Feature: Muskoka Magazine - Feb 2006

Muskoka Magazine: Sport Court

Marylene Vestergom

"It's great, says 11-year-old Ben Lister. "We can just walk outside the cottage and play basketball anytime. And this summer we'll have a golf driving range right beside the basketball hoops."

"I've always dreamed of having a sport court at the cottage just so I can play and work on my game," 15-year-old Jonathan Lister says. "Usually in the summer I don't get to play enough basketball and so when I get back to school, I'm not as well prepared as some of the other guys on the team who have been playing all summer long. Now I can get the practice I need, and I have improved. "

For brothers Ben and Jonathan Lister their Muskoka cottage on Little Lake Joseph took on a new appearance last summer, and has become a welcome addition for family and friends of all ages, ever since their parents Molly Rundle and Stephen Lister decided to install a sport court on their property.

"We view it as a long term family asset," suggests Stephen Lister. "When we were thinking about putting in the court surface, many of our friends said it made sense. The cottage is the place where the kids and one day their extended family will want to come back to, not the house in the city.  So we decided to make the cottage as attractive as possible, with lots of activities for the kids, grand kids and friends to enjoy."

The Listers' are not alone. Although in the past a sport court may have meant the installation of just a tennis court, today's multi-use sport courts can be tailored-made to meet the fun and fitness needs of the entire family. Not only can you have a tennis court, but your court surface can also be personally designed to include 3-on-3 basketball, shuffle board, a golf driving range, volleyball, a running track; add a net and you've got a great surface to play road hockey or rollerblade to your hearts content.  Let's just say whatever activity you may be interested in - your court can be designed to meet your families' athletic prowess.

The trend for most families' of growing children, is trying to find ways to keep them engaged in the cottage experience. The Dymotts' decided early on they needed to make changes to their cottage on the Lake of Bays. "We've had our tennis court with a basketball backboard for about eight years," says Peter Dymott. "The overriding reason is we have a 15 and 13 year old and we knew then at about this time in their development, we'd need as many things at the cottage for the kids to keep them interested. So the sport court which we had built by Barber Sport Surfaces Ltd., was one way of keeping them interested, and for my wife and I, well we enjoy the flexibility of playing tennis when we want to."

It's fair to say that Muskoka is not lacking in public or private sport facilities for families to enjoy. But as Stephen Lister points out you never really end up going to those tennis courts. "When we're at the cottage, you don't want to have to leave your property in order to pursue any activities. You want to spend your time around the cottage when you're up there. So, having your own tennis court etc., just makes things more convenient and a lot of fun. This way everybody has different options available to entertain themselves."

Toronto landscape designer Janet Rosenberg, of Rosenberg + Associates, is not unfamiliar with this trend. "People are putting a tremendous amount of money into their summer homes and that means adding as many goodies as they can. Previously these cottage dwellers may have been water-based, now they're land-based as well."

From the outside looking in, you may question why multi-use sports courts is such a hot trend, especially when many of these properties have waterfront exposures offering activities from boating to water slides etc.,

However, Rosenberg looks at it this way.

"Sure you may have the water - but for some people it's not enough, they need something more rigorous. And instead of putting in a spa or a home gym, they're replacing it with more outdoor accessories that helps the diversity of activities offered at the cottage, plus as an extra bonus, helps extend the summer season when faced with inclement weather. Besides, parents don't want their kids in front of the television or playing video games when they're at the cottage. They want them outdoors, in full view, playing."  

The lifestyle of today's cottager has become an integral part of the Muskoka scene.  The Listers' recall how they take their boys to Muskoka Woods Sports Camp. Whenever they took them, they were envious of the upbeat camp environment. "My wife and I always looked at each other and wondered why we couldn't check-in?" laments Stephen Lister. With the recent installation of their sport court, the cottage on Little Lake Joe has added a whole other dimension to their Muskoka lifestyle. Now the Listers' have created their very own entertainment centre, humorously known as the Lister Sports Camp.

 "It's great for our friends who visit. It gives them something to do and a great diversion for the kids as well," says Stephen Lister. "Besides, I'm a big believer in keeping physically active your entire life, and by including tennis as one of the activities in our sport court, it's something we can enjoy as a social activity now, and well into our advanced years."

"You have to keep in mind," says Rosenberg, "people are not building cottages as we know them - they're building homes. The conveniences experienced in the city are the same elements being introduced into their cottage lifestyle. It's a great way to keep the kids busy and bring family and friends coming back to the cottage."

James Gordon of Fowler Courts, a division of Fowler Construction, is very familiar with the sport court trend and couldn't agree more with Rosenberg's observations.

"Many of Muskoka cottage owners come from the city, and have a court already installed in their backyard, and they just want the same enjoyment factor at their cottage during the summer," says Gordon.

David Shaw, director of Barber Sport Surfaces Ltd. in Markham agrees. "The sport court was something traditionally only used in commercial settings. Today we're installing these courts not only at their properties in the city, but creating play areas that are beautifully landscaped at their summer homes.  And here's the key, these sport courts are integrated into the landscape.  After all, these homes were purchased for their location, and property owners want to ensure the investment in their wilderness retreat is respected."

So how does the installation of the sport court deal with the rocky and hilly Muskoka terrain?  Property owners don't want to take away from the very reason why they bought the cottage in the first place. They still want to maintain that rustic feeling. And although you may be putting in an urban component into a natural landscape, Rosenberg suggests when you're at the stage of seriously considering installing a tennis court, a smaller 3-on-3 basketball unit or for that matter a multi-purpose sport court call the professionals to help you review the various locations where it could be installed.

"That's the key," says Lister. "We really wanted to minimize any environmental impact, and James Gordon and his team at Fowlers initially suggested a site on flatter terrain that would involve taking out a significant amount of old growth - pine trees etc.  Instead we picked a site that was a little more uneven, but had more scrub brush, minimizing the environmental impact on our property.  It meant putting in a lot more gravel and building the base up - so it was even. From a cost perspective it was a trade-off.  But in the long run we just love the natural surrounding up there and we wanted to make sure the court was as invisible as possible from the cottage and road.  In the end a win-win."

If you're thinking about adding a court to your summer home, now is a good time to review your families needs and the layout of your property.

Gordon of Fowler Construction suggests it's never too early to start the planning process. With a variety of sport courts to choose from, cottagers would be best served to do their homework and seek the advice of an expert.  Depending on the size and scope of the work required, sport courts range from $5,000 and up, not including construction, accessories and hardware.

With the actual site perhaps one of the most important elements to consider, once the snow has melted, the lay of the land will provide a window into where your court could be installed.  And depending on the extent of your project, and of course weather conditions, your sport court can be constructed well in advance of the summer season in time for the entire family to enjoy.

And if you have any concerns about the longevity of sport court surfaces, Gordon indicates some of their earlier courts are over 50 years old, and are still in service to this day. So they definitely stand up to the hard Muskoka weather.  
Surfaces vary from asphalt, nylon, clay, to polypropylene tiles that snap together to polyurethane providing even more lateral forgiveness and comfort for your joints, knees and hips.

And remember, your sports court doesn't have to take-up a lot of your property. Some people don't have the space to put in a full-sized court - 60x120 eats up a lot of land and that's where customization is an option. So your court can be created to be small enough to house a basketball court for a one-on-one game on your driveway or can take-on the scope of a full multi-use sport surface - designed to your specification with all the bells and whistles. Whatever you decide, there is a sport court that can meet your needs.

"You know, before my Dad had the sport court installed, I wanted to stay in the city," says Jonathan Lister. "That way I could watch my favourite movies and stuff, because we don't have a television at the cottage. Don't get me wrong, having the lake is fun, but now I look forward to going to the cottage and playing basketball on our new sport court with my brother Ben - and my dad, of course."

The multi-purpose sport court - it's a family affair.  And that's a good thing.


James Gordon
Fowler Construction - Fowler Courts
1206 Rosewarne Drive
Bracebridge, ON.  P!l 1T9

David Shaw
Barber Sport Surfaces Ltd
P.O Box 3091, Markham,ON

Janet Rosenberg
Janet Rosenberg + Associates
148 Kenwood Avenue
Toronto, ON M6C 2S3

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