wrong on the courts, including the surface, nets, posts, fence, divider curtains and more. The more you encourage them, and thank them for their input, the more active an interest they’ll take in helping to keep the facility looking nice.
And a Few ‘Don’ts’…
Keep in mind, there are certain things you shouldn’t do to your courts or facility, but rather let a qualified court builder handle. What shouldn’t you do?
- Fill cracks. "Sometimes a court owner will try to save some money by filling the cracks on their court. Often they will use a product not intended for filling cracks on a recreational surface which might cause tracking of oils across the court and possibly poor adhesion,” says Marsden.
- Touch up court lines. If the playing lines look faded, call in a pro who can re-line your courts, and possibly add markings for 10 and Under Tennis while he’s at it. There’s nothing worse than a botched do-it-yourself line job — which can ultimately result in costly corrective work.
- Try to paint over marks, stains, etc. on the court with leftover surfacing product. Your court will wind up having a patchy, freckled appearance.
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.