As Rafael Nadal was putting the finishing touches on his record-setting 10th French Open championship on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris, West Shore tennis enthusiasts were getting a taste of the dirt as well.
That might not sound appetitizing, but for tennis players in Greater Victoria the newly-opened clay courts at Bear Mountain are a welcome addition to the local tennis scene, providing numerous benefits over hard courts, including a different style of play and a softer, more forgiving surface.
The eight courts are also unique in Canada as the largest indoor/outdoor red clay facility in the country.
Longtime tennis pro and PISE CEO Robert Bettauer discussed the project at an early stage with Bear Mountain owner Dan Matthews, suggesting red clay for the surface.
“I’m so proud and impressed with how this facility has come to be realized,” he said, gesturing towards the courts. “This is a world-class setting. I’ve played at some of the best clubs in the world (and) to be on this kind of quality red clay, next to a mountain, overlooking the valley and looking to Mt. Baker … unbelievable.”
Not only is clay easier on knees and joints, it’s also a great surface for juniors as it forces players to construct points rather than simply blow it by their opponents.
“Ninety-five of the top 100 men and women tennis players in the world all learned their tennis on clay,” Bettauer noted. “They learned such a great foundation of movement and forehand and groundstrokes … Clay gives that to you because you’ve got more time and you have to generate your own power which means your technique has to be better.”
The father and son team of Russ and Sean Hartley will be running much of the tennis centre’s programming in the roles of director and head pro respectively.
The elder Hartley was visibly excited to see the courts get their first match play over the weekend.
“(The courts) have gone in beautifully … (They) are playing nicely and the atmosphere around here is great,” he said.
That excitement was shared by the club’s founding members, who turned out in droves under sun-soaked skies and comfortable temperatures for Sunday’s opening.
“Clay is something for older players. I have some ankle and knee issues and the surface is just so much better for the joints,” said Langford resident Erwin Allerdings, noting that the possibility of winter play also attracted him to sign up.
“It’s the first time I’ve played on clay so I can’t compare it but I think it’s quite wonderful and I can’t wait to come back and play again,” said Cowichan Valley resident Su Robinson.
Another benefit lies in the fact that balls leave a mark on clay, making it easier to judge whether a shot is in or out.
“The beauty is that it takes that discretion out of it,” laughed founding member Jack Rekis. “That’s kind of neat, because you do play in tournaments and things where you kind of wonder whether the ball was actually good or not, so people with bad eyesight won’t have that excuse anymore.”
The $4 million project requred 120 cubic metres of clay rolled out to a thickness of one inch, weighing in at 185 tonnes. The material, which is made up of reused and recycled brick, was sourced from Lehigh Cement in Victoria. The courts will be resurfaced every fall, requiring two tonnes of clay for the eight courts.
Preparation for the construction of the bubble will begin after the resort hosts the Pacific Links Championship in September.
Ultimately, the hope is that the facility will host provincial, national and even International Tennis Federation events as well as become a national development tennis centre through Tennis Canada.