The directors of the Montrose Country Club have decided to convert its unique clay tennis courts – established there over 90 years ago by a local luminary in the world of tennis — into a parking lot.
The private club’s move to rip up the courts for parking space has dismayed some tennis aficionados while at the same time serving as yet another undeniable sign of the county’s changing times.
Club board member Angela Mooney, a local realtor, laid out the board’s reasoning for getting rid of the clay courts. Major factors include the decline in adult play on the courts and the continuing rise in popularity of golf, she said. Another aspect was the continuing high cost of maintaining the courts with clay brought in from New Jersey by paid staff.
“For many years now the courts were rarely used. We had only one paying member last year and our club manger only remembers a couple of hours of playing time on it. The tennis courts have been running in the red for many years,” Mooney said.
While she called the club’s junior tennis program “a big success” Mooney said any potential gains from those additional players were already covered by family memberships. Fewer and fewer adults showed up to play tennis while more and more teed up to golf.
“We have a strong mid- to older- golf membership and we need to provide parking for cars plus more golf carts,” Mooney said.
According to a simple one-page hand drawn diagram filed with the county Soil Conservation District, the club plans to install a 125 by 110 foot parking lot with about 25 spots and a new deck. The fence surrounding the courts has been taken down, a backhoe sits where the nets once separated opponents; the baseline, service box and boundaries lines have been ripped up, and a line of golf carts sits, anxiously waiting for the golf season to start.
“It is very dangerous to park the cars on the roadside plus driving the carts to the cars,” Mooney said, addressing a concern obvious to anyone who has driven by the club on a sunny day.
“Our club is owned by Shareholders and we as the board represent them and hopefully provide the highest and best use of the grounds and facilities,” Mooney added.
John B. Eidenier, the author of a September 2017 article “Halcyon Days of Summer: ‘The Heyday of Tennis in the Montrose Area,’” played at Montrose regularly until a few years ago after the number of available players gradually trailed off.
Eidenier, a member of the Montrose Restoration Committee, laments the loss of the clay courts. He explained how some players prefer clay courts as they allow for more of a finesse game.
“On that surface the ball would grab and bounce further,” he said.
“A tennis ball would not move on those courts as much and therefore the ball would be kept in play longer.”
But Eidenier also said that he realizes maintaining clay courts is more expensive and time consuming than hard surface courts. Clay courts must be watered to keep the clay moist and must be rolled and raked to keep them smooth. In the winter, the courts must be covered to protect them.
“So, there’s a little bit more maintenance of that sort of surface than there would be to a hard surface. It would probably cost more, too. Every now and then you’d have to bring in more of the surface. A windstorm would blow away the surface.”
But the more common hard surface courts are not very difficult to come by locally, Eidenier said, and some younger players prefer the hard surface courts as they complement their faster, more aggressive play.
“It’s just a shame that it had to go but I can understand the club converting them because there are very few players that played on them anymore. They prefer a much faster game,” Eisenier said.
The clay courts at Montrose enjoyed somewhat of a regional celebrity status for decades as they came into being in large part due to the efforts of George Carlton “King” Shafer, the founder of what is now known as the Susquehannock Camps at Lake Tripp here in Susquehanna County.
According to the Susquehannock Camps Centennial brochure published in 2005, Shafer, a Scranton native who moved to Montrose when he was eight, won his first tennis tournament at the Montrose Country Club in 1899. The club was founded in 1898.
At the young age of 13, Shafer held the doubles title at the Scranton Country Club; and at age 15, he won the doubles championship at the Binghamton Country Club.
Shafer went on to become a nationally ranked tennis player who, among other things, was the runner up in the 1909 and 1913 Men’s Singles U.S. Indoor Championships and won the doubles with Wylie Grant in 1913, 1914 and 1918.
Another big name in tennis at the time, William T. “Big Bill” Tilden, often visited with Shafer at Susquehannock, the brochure noted.
Among his other accomplishments, Shafer is credited with importing from Europe the distinct red clay at the Montrose club some finesse players favor over 90 years ago.