Court Construction and Maintenance: Intelligent design
When designing a new facility or making changes to your existing one, you need to ask the right questions and think it through.
Heart pounding? Perspiration dripping? Concentrating on your next move? Worrying about the bottom line? Wait — we’re not talking about a tennis match?
Nope, this is how people feel about the process of designing a new tennis facility — or making significant changes to the one they have. Often, owners are intimidated by the whole concept: how to do it, what to consider, when to partner with someone — and who that should be. Angst ensues, and one of two things happens: Either the process gets the bum’s rush so the result isn’t satisfactory, or nobody wants to make any decisions, leading to long delays.
Take one deep breath and one step back. Designing a tennis facility is a process. An outline of the facility you need will emerge if you just ask the right questions. Sometimes it helps to think of the process as part of a flow chart. The questions you ask, and the answers you get, will lead you through each step.
Question 1: Number of Courts
Whether your facility is new (as in, being designed from the ground up), or whether you are contemplating changes to an existing facility, one of the earliest questions will pertain to the number of courts needed. The need for more courts in any area is obvious: Symptoms include loud complaints from players and pros who want court time and can’t get it. But how to decide how many courts you ultimately need?
The book Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual (available from the ASBA at sportsbuilders.org), recommends the following:
- Studies indicate that facilities should be planned based on the number of players within 6 miles or 15-20 minutes driving time from the site.
- In planning indoor tennis facilities, depending upon the climate, most markets can support one indoor court for every 10,000 people. Depending on programming, each indoor court, if open for 15 hours a day, can support the needs of approximately 150 players.
- Court usage should be calculated based upon operating hours. For example, 30 groups of doubles players (30 × 4 = 120 players) playing 1½ hours at a time twice a week (3 hours/wk), use 90 hours per week (30 × 3). A three-court facility open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week has 336 available court hours per week (3 × 16 × 7). Therefore, 30 groups of doubles players use over 25% of the capacity of that facility (90/336 = 26.7%). Lighting extends the playing day and allows courts to host more players.
- The amount of programming will mean fluctuations in the number of courts needed. The more leagues, lessons, tournaments, etc. to be scheduled, the more courts will be needed.
Question 2: Type of Courts
The type of court, meaning the surface, should be chosen by considering the following:
- Budget (both money and time) for maintenance, as well as personnel available to do maintenance work when necessary.
- Age of players/previous injuries.
- Playing style preference.
- Geographic location. If the climate is temperate, a soft court can be open longer in the year; in an area where there are freeze/thaw cycles, it will have to be closed during winter and re-opened in the spring. Indoor courts may be the most logical choice in areas with long winters or wet weather.
Question 3: Player Population
What type of players do you have? This should factor into the design criteria. Consider the different groups that play at your facility, or those playing in the area that might come to your facility:
- Adults (in various categories: recreational, competitive, etc.)
- Kids (in various categories: 10U players, high-performance juniors, etc.)
- Teams (high schools and/or college varsity players may use the facility, as may college club or recreational teams such as those in Tennis On Campus)
- Leagues (either USTA leagues or any club or municipal leagues)
- Any special populations, such as players in wheelchairs, developmentally challenged groups and so on (and the accommodations these players may need)
Question 4: Court Use
What types of programming will you have? Make a list of current or planned offerings, including lessons, clinics, round-robin play, block time for team practices, Cardio Tennis and more.
Question 5: Amenities
What does your existing facility have, and what would you like to add? If building from the ground up, prioritize the things you need, the things you’d like to have and more. A partial list for consideration:
- Utilities (electricity, water, septic, etc.)
- Shaded or covered areas between or beside courts (or picnic tables, benches or other furniture for players)
- Spectator areas
- Locker rooms, showers and rest rooms
- Vending machines or concessions
- Room to store equipment like maintenance equipment, ball hoppers, ball machines, pop-up nets for 10U tennis, etc.
- Fencing (with or without windscreen)
- Backboards or hitting walls
- Divider nets between courts
- Trash cans/recycle containers
- Whiteboards, bulletin boards, etc.
- Pro shop, registration area or other conveniences
- Public address system
Put It All Together
Create a prospectus with the answers to the questions above. Once you have this information in hand, you’ll be ready to work with a design partner.
There are design-specific firms, as well as companies that provide both design and construction services. One of the most popular construction delivery methods is the Design/Bid/Build, or Competitive Bid, approach. In this format, the owner engages a design firm to devise a facility design, prepare construction drawings, specifications and construction documents and put the project out for bid. General contractors then prepare bids based on these documents.
A second process is the Design/Build construction procurement process, in which the owner contracts with a single company that is responsible for both the design and construction of the project. Other methods, such as Negotiated Agreements and Construction Management Projects, are also used, but these are generally reserved for very small projects (Negotiated Agreements) and very large and complex projects (Construction Management Projects).
Choosing the Right Partner
Choosing the correct partner for either Design/Bid/Build or Design/Build will be the key to success. Tennis court construction is a highly specialized field and calls for knowledge of the sport, the products and techniques, the surfaces and all the accessories and amenities needed. A tennis court, though relatively flat, is not a parking lot, nor is it simply a floor. It must be constructed to specific tolerances in order to be considered appropriate for sanctioned play.
Seek out experienced contractors. Check references and ask to visit projects they have completed. Contact the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) and ask about a directory of members. In addition, ASBA conducts a voluntary certification program, in which individuals can earn the Certified Tennis Court Builder (CTCB) designation. (See page 34 for more information about this
The professional partner you choose will work with you to design the facility that best meets your needs. That partner will understand issues such as soil conditions, grading, drainage, storm-water management and more, and can help you negotiate the maze of permitting and code enforcement.
The path from drawing board to completed facility is a complex one, but it is not impossible. By bringing as much information as you can to the table, you will be ready to be a partner, rather than a bystander, in the process.
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.