Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Holding Court: Bringing Baby Boomers Back to Public Tennis Courts Could Be as Easy as Changing Your Surfacing

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Holding Court: Bringing Baby Boomers Back to Public Tennis Courts Could Be as Easy as Changing Your Surfacing

Article excerpt

Remember back to the 1970s--when your tennis courts were overflowing with folks who wanted to join the hottest sport on the planet? When people would get up at 5 a.m. to write their names oil the park court reservation list just to get a court later that day? When professional tennis boasted personalities such as Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe?

Things changed during the next 25 years for all tennis fanatics. Fitness clubs sprang up, and pumping iron, aerobics, inline skating, triathlons and mini-marathons took the place of sports like tennis. But the real competition for time, money and energy became family responsibilities, careers, a second income for the household, spending time with kids and more T.V. time. Next came computers and more time spent watching and reading, rather than moving our bodies.

So here we are--a whole generation of people dubbed the "baby boomers" now entering our "middle age." Our families have grown, jobs have plateaued and our bodies don't look the same. We're starting to worry not just about living longer, but living healthier.

The medical profession keeps us alive longer, but can't guarantee the quality of life we expect. People our age used to be known as "seniors," but with the extended life span continuing to grow, 50-somethings are now just in their middle age. With all those years ahead of us, we're looking to get back in shape, be physically active, have fun, and meet new people. We're not so keen on tennis competition, drilling to achieve perfect strokes, play that seems like hard work or adding stress to our lives. We want a hassle-free good time that is good for us.

Enter the Public Tennis Court

The condition of the tennis courts and amenities your facility offers will be a major factor in recruiting and retaining baby boomer tennis players. Rather than letting the private clubs have the baby boomers, start thinking of what you need to do with design and materials to attract the average, middle-aged tennis player. Evaluate your court surfaces, determine whether they need repair or need to be upgraded. Sometimes the cost of replacement is cheaper than renovation. And there are programs available such as the United States Tennis Association's Adopt-a-Court grant program that matches funds to assist in your renovation and repair of tennis facilities. (See sidebar on page 63).

Perhaps the most critical decision for you at some time will be choosing the right court surface for your courts. As our population ages, more people head for clay courts or to cushioned hard courts to reduce their aches and pains, keep cooler and pamper their bodies. Hard courts made with cushioned surfaces provide a rubberized layer that helps with shock absorption caused by quick stops and starts, according to Tennis Industry magazine, a leading industry publication in the tennis world. "The gritty surface of soft courts allows the foot to slide, which dissipates impact stresses on the ankles, knees, hips and back," states the magazine in its 2001 story comparing hard court versus soft court surfaces. Hard, unforgiving surfaces force the body to absorb the full impact of starting and stopping.

Kurt Kamperman, former president of the Tennis Industry Association and now chief of community tennis for the USTA, was quoted in the magazine in 2003 as saying, "Our tennis industry is still largely feeding off a large group of players who began playing during the tennis booth of the '70s. The great majority of those players are now 50-plus, and it behooves us to make soft courts available to that market to keep these people in the game."

On the East Coast, clay courts have long been popular, but now new technology in clay court construction has made it a realistic option from the Midwest all the way to the West Coast. Choice of court surface is complicated by the fact that the design, construction and maintenance are affected by the local ground surface, climate--including temperature and rainfall--and availability of water. …

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