Ed Shanaphy is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA and a USPTA teaching professional who constantly realizes that his marketing is better than his backhand. He is President of SBW Associates, a leading consulting service in the country club industry.
The Case Against Sweeping Courts Every Morning
by Ed Shanaphy
Sweeping. It’s part of the morning routine. Preparing the courts for another day. Up and down the 78 foot or across the 36-foot court. The broom, whether the old-fashioned bristles or the Aussie mat, comes out and is either pulled, dragged, or driven around each court.
But should it be? Should we be sweeping every morning? Well, it depends on a lot of things. But the quick answer might be: No.
I have always seen the parallel between snow-cats on top of a mountain grooming those trails overnight to the grooming of the tennis court. Leaving it pristine and untouched. One night, I was staring out into the dark of a mountainside and I thought: “Why don’t we groom tennis courts overnight rather than in the early morning?”
There are a few answers to that question. Irrigation. With above-ground watering, sprinklers oftentimes hit the clay top-dressing and leave marks and formations overnight. As we learn more and more about clay courts, we are actually watering the courts at our clubs three times a night for short periods of time rather than flooding the courts with one long watering...
Mother Nature has her way with the courts too with wind and precipitation overnight that leaves unidentified patterns. Animals and people tread in the evening and early mornings… and nocturnal creatures might leave some remnants behind, so to speak.
However, given several variables, we have found, at several of our clubs that we are better off not sweeping in the morning. Firstly, manpower is the primary reason. Sweeping 8 to 12 to 20 courts takes two to four hours, and those hours may be best used doing something else. Member services creep up – stringing, setting groups for clinics, booking lessons and filling games, member-billing questions, and shop sales and advice. Two hours a day added to all these tasks is asking a lot of staff.
If underground watering, there is often no need to sweep in the morning, unless we find leaves or other debris, which is usually just on one or two courts depending on tree and shrubb placement. A late-game or match might need to be swept away, but in most cases, if groomed the night before, these courts do not require sweeping in the morning.
But with overground watering, we find that sweeping in the morning often leads to drier, sandier courts by early afternoon. Sweeping, we must remember, dries courts. We sweep after it rains, through a puddle, to help it dry quickly. When the courts are swept in the morning, they tend to dry the clay for the morning session. Keeping the clay matted down by not sweeping in the morning, keeps the clay fully moist and darker through the morning.
We find this significant when we do not have openings during the day to run irrigation. Courts dry throughout the day under both the sun and the feet of players. Heavy play adds to drier courts. The more play, the drier the courts become. Again, if you are unable to have time on the court schedule to water midday, sweeping in the morning would add to drier courts in the afternoon. More and more often, unless heavy sprinkler formations or past play in the evening, we are not grooming our clubs’ courts in the mornings.
Hang up the brooms and the nets in the morning if you have a lot of play!