A prospective new member of our BTA Board of Directors sat in on a board meeting last week, a marathon two-and-a-half hour session spent hashing out some of the latest issues facing Boulder tennis. Somewhere in the middle of it all he said: “Until I came to this meeting, I had no idea we had these issues, and no idea there was anyone was trying to do something about them!
Well, that was high praise and an indictment at the same time. Praise because, yeah, the board works hard behind the scenes to advocate for tennis in Boulder. Indictment, because it seems we’re not doing a very good job communicating all this to the tennis-playing public… Point taken. We’re going to do better from now on.
As an opening salvo, this bulletin contains a brief list of issues and an equally brief description of what we’re trying to do about each of them. These are complex, multi-faceted issues, and we can’t do justice to them with one bulletin. So we’ll be following this up in future weeks with more in-depth coverage of each issue. (This is just for those gluttons for punishment who want to take in the big picture all in one sitting.)
- Disregarding East and South Boulder Recreation Centers (where courts are decent, not great) local public courts – especially the one-off and two-off neighborhood courts – continue to be plagued by cracks and disrepair. And Tom Watson court, out on the Diagonal, is almost unplayable.
- Pickleball continues to make itself felt as a major competitor for limited court space. In fact, news has come down that the remaining courts at SBRC and NBRC will soon be lined for pickleball play and completely booked for most – if not all – mornings for pickleball.
- With the impending sale (and probable conversion into student housing) of the Millenium Harvest House, the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center has at most two years before it will close its gates, pushing several hundred more local players onto our dwindling pool of public tennis courts.
- Despite BTA’s long tradition of providing an opportunity to participate in USTA league tennis for those players who aren’t members of a private tennis club, over the last several years fewer and fewer public courts are available to play league on. Until finally, as of this year, there are no suitable Boulder Parks and Recreation courts available for league play.
- With the new ambitious plans in place for the CU South Campus project, it is very likely the CU South tennis courts will be going away within a few years as well. Which will have repercussions for USTA league tennis, the CU women’s team, and some RMTC-sponsored youth tennis camps – as well as any number of adult and junior tournaments that are currently held there.
- Obviously, all the above issues add up to a serious shortage of well-maintained, publicly available tennis courts looming in Boulder’s future. And it will affect us all: tennis parents, tennis kids, league players, neighborhood court players – the whole spectrum.
In the face of this, the BTA Board has not been sitting on its hands. For years now the BTA Board has been advocating behind the scenes for more and better courts, including the push to have the new Master Plan recognize the need for more funding for City tennis facilities. But recently we’ve dialed it up to eleven.
- New Boulder racquet/paddle sports center. One of BTA’s overriding goals is the creation of a Boulder racquet/paddle sports center, ideally one with indoor courts as well as outdoor courts. This would address a number of issues. It would 1) provide new courts to ease the burden on existing courts; 2) provide a suitable venue for league tennis, 3) provide additional dedicated pickleball courts to relieve some of the overcrowding that sport is experiencing; 4) provide an additional setting for youth training programs, 5) provide a place for the CU Women’s tennis team to practice; 6) provide a suitable venue to host tennis and pickleball tournaments, attracting players from the entire state and Rocky Mountain region, and 7) provide a true focal point and gathering place for racquet/paddle sports in Boulder.
Make no mistake, this project won’t be easy. There are many templates around, including the APEX Tennis Center in Arvada, the Steamboat Tennis and Pickleball Center, and the Denver Tennis Park, to name a few. But to get it done in Boulder will take the cooperation of the City of Boulder, the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department, the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center, the Boulder pickleball community, the USTA Colorado and USTA Intermountain organizations – and possibly (probably) private investors as well. Which is why, in the last two months alone, members of the BTA Board have met with Rocky Mountain Tennis Center leadership, Boulder Parks and Rec leadership, leadership in the Boulder Pickleball Committee, and leadership of USTA Colorado to see what we all can get going. We’ve even met with the new head of Kyndryl Inc., the IBM spin-off that is now occupying the IBM facility by Tom Watson Park. (IBM leases the Tom Watson Park property to the City.)
- Collaborations with Boulder Parks and Recreation. We don’t mean to imply that Boulder Parks and Rec is primarily at fault for all our tennis issues. Tennis court maintenance funding has to compete against a multitude of other funding demands in the Parks system. Requests by the pickleball community for more court space have to be weighed against tennis court requirements. Responsibility for lack of league-suitable courts can equally be placed at the feet of restrictive pickleball line policies by the USTA. We believe the best approach for BTA is to work to make itself an active and useful partner with Boulder Parks and Recreation when it comes maintaining and managing our public tennis facilities.
In the latest meetings with Parks and Recreation leadership, they indicated an openness to a more collaborative relationship. One bit of good news we can share: thanks to advocacy by both BTA and the local pickleball community, Parks is upping the court maintenance budget from $60,000 to $200,000 over the next year. So that’s an early win. We’re also working on partnering with them to help maintain our local courts, with one BTA/Parks weeding/cleanup day already completed and more on the way. We’re also looking into “adopting” a local court.
Also, BTA is undertaking – again in partnership with Parks and Rec – a court-by-court assessment of our public courts, using a facility rating matrix provided by the USTA. This will give everyone a baseline going forward as to where the greatest needs are in terms of courts and facilities, and will aid us in our work in terms of applying for USTA grants.
- Collaborations with the Boulder pickleball community. First off, let’s clear something up. Contrary to popular opinion, most of the tennis community is just fine with pickleball and its players. Hey, they’re out there in the fresh air, on a lined court, facing off over a net against opponents in a very sociable context. Sound familiar? It’s not all that different from what tennis players do. By now we all have friends, some formerly tennis players, some still tennis players, that are converts to the sport. So really no big deal. And nobody seeing the pickleball players lined up waiting on the sidelines can doubt that pickleball has its own court crisis.
Sadly, the competition for limited courts has served to make us adversaries, when in fact we should be working together to address the problem. Which is why, after some false starts, we have begun meeting with members of the Boulder Pickleball Committee to develop some collaborative strategies. There are models out there for this. For instance, in Colorado Springs we hear their Parks department has handed over management of their tennis and pickleball courts to a team made up of tennis and pickleball players. It can be done!
Well, that’s the lowdown… As to what you can do to help, we’ll be putting out more bulletins going in-depth on the issues above and giving you an opportunity to get involved in whatever moves you. In the meantime, if you want to share your thoughts, email us at email@example.com.
So thanks for your interest in Boulder tennis, and stay tuned. See you on the courts!
The BTA Board of Directors