Serving up the right grass for tennis
Maintaining immaculate yet playable grass tennis courts is a balancing act for head groundskeeper Mike Buras and his 12-person crew at Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill. The fibrous pow annua species used on Longwood’s 25 grass courts is a native variety that is frequently labeled a weed, but Buras says when properly managed, it makes a desirable court surface. “Grass is a living thing, and we learn to push the limits to make the courts as good as can be,” said Buras, 53.
How consistent are grass surfaces from one tennis club to another?
It varies greatly. Tennis players know that; that’s what makes the game so interesting on grass courts. When you’re an athlete you have to adjust to different surfaces and conditions.
Do you follow the best practices of the sports turf or golf industries?
We are right between sports turf and golf. We cut the grass like a golf green, mowing at 5/16 of an inch with very precise mowers. From sports turf we adhere to all the techniques to limit wear and tear.
Does one have to play tennis in order to really understand as a groundskeeper what these courts should be like?
No, but it helps. I also play, which gives me an appreciation of the speed of the court and the way the ball bounces, grabs, or skids on the grass. Tennis is the only sport where players play on three different surfaces — clay, grass, and hard courts — and in the rule books, there is no standard other than size.
Longwood has been around for more than 130 years and has had only five head groundskeepers. What did the past groundskeeper pass onto you?
A lot that we do are techniques from the original groundskeeper back in 1880. But like any other business, we have added a lot of technology and learned from the latest research. We have a computer-controlled irrigation system, although that’s only at night. The rest is old-fashioned hand-watering.
What’s the worst weather that you’ve faced in your 17 years at the club?
In March 2007, there was a dramatic drop in temperature that killed off all the pow annua. The courts were wet and the temperature dropped from 60 degrees to single digits in a matter of hours. We still opened the grass courts the first week of May, but it was a challenge.
You play golf in your free time — are you analyzing the greens while you’re playing?
Oh yes, definitely. I’m looking at what grass species is on the green; how healthy it looks; how fast the green is rolling. It’s hard not for me not to notice these things.