For the first time in two months, tennis is once again a part of the lives of many Long Islanders, as Governor Cuomo permitted outdoor tennis to return on May 15 in the first step of many that need to be taken before the tennis community can return to a sense of normalcy.
“Not being able to play tennis for the last two months has been the greatest adjustment I’ve had to make in my life since elementary school,” said Tyler Cohen, a Miller Place native who plays collegiate tennis at Johnson & Wales. “Returning to play has been invigorating to say the least. It almost feels as if it’s the beginning of a comeback from an injury, except everyone has the same anticipation and excitement to reestablish a routine. There’s been a universal energy at courts everywhere that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before.”
Kimberly Liao, a former player at Commack High School who is headed to MIT in the fall, added:
“It’s definitely great to get back on court more regularly. I was able to find courts here and there for awhile, but it was extremely difficult and many closed after a few weeks. So with more courts open now and the weather being better, I’ve been taking advantage of this time to get back in shape and prepare for college tennis.”
While outdoor tennis, in limited numbers, is welcome again, there was still no word on when indoor clubs, recreation centers and gyms can reopen, as Long Island has not met all the thresholds and advanced through the necessary phases set up by the government.
But as Long Island moves closer to reaching those phases, the local facilities and tennis clubs are preparing for welcoming customers back in.
“We’re going to open the day the governor says we can,” said Kathy Miller, General Manager of Carefree Racquet Club in Merrick. “We put up Plexiglas at the front desk, we have sanitizing stations at the entrance and exits, and are going to have them down on the courts as well. We will be making it so that traffic only moves in one direction, and the doors will be propped open so people coming in don’t have to touch the doors…everyone will enter through the front door, and the exit will be back by our basketball court which goes directly to the parking lot, so that people aren’t passing each other in the hallways.”
At Bethpage Park Tennis & Education Center, the facility will be putting up an outdoor tent as part of its expansive safety measures:
“We are installing an outdoor tent and recommending that customers enter the clubhouse only when necessary. We have a sneeze guard at the front reception desk and we will require all staff, visitors and players to wear face coverings and only remove them while playing. Most importantly, we are limiting our summer program to only 24 students at any one time on our eight indoor courts to ensure that we can easily manage social distancing. We have also hired a certified safety director to manage our protocols and we are lucky to have two four-court air structures which have an extremely high air-exchange rate which enhance safety according to studies.”
Even when indoor tennis returns, how the facilities will operate group lessons, camps and things of that nature is still being discussed. There are some day and sleep away camps that have cancelled, and there are some that have adjusted how they operate. Summer tennis camps play a huge role for tennis clubs and facilities in the area, and adjusting how those camps are run will be atop the priority list for many:
“We’d like to get a camp going, and we’ve had some customers reach out to us expressing interest in doing a camp,” added Miller. Our camp was always from 12:00-5:00 p.m., with up to eight kids on a court, which obviously we can’t do now. So we’re thinking about dropping it to four kids, and splitting the camp into two different two-and-a-half hour sessions. Again, it depends on the feedback and how many kids we have to want to come and play. No matter what we do, there won’t be more than four kids on a court.”
Those are some of the guidelines that the clubs will adhere to as they welcome customers back into their facilities. The USTA Long Island Region has been at the forefront in communicating with both the general public as well as the businesses, and has provided them with the necessary information to bring tennis back in a safe manner.
“The USTA has been very active in providing information to stakeholders and players in the industry about returning to safe play with COVID-19 in mind,” said USTA Long Island Regional Director Jonathan Klee. “The USTA National Medical Advisory Group has provided player tips and recommendations as both competitive and recreational players ease their way back into competition. USTA Eastern has had conference calls and provided much needed educational material on clubs applying for a USTA Facility Recovery Grant, Teaching Professional Recovery Assistance, a USTA Support Hotline and Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidelines. They have also provided Participant and General Facility Release Waiver templates to be used in consultation with counsel and local laws.
Locally, we have emphasized how our indoor clubs are in better position to monitor the return to safe play than some of the outdoor facilities that have been allowed to open, and trying to educate politicians and the public as to their economic plight here on Long Island.”
The physical, psychological and financial impact of this virus has hit the tennis community here on Long Island, and the industry’s survival and hopeful return to prosperity will depend a lot on how it handles returning to the courts during these next few months.
“It’s crazy that we are in a time like this,” said Lori Pujols, Club Manager of Point Set Tennis in Oceanside. “We have been preparing by putting Plexiglas by the front desk, adding hand sanitizers throughout the clubhouse and on all seven courts. We will have a separate exit to keep customers from passing each other as much as possible, and will leave doors propped open so they do need to touch them. We have also closed off the showers, sauna and upstairs lounge area to prevent socializing and will not offer towels and water, and the vending machines will be turned off as well as the water fountain.”
Sportime, which operates more indoor courts than any other entity in the state, 86 total, began making the necessary preparations to ensure safety beginning on the day they had to close back in mid-March, and Claude Okin, Sportime Clubs CEO, knows how important it is to reopen indoor courts across the state for a multitude of reasons.
“Sportime Clubs have been preparing to reopen our doors since we chose to shut them on March 15. These preparations include detailed new guidelines and safety protocols for all activities, that meet CDC, WHO, and all federal and NYS guidelines, as well as physical barriers at our service counters, and to re-route traffic, available sanitizing supplies on all courts and play areas, and more,” said Claude Okin, Sportime Clubs CEO. “We feel strongly that delaying access to safe and healthy forms of exercise and recreation for any longer than absolutely necessary, whether tennis or any other safe activity, will cause unnecessary physical and emotional harm to New Yorkers. So, we certainly hope it won't be long, and it shouldn't be. All I can promise is that Sportime is doing all we can to assure that we will be here for many years and generations to come, but that road to recovery gets more difficult with the passing of time, for Sportime and for all the other tennis businesses, and similar small businesses, across New York State. Time is of the essence.”
Many country clubs throughout Long Island have welcomed tennis players back onto the courts, and have put in place their own safety measures to protect their players and staff.
"Safety and tennis are our two passions right now," said Ricky Becker, Director of Tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club. "We have over 30-safety guidelines in place right now including 15-minute buffers between reservations, using every other court, spraying disinfectants on any potential touch points between use, and of course following Nassau County guidelines such as singles only, as well as all other state directives. The board and I meet weekly via Zoom to review where we are at and the members have loved the fact they can feel safe at our courts."
Normally, this time of the year plays host to the Nassau County and Suffolk County high school championships, with the state tournament right around the corner, but there was no season played this spring. And while it depends on a multitude of factors as we move closer to the fall, there is still hope that a high school season may be possible.
“It’s really all up to [Governor] Cuomo and if the schools are closed. Either way, it’s going to look different, which is where we need to use the guidelines from the CDC and make sure we are socially distant. There are so many nuances that go into it, such as travelling on an away bus, spectators gathering to watch a match from outside the fence, or whether or not the players mark their balls,” said Shai Fisher, Syosset High Schools’ Head Coach and Nassau County Girls’ Tennis Coordinator. “I’m doing what I have to do in terms of working on the handbook for the fall and doing the conference alignments. Just trying to stay positive and keep everything going. I’m doing the things I would do under a normal timeline, and hopefully the work isn’t all for nothing.”
With the spring weather here and as we approach the summer months, it’s encouraging to see players of all ages and levels back on the outdoor courts throughout Long Island. The next steps include allowing indoor facilities to open up again, and the businesses in the area are already making preparations to ensure that is done in a safe manner, and ready to do so when given permission by Governor Cuomo.
For tennis players and fans, the summer on Long Island is highlighted by the array of events that take place, such as the “Little Mo” Internationals, Big Apple Cup, JMTA College Recruiting Combine and the Long Island Tennis Magazine Challenge, but unfortunately many of them have been either cancelled or postponed to a later date. The crown jewel of Long Island tennis events is of course the US Open, which is still slated to take place on time. The USTA is examining all of its options, including alternate sites or playing it without spectators, and will make an announcement in regards to that in mid-June.
Stay tuned to LITennisMag.com and follow on social media for more news and updates regarding club openings, summer events, the US Open and much more.