Articles, Blog

Grass Tennis Court, Charles City, Iowa

December 18, 2019

What do you build on a
former cattle feedlot? Why, a grass tennis
court of course! Like many Iowa farmers,
Mark Kuhn’s day begins with chores. There is mowing… rolling the grounds…. and applying painted stripes… (Okay, this is a working farm,
but by now you can tell this isn’t a typical “to do” list.) With the advice from Iowa State
University turf specialists, Mark, a former state
legislator, brought one
of his passions to life: In 2002, he built a grass
tennis court … where his family’s cattle
feedlot once stood. It wasn’t easy. Mark Kuhn : The soil here grows
corn here very well but it doesn’t grow bent grass. We hauled in a lot
of very sandy soil and put
it on top of the feedlot. And then leveled it off. Installed drainage line,
tile about every 12 feet. There are 5 tile lines
that drain the course. We put in sprinkler system,
leveled it off and seeded it. Dan : How did you
develop your passion for tennis and Wimbledon-style
grass tennis? Mark : Lawn tennis was my first
introduction to the game. Listening on the BBC
with my grandfather. And so I had an early idea
of what it was about. Dan : In 2012, Mark
and his wife got to see the famed British
landmark first hand. After receiving three rejection
letters — he was accepted as grounds crew intern at the All
England Lawn Tennis Club just prior to the Wimbledon
tennis Championships. While there, he met a few of
the players during their practice sessions. He also was
introduced to “Rufus”, the hawk that patrols
center court to keep the
pigeons at bay. He says much of the court care
he learned in England will be applied to improve
his own court. Still, thanks to Mark, we still
get the Wimbledon experience here in Iowa: The Union Jack
flag flies … and the court is even named after the
All England Club. He says
he built this court for himself
and friends … but guests – who are required to
make reservations at this private court — have come
from 36 states and a couple of foreign countries to
play on one of the few grass courts in America. Some even fly into the
airport in Charles City. This foursome flew in from the
Quad Cities … all dressed in the traditional white clothing
that is required at Wimbledon. After posing for the camera,
they were whisked off to the farm and wasted no time in
getting on the grass court. I started playing tennis the
year I went into high school, 60-some years ago. I think about 10-11 years ago
I was voted into the Iowa Tennis Hall
of Fame. I always wanted to play on
a grass court, never have. It’s great I enjoyed
it very much. First time on grass and its
really different. Gotta move your feet
similar to clay. It’s got a lot of
class and ambiance that’s a pleasant surprise. The detail from the fences
to the grass to the warm hospitality is really cool. This is like a tennis
player’s field of dreams. Between the corn fields and
grass court, couldn’t be better. It’s a few and far between
whenever we get to play on a grass court. Dan: T he players spent several
hours here and took frequent breaks during this
hot summer day.Mark yells out to Dan on
court: “There you go.”
During one of their breaks,
I ask Mark to give me a few pointers about playing
on a grass court. Of course, we both
change into our “whites”, which I hope will help my game! If I look the part,
maybe I’ll play better!Mark: It’s a softer surface
and the balls stay low. They don’t bounce as high. But from a player’s
perspective it’s comforting. It’s very easy on the legs. You can play here
longer, I think. The sun’s heat is kind of
absorbed by the grass. It isn’t reflected back at you
like it would be on a normal hard court. It’s just a joy here. Dan : Okay, I’ve chased
enough tennis balls for one day. Its time to let the Quad City
visitors have the court back. I have just as much fun watching
them from the deck — or the “Royal Box” as they
call it at Wimbledon. Mark : Dan, we thought
we’d serve a little bit of Wimbledon treat here. Fresh strawberries and cream. Dan : And that’s a
Wimbledon tradition? Mark : Yes, they serve it
during the championships. Dan : This dessert isn’t
offered to every visitor … but it is a touch of
Wimbledon tradition. Meanwhile, back on the court-
Mark’s other guests can’t seem to get enough games in … It’s a nice day. Nice to get a little breeze
to take away the big heat. Couldn’t be prettier. I’m thankful Mark let us
come up and play today. Dan: If this foursome has the
energy and desire after their game —there is a place just
a few miles from here to go to cool off. Charles City offers up Iowa’s
first white water course built on the Cedar River. The city modified an existing
low-flow dam … and used heavy equipment to bring in large
rocks to set the water’s flow. Tubers … kayakers … and
even experienced canoeists can maneuver around the rocks and
through the waves at three distinct white water
sections of the river. But you can choose to bypass the
challenge and float the same section – on a less turbulent
chute on river left. And there is a third choice: If
you prefer to just watch the action — there is plenty of
green space … with some

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