With Interest in Tennis Waning, Town Officials Pursue New Uses for Mead Park Courts, Racquet Club Partnership 


The clay tennis courts at Mead Park. Credit: Michael Dinan

Town officials are looking to forge a new partnership with the New Canaan Racquet Club and also find some new uses for the under-utilized tennis courts at Mead Park in order to boost attendance there. 

In 2018, New Canaan sold 112 season passes for the clay courts, bringing in about $10,000 in revenues against $14,000 just to open the facility and thousands for more attendants, according to the Parks & Recreation Commission. 

“There is a considerable shortfall on tennis that the town has to make up,” Commissioner Carl Mason said during the appointed body’s Feb. 13 meeting at Town Hall. “Even if we were to look at some of our better years, looking back at 2015 or so, we have a shortfall.”

Though tennis instruction clinics bring in some money, they effectively just “cover their costs” and it’s hard to justify redoing the clay courts for an estimated $140,000 “without any real hard data on usage,” Mason said. 

“We are really not finding any champions for tennis in New Canaan at this point in time,” Mason said while presenting the full Commission with an update on the eight Mead Park courts. 

The Commission should consider whether all of those courts must be dedicated to tennis, given the low demand, or whether “we can convert those courts for other sports,” Mason said. 

“One thing that has been discussed is pickle ball. The hard court is maybe a venue for pickle ball. Or maybe even volleyball, basketball or a flexible field on one of the Har-Tru courts.”

Recreation officials also have met with the New Canaan Racquet Club to talk about a new partnership. Under an early version of that agreement, Racquet Club pros would give lessons or put on clinics on unused Mead Park courts on one or two days per week so long as those who are getting the lessons are permit-holders, officials said.

“If the courts remain unused, the question is: Are we OK with leasing them maybe to the New Canaan Racquet Club to try and build them up for tennis, even if some of those attendees may be non-New Canaan residents?” Mason said. “And does the revenue justify this?”

Recreation Director Steve Benko said there’s a need to “reinvigorate” tennis community-wide, at the private clubs as well as the Racquet Club. Some ideas for doing that include reviving one or two small round robin tournaments that New Canaan used to run, he said, though there are some challenges with that.

“One of the things that we have is a lot of the women who used to play during the day are all back at work,” Benko said.

He added that it would help improve use of the facility if a flagstone terrace or something similar at the colonnade located amid the courts with benches and chairs.

“The thing that’s lacking at Mead Park is socialization” for tennis players, Benko said.

Commission Chair Sally Campbell said it’s critical to track daily usage of the Mead Park courts in order to make an informed decision about how to change its use. She said officials have been advocating for conversion of at least some of the facility for “pickle ball” use in recent years, referring to an increasingly popular recreational sport that’s seen strong demand at the New Canaan YMCA.

Regarding the Racquet Club partnership, Benko said he would be OK with it if those getting the lessons held permits. Though New Canaan would not take a cut of the lesson fee, Benko said, the agreement is expected to increase the number of permit-holders and generally build interest in tennis.

16 thoughts on “With Interest in Tennis Waning, Town Officials Pursue New Uses for Mead Park Courts, Racquet Club Partnership 

  1. Basketball courts are low cost, low maintenance with a broad, lasting appeal. Get the kids off the Play Stations and outside for some healthy play.

  2. I know converting tennis courts to basketball courts has been brought up in the past but how do we make an official request? Having outdoor courts will bring more kids to Mead Park, having organized outdoor leagues for kids in the Summertime will help keep momentum going for the sport that has been completely reinvigorated through the outstanding leadership/coaching of Danny Melzer. I do realize pickle ball is becoming popular, but I feel if we could convert the courts closest to the Applecart, the park becomes even more about the kids. Can we put lights up and have men’s/women’s leagues at night?

  3. Perhaps part of last year’s low season’s pass numbers come from opening on June 20th – no oversight in getting them opened in a timely manner. You sell a certain number of pool passes to non New Canaan residents why not for tennis. Hold Memorial Day, Labor Day tournaments. If courts opened in early May and were better cared for – grass comes up on courts 4,5 and 6 during season – increase pass fees slightly.

  4. Chairman Campbell is right about the call for real usage data before deciding about changing use for some or all of the Mead Tennis Courts, which are a wonderful asset. The number of passes sold does not indicate court usage. Some passholders may use the courts three times a week and others only three times a season. Between the online reservation system and the human attendants on site, the Town should be able to come up with usage by month, day of week and hour of day. I asked for that info last year and was told it was not available.

    Also, Barry Miller makes a good point about opening sooner in the spring (2018’s debacle of not opening until June 22 was inexcusable). Organizing some social gatherings around some fun tournaments is a good idea, as is allowing the Racquet Club to use the courts.

    I bet the resolution will be keeping most of the courts, promoting their use more to enhance the potential community aspect, and converting two of them for other use.

  5. I confess dismay that a Town with the economic advantages of New Canaan may be unable to find away to keep all its MeadPark tennis courts.
    I lived in New Canaan from 1958 to 1964. Mead Park’s courts hold many sharp and fond memories for me, and I’m sure for many others. I learned to play there, and was hired in 1962 by the Town to take care of the courts under the direction of Riley Hogan. I was also put in charge of enforcing the one hour court time rule on weekends and afternoons. I was instructed to call the police on the pat phone if I ran into any problems. I never had to, but came close a few times. Mr. Hogan built the original four courts in the Thirties, with the assistance of horses. The courts usually opened in April, and were used by the NCHS tennis team. I played on that team for all four years of high school. Our team got better every year under Coach Arthur Lane, who taught history at NCHS. Chuck Saacke was one of my teammates. He won the state high school singles championship twice, and went on to play number one singles at Duke for four years. He died a few years ago after a long career teaching tennis.
    Our nemesis was Darien. We lost to them in 61, 62, and 63, as they were undefeated every year and compiled a win streak of over 100 matches. They even got a mention in Sports Illustrated. My last three years we beat everyone except Darien. At last, ,we snapped their win streak in 64, with a 4-3 win coming after a tense three set number two doubles match by Mike Olson and Jim Malone. My own singles match that day was against Chris Shays, who eventually would represent Connecticut in Congress for ten terms. I won that day, and played some local doubles tournaments with Chris as a partner after we graduated. The other members of that 64 team were Pepper Sweet, Chip Thome and Henry Richards. After beating Darien, the Ram team went on to compile its own 100 plus match win streak. We all hung around those courts all the time, right through the summer until the Labor Day Doubles tournament. After I graduated in 64, my job taking care of the courts under Mr. Hogan was handed down to Malone, Saacke and Olson. I recall that we were paid $1.75 an hour, which doesn’t sound like much, but a Wilson Jack Kramer frame at Bob’s Sports was about $16.
    Enough of the old guy reminiscences. I hope a way can be found to keep these courts so that others can learn the sport of a lifetime.

  6. The Men’s Club of New Canaan uses the courts several days a week during the season. Is there something that can be done sensibly to reduce the maintenance cost besides shutting down the courts?

    • Oak Hills in Norwalk has a practice of asking all players to sweep their court when they are finished playing. That way the courts are always in perfect shape for all arriving players. Not only is that a nice courtesy that makes for a better game, I bet it helps to keep the courts in good condition through the season.

  7. The tennis courts are a real asset and provide a haven for tennis players new to town who do not belong to private clubs.

  8. Another example of how this Recreation Commission seems more focused on promoting regulation and limits as opposed to recreation.

  9. We really enjoy the courts and agree that it isn’t the number of passes but the usage. It would be a real loss to see these get torn down.

  10. Perhaps New Canaan could look at some of the things that make Norwalk’s Oak Hills tennis facility a success. I play there, rather than at Mead Park, because greater usage makes it easier to find a group of players at the same level with whom to play, particularly as I work in Manhattan during the week. I would, of course, rather play at New Canaan.

  11. Angela makes some good points. I think we need to revisit the rules and open up passes to everyone , allow lessons to be held, for those who don’t want to buy a pass then charge for a court. Additionally open it for pros to teach summer camp for kids. Perhaps an online bulletin board to find other players as well as hold mixed doubles evenings in the summer. Before it gets torn down, let’s revisit the model. Happy to help and partner with someone on this.

  12. The courts are amazing. Please don’t close them. I think some better awareness marketing of the courts, how and where to get season permits and overall communications to make playing on the courts top of mind would help a lot. For instance, why not sell permits at other locations besides Waveny House? Why not town hall, Walter Stewart’s, etc similar to how they sell tickets for 4th of July fireworks? Is there a town committee established for brainstorming more ways to increase court use and permit buying? Would love to help if there is.

  13. Oak Hills plays in the Darien – New Canaan – Norwalk Interclub League (women’s at least, perhaps it also does for men). Waveny paddle has town teams in interclub leagues, so there’s precedent. Angela is right that having a way for competitive players to engage is very helpful.

    I am somewhat surprised at the declining usage at Mead, because my impression is that fewer New Canaan residents are joining local swim and tennis clubs because of the Waveny pool, so wondering if there’s a way to do any crossover marketing / events with pool members?

    Newcomers also used to have events and leagues at Mead. No more? Not popular?

    The above-mentioned Riley Hogan was memorialized for a number of years in the “Riley Hogan tournament” which was mixed doubles (but i think only for married couples? I might be wrong). Alan and Peggy Jay were the driving forces behind that event.

  14. It would be a shame to lose the existing courts before analyzing the reason for the decrease in permit holders. These tennis courts are a wonderful recreational asset bringing many of all ages to Mead Park from spring to fall at an agreeable price. I along with a dear friend have volunteered running the women’s double’s summer league from 2013-2015 at Mead Park. We succeeded two other volunteers who ran it before us. It generated about 40+ permits for the summer. It has always been a little frustrating trying to figure out exactly when the courts would open each spring, mostly due to wet spring weather which delays the contractors. In my opinion, what is lacking is programs to bring tennis enthusiasts to buy permits. Round Robins, evening matches and instructional clinics to name a few. It truly comes down to managing the use of the courts and not expecting volunteers to take it on. Whether NCRC manages it or the Rec. Dept. invests their time to making the courts successful, I don’t doubt it can be done. Perhaps surveying all court permit holders in the last ten years would be a good start to analyzing the issue of decreased court permits. Marketing and publicity couldn’t hurt either.

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