Tennis courts, putting greens are close cousins

Grass tennis courts are not putting greens, but they may have something in common.


Three players on a putting green at sunset

Research specific to sports activities and associated traffic to turfgrass on wear (abrasion to aerial shoots) and root zone compaction (increase in soil bulk density) typically is investigated using wear simulator machines. With natural grass tennis courts, the sole source of wear is from actual tennis play, and that wear is mostly concentrated along the court baselines.

Grass tennis courts are not putting greens, but they may have things in common. J. Scott Ebdon, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts, evaluated wear tolerance and other attributes of cool-season turfgrasses maintained as tennis courts under actual playing conditions.

Three single grass tennis courts were installed in spring 2016 on silt-loam soil and met the size specifications of the International Tennis Federation. Eight turfgrass species and cultivars were established and randomized within each tennis court: Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis Keeneland or Rubix), velvet bentgrass (Agrostis canina Villa), colonial bentgrass (Agrostis capillaris Puritan), creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera 007), fine fescue mixture (Festuca spp. 60% Bridgeport II chewings fescue plus 40% Barcrown slender creeping red fescue) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne Karma or Wicked).

On each court, four main plots (6.75 feet by 44 feet/2.06 meters by 13.41 meters each) were located on each side of the tennis net, and those main plots extended 5 feet (1.5 meters) beyond the baseline to facilitate measuring any turfgrass injury from tennis play. Thus, the eight turfgass species and cultivars were randomized within each tennis court.

The courts were mowed daily at 0.315-inch (0.80-centimeter) height-of-cut with clippings collected and were rolled three to four times per week (2,205-pound roller, 9.8 feet long with diameter of 0.8 foot/1,000 kilograms; 3.05 meters by 0.25 meter) to maintain uniform ball bounce and firmness. The courts received fertilizer and plant growth regulator and weed, disease and insect control applications, and were irrigated to prevent wilt.

Tennis match play was conducted on all three courts during six weeks in the summers of 2017 and 2019. In 2017, 130 participants played a total of 76 hours (22 hours per week). In 2019, 125 players played a total of 93 hours (21 hours per week).

Turfgrass at the baseline was measured for wear by counting healthy versus damaged plants or bare soil using an intersect grid method consisting of 84 observation points per plot. Other parameters were measured as well. Of note, the baseline was reseeded after all play in August 2017 and again in May 2018, in preparation for play again in 2019.

The results revealed best wear tolerance achieved by Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass, although velvet bentgrass had similar wear tolerance; colonial and creeping bentgrass had lower wear tolerance; and fine fescue had the poorest wear tolerance. Traction was measured using a rotational shear strength device, and velvet bentgrass had the best traction. The colonial and creeping bentgrasses, however, had better traction and higher shoot density compared to Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. Carrying capacity at the baseline was expressed as hours of play to sustain 60% to 90% turfgrass cover. Again, best carrying capacity was achieved by Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass, and again the carrying capacity for velvet bentgrass was similar.

Over the past 50 years, 99% of research to study golf course and athletic field turfgrass traffic tolerance has used simulator machines or devices because traffic can be applied in a uniform, controlled manner. Expectations from these numerous studies using simulators are closely aligned with these results from actual player-imposed traffic on grass tennis courts. There is no doubt that research with traffic simulators will continue to provide practical recommendations for both golf course and athletic field natural turfgrass surfaces.

Ebdon, the principal investigator of this research, recently retired after 25 years in academia. His students refer to him as a kind, funny, warm and knowledgeable mentor, and he is the quintessential “gentleman and a scholar.” He is the first recipient of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program’s Distinguished Service Award. Best wishes, Dr. Ebdon!

Source:  Ebdon, J.S., I. James, M. DaCosta and J. Lu. 2021. Interspecific comparisons of C3 turfgrass for tennis use: I. Wear tolerance and carrying capacity under actual match play. Crop Science 61(1):750-762 (

Mike Fidanza, Ph.D., is a professor of plant and soil science in the Division of Science, Berks Campus, at Pennsylvania State University in Reading, Pa. He is a 22-year member of GCSAA.