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Y opens area's only red clay tennis courts


Major facelift under way for Maryland Farms' tennis facilities
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The French Open tournament doesn’t open on the red clay of Roland-Garros until mid-May, but the Maryland Farms YMCA opened its own new red clay courts on Saturday as part of a major tennis facility overhaul.

The four YMCA courts are apparently the only red clay courts in the Nashville area and among only 5% of clay courts in the United States that aren’t Har-True green clay courts, according to Tennis Director Jim Monk. They opened two weeks earlier than expected.

The Maryland Farms Y's red clay courts are the only ones in the Nashville area. (Photos by Kelly Gilfillan / BHP)

“I think there are only two other clubs in the Southeast outside of Florida with red clay courts, and that will be a really good calling card for us,” Monk said. “. . . We’re hoping to increase membership, and this was one of the things we thought would get people interested.”

The major projects in the extra-fee tennis program facilities also include adding reflective ceiling and wall coverings on the indoor “barn” courts; painting interiors; getting new backdrop curtains, dividers and doors; installing a new HVAC system; and putting up new fencing, wind screens and cabana bench areas outside.

In addition, the YMCA will open up a “bubble” in October over several of the outdoor tennis courts for winter play. Renovations costs total about $1.5 million.

The outside clay courts have also been rebuilt as hydro-courts, which waters the clay from underneath rather than using above-ground watering.

“It will save about 50% in operational cost, needing less water, less manpower,” Monk said. “It also saves down time because with the traditional clay courts we had to water twice daily, which meant we had to shut them down. Now members can continuously play all the time.”

While the Maryland Farms Y red clay courts aren’t made entirely of crushed brick like European courts such as at Roland-Garros, the Har-Tru red clay courts do include some crushed brick, he said.

John Walker, in Regions’ international banking division, has been a member of the Maryland Farm YMCA’s tennis program since the 1980s. He might be one of the first people to hit on the new red clay courts Saturday morning at a clinic, and his group’s regular weekly reservation starts on Sunday as well.

“I cannot wait. It’s a big day for me personally and also for the club,” Walker said. “The way they’re being constructed and redone, they will be some of the finest courts outside Florida in the Southeastern U.S. These courts will be absolute showcases for the club.”

Walker, whose father was in the Air Force, played on clay courts on American aviation bases after he picked up tennis around high school age. He also had some experience on clay when he himself was stationed for 2½ years in the Air Force in Panama, and he has even played on clay courts at nearby Richland Country Club in the past.

Benches for players' tennis bags have been replaced by cabanas.

“I joined the (YMCA) to play tennis and I joined the club primarily for the clay courts,” Walker said. “The clay courts have been modest, medium quality all these years, and so there have been discussions about these changes a couple of years.”

With all the renovations at the indoor and outdoor tennis facilities, he agrees that it’s like getting a membership upgrade without paying extra.

“For many years, a lot of us have felt like the club was collecting our money … I didn’t sit down and analyze it dollar for dollar – but we’d go out to play tennis and the courts are dusty and dry, and we’re paying for this.”   

Walker said he prefers clay’s softball surface because of less pounding on the body and also because of slower ball speed.

“When you put your foot down to stop or change direction, your foot will slide ever so slightly and what that does, it eliminates the trauma of your foot hitting the concrete and coming to a complete stop and your upper body not stopping so fast,” he said. “I think it substantially cuts down on injuries, aches and pains, especially as you get a little older. . . .

“Secondly clay is a slower surface because it’s a gritty surface. When you serve or hit balls, when the ball touches the ground, it takes a little bit of speed off the ball and makes the game more competitive. Also, during the summer it is cooler because clay tends to absorb the hit rather than hard courts . . . Of course, when it’s 100 degrees, it’s still 100.”

In 1978 every outdoor court was clay at the Maryland Farms YMCA, formerly the Maryland Farms Racquet & Tennis Club, but they were mostly converted to hard-court surfaces except for the four courts.

“I'm anticipating we'll have more play these clay courts this season than the past 10 years combined because of the novelty and the new kind of clay courts,” Monk said.

The major upgrades all over the tennis facilities will be paid for through revenues raised through separate membership in the tennis program, rather than through fundraising, he added.

Installer discusses new red clay courts

The reflective covering in the indoor courts, along with replacing all existing light bulbs with more energy-efficient bulbs, will also increase illumination.

“The lighting system we have in the indoor tennis barn is indirect, meaning it shines up to the ceiling,” Monk said. “And that ceiling in there is the original ceiling, it’s dingy and grimy, it’s been there 35 years. Putting that reflective fabric will increase light levels 30%-35%.

The “brand-spanking new” tennis bubble has been purchased for installation over five outdoor courts for the indoor season, from late October through March. Concrete footings will be laid next month as part of prep work for the bubble.

The project will be paid off in 5-6 years from fees from the tennis program, which has approximately 600 memgber units or about 1,000 individual members when families are counted.

“We're just excited to have this all completed in October this year,” Monk said. “This place will be the most amazing state-of-art tennis facility not only in the city of Nashville but I'd say in the Southeast. We're doing a much-needed 35-year facelift on our tennis facility.”

In Nashville, Belle Meade Country Club has 8-12 green clay courts, and Hillwood Country Club and nearby Richland each have eight. Sequoia, another private club in Nashville, also has two clay courts but Westside Athletic Club has done away with its clay.

The Maryland Farms YMCA already hosts five Southern junior tournaments per year, the next one May 18-20, but hasn’t had an adult tournament recently. Monk said the program may need to start a red clay court tennis tournament for adults now.

“If you’re a clay court player, it’s going to be indescribable,” Walker said

New reflective ceiling coverings next to the old ceiling and lighting on the indoor courts in the tennis "barn"



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