A few years ago, a group of senior tennis players approached Wendy Allegrone, the director of the Recreation Department in Brewster, Mass., to complain about the condition of the town’s tennis courts. Tucked behind the Brewster firehouse, the Nickerson Tennis Courts were in urgent need of repair and, in some cases, no longer playable.
“We have a large, active senior-tennis population here, and the courts were in really bad shape,” Allegrone says. “The town considered fixing them, but it would’ve cost $100,000, maybe more. Instead, a decision was made to start from scratch and build new courts elsewhere.”
The result was a tennis complex that may set a new standard for all future public tennis facilities. Best of all, the project can be replicated in communities and at tennis facilities across the country--and it has.
A Number Of Details
Tennis courts are being built at park and recreational facilities from Massachusetts to California and many places in between as more and more directors are embracing the economic and fitness benefits of tennis--particularly for kids 10 and under. In 2009, tennis participation surpassed 30 million for the first time in the 22-year history of the Taylor Group’s Annual Study on Participation and, more recently, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association found that tennis is the fastest-growing traditional sport in the country.
“Tennis is a tremendous way to increase the programming at your local facility, and its health and wellness benefits are well-documented,” says Karen Ford, the national manager of the United States Tennis Association’s Tennis in the Parks. “And if an agency has the desire to add or expand tennis offerings or to improve facilities, we have the resources to help make it happen. It’s truly an ideal partnership that serves both local communities and tennis as a whole.”
Such was precisely the case in Brewster. Once the decision was made to construct a new tennis facility, Allegrone contacted Ford at the USTA to seek guidance on how and where to start. After getting a crash course in tennis-facility planning and design, Allegrone and her team hired a consulting firm and an architect, and located the right space to build the new complex. They settled on an empty, undeveloped 7-acre lot owned by the town, close to local schools, reserved for recreational use and adjacent to a parking lot.
With a plan in place, the group undertook the laborious task of convincing the town that a tennis facility was the best use of that space, competing with other projects for final approval. Securing the land--a process that included making sure the construction would be environmentally sound and not intrude on any historic spaces--was only the first step, however. Step two was obtaining funding, always a difficult proposition in a struggling economy. But Allegrone and her team were prepared and, after another round of presentations to various officials and boards, the project received the go-ahead.
“We had to go in front of what seemed like a million different boards to get our project approved,” Allegrone says. “Municipal government moves incredibly slowly, so it was a lot of time and work, but the final project was very rewarding.”
Nearly a year after the first proposal was submitted, construction began; however, it was the end product that makes the facility so forward-thinking. During the initial planning stages, it was determined that the land secured could only accommodate a limited number of full-sized, 78-foot tennis courts. The alternative was building four 78-foot by 36-foot tennis courts and four courts to accommodate the QuickStart Tennis play format, which is part of the USTA’s 10-and-under tennis initiative that scales tennis down to best fit the needs and abilities of younger players, including having smaller courts, lighter and lower-bouncing balls and smaller and lighter racquets.
Selecting the latter option not only put Brewster on the cutting edge of tennis, but also made practical and economic sense. QuickStart Tennis courts attract more kids to a facility, thus increasing demand for tennis programming, particularly during the summer months. And best of all, the four courts, 78 feet by 36 feet, can be converted into 16 courts, 39 feet by 18 feet, meaning the facility can be converted into a veritable Kids’ Tennis Festival with the help of a few portable nets.
The QuickStart Tennis format is also an easy sell in the community, as it introduces kids to tennis in a safe way, all while providing the exercise growing children need to stay healthy and fit. Under the old, traditional tennis model, kids lined up, hit a ball or two, and then shuffled back to the end of the line. But with the QuickStart Tennis play format, kids are rallying and playing soon after they take to the court, all while engaging in a terrific aerobic exercise.
And there are benefits for the 11-and-over set as well. When not used for kids’ programming, the four full-sized courts leave plenty of opportunities to host USTA League or Flex League play, and open up the facility to allow for lessons and camps for kids and adults.
The new Brewster Community Tennis Courts officially opened in May 2010 to rave reviews. Players of all ages and ability levels have taken advantage of the new facility, reviving Brewster tennis and creating a new gathering spot for a tight-knit tennis community.
“It’s just so cool seeing generations of people enjoying the courts,” Allegrone says. “We’re seeing more people out here every day--kids, par¬ents, grandparents, everyone. Brewster is officially now a tennis town.”
E.J. Crawford is a writer/editor for the United States Tennis Association. For more information, visit www.usta.com.