Cary Davenport can admire the grass tennis courts at Wimbledon, or he can take a few steps into his backyard and experience the real thing.
Davenport, who lives in Landrum, South Carolina, has had his own grass court since 1994, when he moved to the Upstate.
A longtime manager of tennis and athletic clubs, Davenport had always wanted to build his favorite type of court. During the mid-90s, he and others, aided by pizza and beer, made it happen.
Today, Davenport happily maintains one of two known grass tennis courts in South Carolina; the Daniel Island Club maintains the other. (Contrary to the Internet, the Port Royal Racquet Club on Hilton Head Island does not have a grass court. The club’s two grass courts were turned into a croquet court about six years ago, said Susan Cook, sales associate at Port Royal and, we might add, an avid USTA league tennis player.)
Earlier this week, Davenport told USTA South Carolina why he wanted to build the court, what it took, what is “Sprinkler Tennis,” and which all-time tennis great he’d want to play on the court today.
- Davenport compared his Landrum grass tennis court to a garden. With stately trees and beds of flowers, it’s easy to see why. Around the court, he and his wife plant azaleas, petunias, hibiscus, Confederate jasmine, roses, and other plants and flowers. “The setting is so pretty,” he said. (Submitted photo.)
USTA SC: You built the grass court in 1994, right? How long did it take you?
Davenport: The building of the court required some serious grading, over 120 6″ x 6″ x 6″ landscape timbers and more than 100 dump truck loads of topsoil. We put in a drain field in the middle and around the perimeter of the court, plus an in-ground irrigation system. This took about three weeks.
Once this was completed, the surface was leveled and prepared for 22 pallets of a special hybrid Bermuda grass called 328 II, which is very popular with golf courses. This grass has very thin blades, which are easier to cut with a greens mower. (This grass also) loves the heat, doesn’t require much watering and can take a beating with lots of foot traffic.
The laying of the sod was done with a few of my friends along with pizza and beer. It took two days to lay the sod, and this was done the first week of August, which only left about two months of growing.
USTA SC: What made you want to build it?
Davenport: In 1975 – 77, I managed a grass court tennis club in Tuscaloosa and was the director of the USTA National Junior Boys 18s Grass Court Championships. During this time, we built two more grass courts in order to host this tournament. I knew then that if I ever had enough space I would want to have my own grass court.
USTA SC: How many hours a week does it take to maintain the court these days?
Davenport: I spend about three hours a week, cutting, rolling, watering and lining the court during the season, which runs from mid-May to the end of October. During the offseason, the court requires pre-emergent and applications of various fertilizers, air raiding, sometimes verticutting, and an application of eight to 10 tons of sand for leveling purposes. Additionally, I have a small sod field where I use a sod cutter and replant worn places on the court with sod from this field.
USTA SC: How often do people play on it? What about during its peak usage?
Davenport: Currently my junior tennis players play on the court four days a week as part of our training program. It’s a great surface for these players to play on and with the swimming pool right next to the court, the kids jump in the pool to cool off, then play the balance of the clinic barefooted.
(Editor’s note: About six years ago, Davenport started Carolina Junior Tennis. The year-round program has about 75 kids and uses an indoor gym during some winter days. And yes, Davenport also has a swimming pool in his backyard.)
USTA SC: What do you do special, if anything, for Wimbledon?
Davenport: Years ago, I hosted some fun adult tennis activities during Wimbledon but now, I just tell the kids about Wimbledon and the history of grass court tennis. Many senior tennis players remember the days when the USTA was the United States Lawn Tennis Association.
(Editor’s note: Tuesday, Davenport planned to show some the kids in his program certain points from earlier Wimbledon matches, including points from the Eugenie Bouchard – Alize Cornet fourth-round match.)
USTA SC: What’s the biggest misconception people have about owning a tennis court?
Davenport: I have many friends that own private courts, hard and clay. With a grass court, I always have players who want to play on it because it’s so unique.
USTA SC: What’s the best part about having your own grass court?
Davenport: The best part of owning a grass court is that it is a “living surface.” It’s alive and real. It smells and feels wonderful. The grass area is 62′ wide and 138′ long, which makes it a great playing area for bocce ball, English lawn bowling, croquet, soccer, football, volleyball, badminton, and many other lawn games. When the family gets together, we use the court for all of the above activities.
There is one tennis game we play that as far as I know is the only one of its kind in the world: Sprinkler Tennis. During the games segment of clinics, I turn the sprinklers on and the kids continue to play tennis. They love this activity, especially during late July and early August.
USTA SC: If you could have one tennis player from any era play on your court, who would you pick and why?
Davenport: The player I would invite would be John McEnroe. John played in my national grass court championships for two years. He didn’t win but in his book he quoted that that was the best grass court surface he ever played on. Well, (my Landrum court has) the same grass, and I think he would really enjoy playing on his favorite surface once again.
Read more about Davenport’s grass court here.