Earlier this week, one small sector of the community got a surprising bit of news:  private tennis clubs are now on the ‘essential business’ list and will be allowed to open as of this weekend.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice confirmed the news, noting the change is just for outdoor tennis facilities. (Golf clubs have always been on the list of essential businesses.) She specified that even if businesses are considered essential and allowed to be open, there are still restrictions by which they need to abide, including setting up precautions for social distancing.

“They will be no different than any other business in town. There are rules that the business must follow and then the Health Department does do inspections, such as they have done at grocery stores,” she said.

In order to be allowed to open under essential business restrictions, the state has said that outdoor tennis facilities must follow guidelines established by the US Tennis Association (USTA).

For three of Wilton’s private tennis clubs–the Lake Club, the Riding Club, and Rolling Hills Country Club–the news was welcome.

“We were not looking to be daring or first in any way,” explained Gaynor Luke, the Lake Club board president, who said that the club’s director of racquets had been developing a plan for several weeks using similar guidelines from the US Professional Tennis Association (USPTA). “We eventually were in touch with the state to get a sense of what their thoughts were, and then Tuesday night, [April 28] we got notice directly from the state that they had just decided to permit tennis on outdoor courts, following safe distance guidelines and the USTA guidelines, which is exactly where we were in our planning and thinking.”

Some of those guidelines that the Lake Club and others are following include:

  • each player using separate, marked balls that only they touch
  • returning an opposing player’s balls using only a racquet or foot
  • removing benches, chairs, and tables from public areas to prevent congregating
  • leaving gates open to allow touchless entry to courts
  • keeping locker rooms closed
  • limiting play to singles, family doubles (all players from the same household), singles lessons and doubles lessons (only from the same household)
  • using staggered or separated courts
  • members only

Luke reports that her club’s members are grateful for the opportunity to get back a sense of ‘normal,’ when a limited number of courts open this weekend.

“I haven’t heard anyone really say these are crazy guidelines. We heard from some members how much they miss it and they need it for basically their mental health and socialization. It was more than simply exercise because there are other ways to exercise,” she said. “Members would really just enjoy getting out in the fresh air in the sunshine hopefully and swinging a racquet. It is really helpful for their spirit, and kind of a feeling of normalcy to see faces.

Erik Kaeyer, president of the Wilton Riding Club’s board, said several area private clubs have been in communication over the last few weeks, discussing how and when they’d be able to open. “It has been a collective effort and one that is very much interested in providing tennis enthusiasts with a safe way to enjoy the game without placing people in potentially unsafe conditions,” he said.

At different points, representatives from the clubs had spoken with Vanderslice as well as the CT Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), which had established the essential business list, as well as Tommy Hyde, the CT Director of Government Affairs and Special Projects. “He had obviously heard from may clubs regarding tennis as golf has been allowed by the Governor as an essential business, but not tennis to this point,” Kaeyer said.

The Riding Club’s message to its membership has, like the others, emphasized safety in outlining the new rules being implemented, telling them, “We want people to get outside to use our beautiful facility, but we also want to stress the safety aspect.” Kaeyer said their courts should be ready for member use in about two weeks.

Rolling Hills sent a similar email to its members, outlining the restrictions for when limited play resumes Saturday, May 2.

Planning for Town Tennis Courts–and More

With the state allowing private clubs to reopen, the next logical question is when will town courts open? Vanderslice says planning for that is underway.

“Separate from this, Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce is putting together a plan that I expect to have this afternoon [Thursday, April 30] or tomorrow [Friday, May 1], that will be reviewed by the core emergency operations committee, as a way in which we could provide resident access to the track and the fields, and now the tennis courts, in a controlled manner, which is consistent with social distancing,” Vanderslice said.

She declined to discuss possible specifics about the plan until it’s agreed on by the emergency operations committee.

Wilton’s emergency operations committee is also the same group that will work together to plan how the town will reopen.

“In most small smaller communities like Wilton, the reopening committee is the structure that we already have within our emergency operations committee, which has all the [town] department heads, and it includes [Wilton school superintendent] Dr. Kevin Smith. And then I’m the liaison with the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, I’ve been speaking with [president] Carol Johnson, and I’m in contact with the Wilton YMCA, with the Wilton Library and with all the various organizations like that. Once we get guidance and we hear more from the state, we may reach out to some other organizations as we know more,” Vanderslice explained.