Few people have a career that spans decades focusing on perfecting a specific passion. Joe Murphy of Smart Sport Surfacing is a hybrid; he exudes a youthful enthusiasm to his craft along with a well-earned encyclopedic knowledge of the history of tennis court construction and renovation that comes with years of studying his profession. This knowledge is based on a thirty year career as the owner operator of an elite tennis court construction company.
Recently, I sat down with Joe and asked him about his career.
Joe, tell us about your earliest memory of tennis, whether it be playing, watching, or work related?
JM: It was definitely work related. I was fifteen and my father said I need to get a job. He told me that the local super market was hiring stock boys. I did not see myself as a stock boy so I found a pavement company around the corner from our home. One of the many facets of pavement work was tennis court surfacing and line striping business. I took to it immediately, and as soon as I got my driver’s license I was assigned to my own box truck and crew… I was on my way. At the age of 23 with two children and one on the way, I decided it was time to start my own company. Since that time, I have built and resurfaced hundreds and hundreds of courts.
When and where was your first tennis court construction project?
JM: The first challenging project was the re-construction of the historic West Side Tennis Club’s at Forest Hills Stadium, grand stand courts and practice courts. I was hired by the late Lamar Hunt’s company World Championship Tennis. We were asked to convert the stadium court and the other courts from Har-Tru to DecoTurf. The major challenge was that I had to complete the job by mid-July for Mr. Hunt’s pre U.S. Open tournament. Furthermore, we had to complete it while the club was open and in full swing. The construction included removing all of the Har-Tru surface, regrading all the courts, adding new drainage systems for the stadium court, paving the courts, installing the Pro DecoTurf surface, fencing, and new 35 foot light poles for grand stand and practice courts. I actually completed it weeks before the due date. I was flattered that many of the world’s top professionals complimented me on the quality of the courts.
Tennis court construction is such a precise process. Can you describe the evolution of this process and tell us about some of the most significant advancements?
JM: As most tennis players may know, tennis began on grass in late 1800’s. It quickly became “the game”. In England, they found that grass would burn in the summer months. In order to protect them, they ground up defective and old clay pots and spread over the grass. This was the birth of the clay court. As tennis grew in popularity in the 1900’s they refined the red clay process and used a more regulated method of ground bricks and clay pots. In 1930 HarTru began building clay courts and the courts became more standardized. Hard courts (asphalt and concrete based) began popping up all over the country, but they were mainly used for parks, schools and homeowners. It wasn’t until 1978 when the U.S. Open, not only moved from the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills to the newly built National Tennis Center in Queens, New York, but moved from Har-Tru to DecoTurf. That year, the always colorful Jimmy Connors won the First DecoTurf Grand Slam and so began the rise of DecoTurf. I would have to say that DecoTurf is the most significant advancement in tennis court construction. Many companies have tried to duplicate the DecoTurf process but have failed. DecoTurf has been the surface of the U.S. Open since 1978 and continues to be so today. DecoTurf was selected in the last two Olympic games, NCAA Championship Games and countless other venues around the world.
How do you keep your passion and interest in a craft that requires perfection?
JM: Simply put, I love to build things. As a child I would spend countless hours in my yard with Tanka trucks, dozers, excavators and dump trucks and create imaginary cities. This evolved into actual construction, and has been my passion to this day. As for perfection, I always believe if you’re going to take time out to do something, give yourself enough time to do it perfectly.
Tell me about a current project and the challenges, if any that you face?
JM: I currently have several projects in the Hamptons going on at the same time. I am working on a new court construction project, we are in the court design stage. I have met with client and they explained their vision of the court and surrounding areas. I carefully took them through the entire process, from tree clearing, base prep, drainage, paving, fencing to the final Pro DecoTurf surface. We also visited three of my prior court construction projects so they could see the high quality of my work and gather ideas for their own court. Another project I am currently working on is a re-building of an existing court. We removed and replaced all the fencing, net, net poles. We repaired the existing surface and are currently installing the Pro DecoTurf resilient surface. The last of the current projects is a custom repair and resurface job. It is a systematic process with the following stages: we have power washed the court, removed the old net poles and the cement bases, removed the old basketball goal and its cement base, installed new net pole and basketball goal cement bases, filled the cracks, applied the Armor crack repair system to all the cracks (with the Armor system the courts are guaranteed for two years), and resurfaced the court. We also installed a new basketball goal. The most challenging issue in outdoor construction is always the weather, and you can’t change the weather.
What is your advice to a young person that wants to pursue this line of work?
JM: My advice for a young person is the same for my line of work or any line of work. Pick a field that interests you, learn as much about it as you can. Learn from the experienced coworkers, ask as many questions as you can, and no matter how many times someone has told you something, if a coworker is telling you the same thing again, never say I “know” because it’s a good chance that will be the last advice you get from them. Work hard, play hard, don’t let your business life consume you, remember your working to provide enjoyment in your off time.