Feature Article - July/August 2006
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Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

Something's Afoot

By Kara Spak

Design to impress

Alex Levitsky is a principle at the New Jersey-based Colonel Sports and Tennis Design Group. Choosing a floor designer, he says, is like scrutinizing any other component.

"When you're looking for a designer for a specific project, choose them like any contractor," he says. "Choose them based on the person's experience and the kind of work you're planning to have done."

Ask for references and the length of time they have been in the sports design business, he says. After running the designer through the typical checks and balances to ensure you're working with someone reputable, start thinking creatively.

Don't worry if you are not an artist. You do not need to be. A good designer can take your creative ideas and bring them to life on your athletic surface.

"The designs that they do and the ideas that they share should be things that you identify with or are exciting to you," Levitsky says.

There's also the personality issue.

"The person who you are dealing with should be a person who identifies with your needs and values," he says.

Levitsky says a bit of Internet surfing can identify manufacturers you might deal with and the variety of products offered on the market. Manufacturers push their products.

A design professional can be a more neutral repository of studied opinions.

Take it another step further, though, and shop around for unbiased information.

Visit other facilities and check out their floors. Make a list—what do you like? What don't you like? Do you have concerns about one aspect or another of the surface? Ask the facility director you are visiting about performance and maintenance.

"Very often depending on what kind of project it is you can take a look at similar facilities," he says. "You can share insights on maintenance that you might not have thought of."

Questions for the tennis court

Hogan of the American Sports Builders Association says the reason tennis's Grand Slam Tournament is so fascinating is because it places the games on four different playing surfaces with four distinct playing characteristics.

"The person who plays well on one may or may not play well on the other," she says. "Playing on a clay surface is a slower game but one with more strategy. Games on grass or acrylic-coated hard court are very fast. That game then is about being athletic and getting to the ball."

Though you may not be hosting a Grand Slam-caliber tournament on your tennis court, think about who your players are likely to be. Hogan says older players who use the sport as a social outing, maybe passing the ball back and forth in mixed doubles while chit-chatting, may like the American clay soft court.

Those really looking for a hard-core workout, though, may prefer to play on a hard court.

Outdoor tennis court options include the popular fast-dry court, also known as American clay. This is different then the red clay played upon at the French Open, Hogan says. American clay is in fact made of crushed basalt or crushed tile and is a popular option for many looking for a solid tennis court surface.

"A lot of people like that surface because it allows you to slide," Hogan says. "It makes for a strategy game."

Additional benefits of the American clay (fast-dry) court is that its surface cushions legs, and water evaporates off of it, which helps to keep the court area cool.

But like all surfaces, there are some considerations to keep in mind, Hogan says.

"If you choose that surface you, have to understand the downside," she says. "It is easily damaged by things like skateboards and dirt bikes. It can get scratched up, with grooves. It can become not playable."

Hogan says you also need water in that surface to play correctly, indicating you need either underground irrigation or a sprinkler system designed to keep some moisture on the surface.

"What that means is that because water is involved, the court has to be closed in the winter because you can't irrigate it when it's frozen," she says.

Another option for your tennis court surface is the soft court. The most common soft court, Hogan says, features an unbound surface. Some soft courts have a bonded surface of coated asphalt or concrete.

The soft court is a popular option because it can be played in all kinds of weather.

"As long as it doesn't have snow on it you can play on it," she says. "You can play year-round."

The soft-court surface is harder to damage, though she notes that any surface can be damaged.

"You have to understand what your options are," she explains. "Can I maintain it? Can I secure it?"

She also says to keep in mind what other possible programming will be on the court.