As much as we don’t like to think about it, Boulder tennis is in crisis. While tennis itself is in the middle of another boom phase, and the Denver metro area (which includes Boulder) consistently ranks in the top three most active tennis metro areas in the country, the number of usable, publicly available tennis courts in Boulder has been dramatically shrinking. And in the near future the conditions will get much worse.
Why is this happening? The causes are many. Here are just a few…
Lack of new courts to address a burgeoning population.
We all know how much the population of Boulder and surroundings has grown in the last decades. So consider this: BPR hasn’t added a single new public tennis court in the city in over thirty years. Boulder Parks and Rec has long maintained that the ratio of public courts to population size in Boulder is comparable to that of like-sized cities. But this argument is flawed. It is based on a national formula that even the creators warned should not be used to justify reduced court spending. And it sets up a false equivalency, treating the demand for courts in tennis-neutral states such as, say, Idaho or the Dakotas with the sports-mad and tennis-mad populations of Boulder and the Colorado Front Range. And we frankly can’t understand how BPR was able to afford consistent new court construction from 1960 through 1990, but then somehow hasn’t been able to afford a single new court since — let alone complete new court complexes such as those built recently in Longmont, Thornton, Parker and Arvada.
A general disregard for existing courts.
And for the courts that are here, the interval between when they surface a court and the time they get back around to resurfacing it is so long that many of our local Boulder courts are functionally unplayable in the interim. (Update: In September 2023, BPR resurfaced the courts at two locations, Palo Park and Tom Watson Park. These were some of the worst courts in Boulder and we’re all pleased they have been repaired.) However, the maintenance interval is still too long. For every court that BPR resurfaces, more are falling into disrepair. Additional funding is desperately needed to address more courts per year.
Increased loss of public tennis courts to pickleball.
Pickleball is great fun, and all of us know a few people who play both tennis and pickleball and love it. Sadly, Boulder Parks and Rec has not built courts dedicated to this new sport, but has opted instead to cede almost all the Rec Center courts to pickleball. BPR will say that they are merely adding pickleball lines to tennis courts to promote “multi-use.” But the sad truth is that multi-use is a myth for several reasons: 1) The noise level of pickleball is multiples louder than tennis, 2) twice as many p-ball players fit onto the same size court, resulting in an imbalance between the two populations and friction all around, 3) the cultures of the two sports are wildly different and the interactions (with pickleballers running onto tennis courts to retrieve their balls or wandering across tennis courts while a point is in play) are often dangerous. The fact is, where pickleball becomes established on “multi-use” courts, it rapidly pushes out the traditional tennis players. The eight North and South Boulder Recreations Center courts — which were home courts to many tennis players in the past — have become de facto pickleball facilities, forcing tennis players to a shrinking number of tennis-only public courts.
A major loss of private courts.
In the past, some of the pressure on public tennis courts has been eased by the existence of other places to play, including private tennis clubs – for those who can afford them. Unfortunately, one of the best and most affordable of private tennis clubs in Boulder, the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center, with its 17 courts and hundreds of members, will be closed within the next year or so to make way for urban development. (The wait list to become a member at any of the other tennis clubs in Boulder runs to several years, so these ousted members can’t simply join another club.) This will result in pushing hundreds more (very) active tennis players out onto public courts.
A major loss of “quasi public” courts.
Boulder Valley School District courts and CU tennis courts have also done their part in easing pressure on public tennis courts. But understandably, the school district prioritizes student activities and student safety. As a result, school district courts are NOT available to the public any time school is in session – or anytime that school events are taking place on the courts. And the school district has recently increased its scrutiny of and enforcement of these rules. The result is at least another fourteen courts have been removed from public play during the weekdays.
Finally, the CU South tennis campus, a twelve-court facility which for years has provided a home for tennis camps, tennis tournaments, and USTA league matches, is scheduled to be removed within the next few years. This will result in those same tennis camps, tournaments, and league teams looking for a new home on our limited pool of public tennis courts, further contributing to overcrowding.
In short, the next few years for Boulder public tennis look like a slow-motion trainwreck, with more players crowding onto fewer and fewer available public courts for all the reasons listed above. But we can do something about it.
The members of the Boulder Tennis Association, and the BTA Board of Directors that guides it, have spent the last four years trying to get the powers-that-be in the City of Boulder to pay attention to this issue. Our efforts have included speaking up at City Council meetings, speaking in front of the Boulder Parks Advisory Board, organizing a unified tennis community response to the online survey about the new Parks and Recreation Master Plan, and organizing the flooding of master plan open houses with concerned tennis players. All this along with countless meetings with Parks and Recreation directors and managers, school district facilities managers, and CU Athletics Department representatives. So know that the Boulder Tennis Association is not sitting on its hands watching this happen.
However, we need more help. The Boulder Tennis Association is the sole USTA Community Tennis Association for the Boulder area, and as such we are the voice of the tennis community here. The more members we have, the more volunteers we have to get things done, and the louder the voice for change. In our near future we see letter- and email-writing campaigns, we see more media attention, and we see an increasing ratcheting up of pressure on the administrators and politicians to fix the current situation before it gets much worse.
Want to help?
What can you do right now, if you are interested in helping us solve this problem? It’s simple: 1) if you are not already a member, join BTA, 2) reach out to us to volunteer in any way you can (we have a number of ongoing committees that can always use a new member), and/or 3) share with us your ideas and opinions about what the problem is and what can be done.
Finally, make sure that you are on our mailing list, so that you can be updated on each of our new campaigns as they roll out. You can do this by going to the bottom of the BTA homepage and provide us with your first name and email address. (We promise not to spam you!).
Together we can Save Boulder Tennis!