Feature Article - July/August 2004
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Special Supplement:
Recreation Management’s Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Ace tennis options

Indoors and out, tennis surfaces can be built to the type of play desired and the skill level of players. While clay and grass courts hold a devoted following, more than 70 percent of tennis facilities in the United States feature hard-court surfaces—concrete or asphalt overlaid with a textured, colored coating and sometimes featuring a resilient subsystem. The top coating usually consists of textured latex, rubber or other synthetic materials. Subsystems may consist of a 6mm to 13mm synthetic cushioning. Interlocking polypropylene tiles and sheet goods have made inroads in tennis as well. Many manufacturers feature multilayer systems, with up to five different layers of materials—playing surface, filler coat, reinforcing layer, sealer, resilient padding, then adhesive and the asphalt or concrete base.

The thickness of the surface, amount of sand or rubber added for texture, and the materials used often depend on whether a facility wants a "fast" surface to accommodate more athletic, competitive serve-and-volley play or a "slow" surface, for recreational players with an emphasis on long rallies and shot placement.

According to the U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association, which offers a wealth of tennis court information, this "pace" of the surface, and the ability of the ball to spin, depends on the thickness of the surface, the materials used, and the size and quantity of sand or rubber particles mixed in with the color coating on hard courts.

What's more, geography matters when choosing a tennis surface. In the Northeast and Midwest, planners need to take into account freeze/thaw cycles, along with heat and humidity in the summer. In the West, sun and heat can dry clay courts and bleach the color from hard courts. In the Southeast, algae or mildew can be issues. Wet climates need to consider drainage.


Facility planners at OSU, intent on updating their facilities and serving more people, targeted a 30-year-old tennis court. They laid a synthetic surface over it, part of a packaged rink system, and voila!: a multipurpose area for inline hockey, indoor soccer played outdoors, broomball and even dodgeball. The university reported more than 200 people a day now use the rink.

When selecting a tennis surface system, facility planners need to find the right mix of player comfort, ball bounce, "grip" and horizontal sliding, all within their budget. Long-term costs and installations also vary, with some systems requiring a new top coat more frequently than others. Some top coats also can be laid by your own installation team.

And as with other surfaces, the work of finding the right court lies in play: Make sure you play on a variety of courts and talk with the facility team to see what works best for your players and your staff.

And in a case of industry responding to reality, tennis surface manufacturers have taken note of the number of skateheads and hockey players clogging tennis courts and have begun offering systems designed for inline skating and skate parks as well.

On track—and field

Track and field surface technology has come a long way from the days of cinder ash. Now, most competitions are held on tracks with surfaces made of granulated synthetic vulcanized rubber bound polyurethane or extruded vulcanized rubber. Both poured-in-place and sheet goods are available, with similar installation issues as those indoors. Sheet goods cost more but get installed and repaired more easily. They also run the risk of seam decay and water entrapment. Poured-in-place systems, on the other hand, protect against water seepage and provide a wider range of textures and looks but demand a precise, complex installation.

Again, repeated test runs with your facility team and your end users can take you far in determining what type of track will run circles around the competition. The best surfaces should provide energy return and friction to help runners' speed and grip, while offering cushioning and resilience at the same time. The U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association also provides a wealth of guidelines on track surfaces.


Whatever the sports floor, different products boast varying life spans. Careful maintenance and pampering can expand life spans well past the manufacturers' guarantees, while benign or active neglect can speed replacement schedules. Below are estimated surface life spans, based on manufacturer and designer estimates.

  • Wood floors: 30 to 40 years

  • Poured-in-place synthetics: 10 to 20 years

  • Sheet-good synthetics: 20 to 25 years

  • Rubberized tiles: 10 to 20 years

  • Carpeting: seven to 11 years