Fast-Dry Court Maintenance

Pre-Season Maintenance

In northern locations where courts are closed during cold weather, fast-dry type courts should be patched and top dressed at the beginning of each playing season. A single fast-dry court can be maintained in prime playing condition by top dressing it annually with approximately 1 1/2 - 2 tons (1561 - 1814 kg) of material. In resorts or southem locations where courts are in heavy use year round, top dressing may be required twice a year or more. An owner can take on the task of top dressing; however, since it is a large job, most owners choose to use a qualified tennis court contractor for seasonal maintenance. Regular top dressing is required because the smallest particles of fast-dry material, called "fines" which anchor the larger particles while allowing them to shift enough to cushion the surface, are eroded by heavy play, blown away by the wind, or washed away by rain. Applying a new layer of fast-dry material by top dressing replaces the surfacing lost during the season so that the surface performs as it did when new. Owners should not wait for noticeable signs of wear before top dressing.

Prior to top dressing, small depressions can be repaired as described under "Regular Maintenance". Larger depressions, which develop due to wear in certain areas of the court, also should be repaired before courts are top dressed. Such depressions are evident after heavy rain and can be marked by encircling puddles with a sharp tool. Another method of locating low areas is by stretching a 20' (6.096m) - 50' (9.144m) string and marking any areas where clearance is evident under the string line. Most depressions are found within an area 6' (l.829m) on either side of the baseline, but some may be found at center court or near the net. Charts and sketches of suspected low areas can be made when courts are closed in the fall for patching in the spring.

It is recommended that the line tapes be removed to facilitate patching and top-dressing. However, in warm weather areas where courts are top-dressed more often than once a year, courts are often top dressed between the lines. Only portions of the tape are removed for patching.

Remove and discard all excess loose, dead granules from the surface of the court. The material can be swept in piles, using a soft brush or the flat edge of a lute, and removed with a shovel and wheelbarrow Loose material should not be reused since it no longer contains adequate fines to facilitate bonding. However a small amount of material may be saved for applying over silty or slippery areas which sometimes appear after rain in problem areas.

When the court is dry scarify each depressed area to a depth of 1/8" (3mm) using a sharp tool such as the serrated edge of a lute. New fast-dry material should be spread and compacted while dry, then leveled to the proper grade. Fast-dry material can be leveled using a long straight edge (16' (4.877m) - 20' (6.096m)), a straight 2" (51mm) X 4" (102mm) or a section of an aluminum ladder. Water the patch thoroughly. When the area is firm (5-50 minutes), roll it. If time is available, allow 48 hours for additional watering and rolling before continuing top dressing.

On some courts, a thin patch may have a tendency to shift and adhere to the roller. If this happens, discontinue rolling and water the material daily until the old and new material bond. This may take as long as a week or two. However, play may resume during that period.

In areas where the base grade is high and the surface is worn to the extent that the stone subbase is exposed, cut out the remaining stone to a depth of 1" (25mm) below the finished grade. Replace the old material with new fast-dry material, spreading, compacting and leveling it while dry. Then water and roll the patch. This type of patch should be watered more heavily than a shallower patch. Allow at least 15-30 minutes for the patch to set before rolling with a 600 lb (272kg) roller.

When top dressing courts, divide the new fast-dry material into two parts and apply one-half at a time, watering and rolling one layer before beginning the next. Calcium chloride may be added along with the new material to help the fast-dry material retain water. A fertilizer spreader can be used for applying the material. Move first lengthwise then crosswise, brushing immediately behind the spreader. If a spreader is not available, the material can be spread by hand. Space the bags evenly on the court and spread the material as uniformly as possible with a lute. Brush the court lengthwise, then crosswise to distribute the material evenly. Hand water the top dressed court with a fine spray. Then roll it. Repeat the procedure for the second application. If possible, allow 48 hours after the final rolling before permitting play.

Next, activate and adjust the watering system. If the system incorporates a time clock, set and adjust the clock. Plan on readjusting the time clock throughout the season in response to changing rates of evaporation as the weather warms and cools.

Finally, reinstall the line tapes. Check the condition of the tapes. If they are worn, replace them. Plastic, canvas or synthetic (frequently coated with PVC) tapes are commonly used. Line tapes may be smooth or textured; use of textured tapes is recommended for consistency of ball bounce and to minimize slipping. When selecting lines, consistency of the bounce, player safety and easy maintenance should be primary considerations.

If using old line tapes, remove the nails prior to reinstalling. Tapes must be tightly secured to minimize tripping hazards. If tapes have not been removed for top dressing, check the nails holding them down, replacing any that are missing and realign the tapes that may have shifted during the down time. The nails used to secure lines should have a head diameter of 1/4" (6mm) - 7/ 16" (1 lmm) and may range in length from 2 1/4" (S7mm) to 3" (76mm). They may be galvanized steel, aluminum or copper with 2 1/4" (57mm) aluminum being the most widely used. Only copper nails should be used on cinder-based courts since both aluminum and galvanized steel nails will react chemically with the cinders. When installing or reinstalling lines, check carefully to be certain that line tapes are level with the court surface.

Regular Maintenance

Daily maintenance of fast-dry courts helps to maintain the quality of the surface, retain the resiliency and reduce the need for patching and repair. Daily maintenance includes brooming (also called brushing or sweeping), watering and rolling. The type and amount of daily maintenance required may be affected by climate and local conditions such as the amount of rain, shade, humidity and wind, as well as by the amount of use the courts receive.

Fast-dry courts consist of compacted granules of graduated size which allow air and water to pass through them. The air and water within the court create both the cushioned feel of the court and its cool surface. The purpose of daily maintenance is to keep the fast-dry material evenly distributed, to keep the air-water cycle going and to keep the court compacted enough for uniform play.

Broom courts in a continuous pattern to evenly distribute material over the surface. Work first on one side of the net, then on the other. Broom lengthwise one time and crosswise the next. When brooming, the brush should be pulled behind the user. Pushing the brush may create too much pressure, removing fines from the court. The sweeper should try to move continuously avoiding unnecessary stops and starts which can create small ridges. Finish by sweeping the lines to remove fast-dry material.

Remember that brooming dries out the surface of the court and causes the accumulation of dead granules. The more often courts are broomed, the more often those with manual or above surface irrigation systems will require watering. Using the softest bristle brush possible will help minimize problems associated with brooming.

Most modern courts have automatic irrigation systems - either above surface or subsurface. Above surface irrigation systems generally are programmed for a heavy watering during the middle of the night; however during extremely hot weather; the courts frequently become dry and require an additional watering during the day. Manually operated systems are usually turned on twice a day, in the early morning and again, if necessary in the early afternoon. Subsurface irrigation systems keep the courts constantly moist by capillary action. Regardless of the type of irrigation system in use, check the results at least weekly. If the courts aren’t properly irrigated, the system may need to be adjusted.

After the surface is watered and the water has been absorbed, the court should be rolled, if necessary. The degree of compactness depends on player preference. Some court owners roll courts daily. Others roll only once or twice a week, usually after rain. Because the amount of irrigation is constant, courts with subsurface automatic irrigation rarely need rolling. Generally the firmer a court is maintained, the faster it will play and the less erosion will occur from extended play wind or heavy rain. After rolling, the lines should be swept to remove the loose fast-dry material.

Minor patching can be performed throughout the playing season. Minor depressed areas in the surface are caused by constant scuffing and abrasion during play. The majority of these minor depressions can be prevented or repaired by brushing as a part of routine daily maintenance. To repair shallow depressions, fill them with new fast-dry material, level the area with a straight edge, feather the edges lightly with a soft brush, water and roll the patched area.

In some cases, small depressions become filled with loose, coarse granules creating “dead” spots on the court. To patch them, clean the area of loose granules and fill it with new fast-dry material. Compact and level the area, then water it well and roll it. After watering and rolling, the patch should be firm.

Excess loose material tends to gather under the net on fast-dry courts. It should be removed as needed.

Check for wet areas or puddles after a heavy rain to be certain that the court is draining properly. Soft courts are sloped slightly to facilitate drainage. Over the course of the season, particularly if there is a lot of rain, the fines may have a tendency to migrate to the low end of the court, changing the slope and affecting the drainage. Regular brooming helps to redistribute the fines over the court and prevent migration.

Calcium chloride or other court conditioners are sometimes added to fast-dry material every 10 days to two weeks to help the material retain moisture. Consult the manufacturer of the specific surfacing material used on the court regarding the use of court conditioners.


No winterizing is necessary for a fast-dry surface. The surface will need to be top-dressed, patched and leveled in the spring so any post-season work is unnecessary. Court accessories and equipment, however do need post-season care.

If line tapes are in good condition, they should be removed when the courts are closed for the winter. Otherwise, it is likely that frost will heave them out of the ground over the winter. Nails should be removed and the tapes cleaned or painted and rolled for storage. Many owners opt to replace tapes annually rather than reconditioning and storing them.

In variable climates, where courts may be playable during part of the winter, roll the tapes into the court with a hand roller when the courts are frozen. Another option is to cover the playing lines with boards to help keep them in place. Bricks or small blocks may add some weight to hold the boards in place. The tapes may not be perfect, but the courts will be playable over winter or in early spring prior to reconditioning.

All water lines for above surface or subsurface irrigation should be drained except those below the frost line. Pressurized air will remove all water remaining in the pipe system. Broken or malfunctioning sprinkler heads on above surface irrigation systems should be removed for repair or replacement.

Post-season repair and proper storage of court maintenance equipment will prolong its life. Rollers, for example, should be thoroughly cleaned and lubricated. Lubricating them thoroughly before storing them will prevent them from rusting or freezing up. The engine oil and transmission fluid in power rollers should be changed so that they are ready for operation in the spring. Water-ballast rollers should be drained or antifreeze should be added to the drums to keep them from freezing up and bulging.

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