First Year With New Surface And Snowmelt System

By Jean Kempner and Mike Rahaley
February 22, 2017
Highland Park, IL

Exmoor Country Club Reports In

2017 New SurfaceIn 2015, the APTA gave a grant to support the development of new technology
in platform court surfaces. This new surface was installed at the Exmoor
Country Club in Highland Park, IL

During a full season of play and exposure to a typical Chicago winter, the new paddle court at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Illinois, was tested by hundreds of curious paddle players. The court features a cushioned, textured, gritless surface and has an integrated hydronic snowmelt system that keeps the court playable even in snowy conditions.

Mike Rahaley, Exmoor Director of Racquet Sports, saw firsthand how the court performed and he received feedback from his membership and other local players and pros on how the new court compares to the conventional aluminum court.

Q: The biggest question going in was: Would the ball bounce be different than what players are used to on aluminum courts? What were some of the comments you heard?

MR: The consensus was that the ball bounced and reacted to spin very much like it does on the aluminum court. A couple of the more experienced players said the court played “slightly faster” but the bounce was true and consistent. Almost everyone remarked that there was very little difference between the two courts as far as playability goes.

Q: How did players react to the “quiet play” element of the court?

MR: That’s the comment I heard most often from players. Not only is the ball bounce sound muffled, but the player movement, which can sound like pounding on an aluminum court, is much quieter. Interestingly, newer players didn’t like the reduced noise and more experienced players said they preferred it. 

Q: What was the feedback regarding body fatigue compared to an aluminum court?

MR: Everyone liked the exaggerated foot stability of the aluminum court but they could tell that the new court was more forgiving on their bodies. I have some older members who have knee and back issues who definitely prefer the new court because they noticed that they can play longer and more often and their pain recovery time is a lot shorter. Others commented that the fear of falling was less on the new court and that balls didn’t wear down as fast. 

Q: How did the snowmelt system perform?

MR: The new court’s system didn’t react as quickly to falling snow because the system takes more time to ramp up to a snow-melting temperature, but once the snow stopped the court was dry and playable in 30-40 minutes. That’s compared to about 10 minutes for the aluminum court drying system. Both court types play badly when it’s raining but the grit on conventional courts at least allows for the court to be used although it’s what everyone knows as “skidball”. The new system is nice, though, because it doesn’t make any noise and is odorless. 

Q: Other than paddle, what else can the court be used for?

MR: One of the big reasons we went with the new court is that we could line it and use it for pickleball, which a lot of our members enjoy. The new court is also great for starter tennis with our kids and it’s a lot safer because there’s no grit and the size is in compliance with Under-10 tennis standards.

Q: After a full year’s use, what are your overall conclusions?

MR: I’m really glad that we took the initiative and were the first to install a court like this.  We were dubious about the effectiveness of the hydronic snow melt system and, though its response time isn’t as fast as the other courts, it gets the job done in the winter and the court was never out of service because of weather. There was some early skepticism among paddle players, but the more people used it, the more they liked it. Taking into account all the other uses that we have for the court, it’s very successful. The court lets us offer a wide variety of popular activities in an 1,800 square-foot space and that’s great for our membership.

For more information about the new court surface, read the APTA Outreach article on grants given to Region V/VI in the new issue of Platform Tennis Magazine.

Pictured: Jean Kempner and the new court surface

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