A sport that’s more than 100 years old is getting renewed attention as people look for more options to get out of the house.
Platform tennis is the only racquet sport that’s designed to be played outdoors in the winter. Oakland County’s Waterford Oaks Park has two courts for people to try this unique activity.
It began in 1915 in New York City and has prospered mostly along the East Coast ever since. Yet platform tennis has been played in Waterford Oaks for at least three decades.
“The courts are a little hidden in the trees and tucked away, and usually the first time people see it is at night, when the lights are on. It’s a little hidden gem that we have here that’s really nice,” says Waterford Oaks Park Supervisor Mike Boyd.
The game is played on an open-air court that’s about half the size of a full tennis court. High fences surround the courts, and balls can be played on one bounce off fences, like walls on a racquetball or squash court.
When there is heavy snow, the little white flakes need to be shoveled off first. Otherwise, the court has heaters underneath, and any leftover flakes or moisture soon evaporate, leaving a dry, safe surface for play.
The racquets don’t have strings; instead, they’re paddles with small holes to provide some aerodynamics. The ball has a spongy rubber consistency to keep it from skidding.
Jay Reynolds, 73, is one of the coordinators who helps keep the Waterford Oaks Platform Tennis Club humming.
“It’s a wonderful sport for being outdoors in the wintertime,” he says. “It’s an invigorating game.”
With COVID-19, inquiries about the game have been on the upswing, Reynolds adds.
“The indoor sports like tennis and pickleball, a lot are closed, or people don’t want to play a racquet sport with a mask on,” he explains. “There’s too many people around and you’re not out in the open spaces. But platform tennis is typically played in the wintertime, and outdoors of course.”
Those who play should dress in layers as they would for cross-country skiing.
“When the game starts moving along, you can take off a layer and be real comfortable,” Reynolds says.
The game is designed for two to four players. While some take the sport seriously, Nicole Hodges, 52, of Rochester says the league she’s in at Waterford Oaks is laid-back and welcomes all skill levels.
And while most players are in their 50s and 60s, with some in their 70s and 80s, younger people in their 30s and 40s are starting to play, too, she notes.
“It doesn’t make a difference whether you’re male or female,” she says. “It’s not a power game; it’s a finesse game, because we’re working on angles to play the ball off the screens. If some guy powers the ball past someone, you just step aside and let it go off the screen and play it from there.”
Hodges first tried platform tennis in 1990 when she lived on the north side of Chicago. She moved to metro Detroit two years later and has played ever since.
“Now, especially with COVID, it’s a nice way to get outside and be active,” Hodges says. “It’s a lot of fun, a lot of laughs.”
Individual or family membership in the Waterford Oaks platform tennis group is required to play. Fees include the cost of lights, heaters and access to the warming building. There is no additional charge for court time. The second half of the six-month season runs mid-January through April. A trial half-season membership is $130 for an individual or $200 for a family.
An Open House is planned for Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Extra equipment will be available during the clinic for first-time players or those who do not have their own paddles or paddle balls. No preregistration is necessary, but participants should dress for the weather and wear tennis shoes. No previous experience is needed, and all ages are welcome.
For more information, call Jay Reynolds at 248-645-9671 or Oakland County Parks and Recreation at 248-858-0916. Visit OaklandCountyParks.com for more information.
The Waterford Oaks courts are located at 1702 Scott Lake Road in Waterford.