In Sept. 1995, a Bettendorf resident ordered 44 tons of crushed green stone to his home off Crow Creek Road. The final product: a green clay, or Har-Tru, tennis court in Billy Moylan's backyard.
“I told my wife it was for the kids,” Moylan said. “She saw right through that immediately.”
Deirdre Moylan, Bill’s wife, said their three children had nothing to do with it.
“It’s Bill’s toy,” she said. “We never offered them (their children) a pool, but they would’ve picked that.”
The $22,000 “toy” stimulates the style of tennis played at the French Open, also known as Roland Garros, in Paris. Just a few differences separate the court's surface in Moylan's backyard from the Paris courts, which are composed of a red, dirt-like material.
Tucked inside a cul-de-sac, the court remains invisible from the road, and backs up to 30 acres of pasture owned by Moylan’s neighbor.
Moylan said he found his inspiration while vacationing in Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Har-Tru green clay courts are common.
Moylan originally assumed maintaining a clay court in Iowa would not be feasible, but he soon learned that harsh winters actually could improve the court’s longevity.
Dan Treiber, owner of Marion-based Tennis Services of Iowa, helps maintain Moylan’s court.
“The freeze-thaw cycle loosens the court up,” Treiber said. “Over winter they freeze, they loosen up a bit, and are good for several months without being too hard.”
Treiber, who estimated his company services 20 clay courts each spring throughout the Midwest, said he has built and maintained about half a dozen Har-Tru courts at private residences in Iowa. To build a court today would cost more than double the price of Moylan's court construction in 1995, he added.
“The court should last forever,” Treiber said. “There’s really nothing to get old on them because it’s just crushed rock. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t be there with a bit of maintenance.”
Once every three years, Treiber trucks 4.5 tons of the crushed Har-Tru material to Moylan’s backyard and helps unload the clay for the summer season.
The $2,000 package provides Bill with clay for three seasons, which usually runs until the second week of November, Moylan said.
Tennis Services of Iowa delivered the material April 11. After rolling over the clay with his John Deere riding mower and spreading machine and irrigating his court on and off over the weekend, Moylan invited a dozen of his usual sparring partners to his house the following Wednesday to help him nail down the court’s white lines, an annual event.
“They wouldn’t like me unless I had this court,” Moylan said.
Moylan, 67, a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual and a constant jokester, said his knees are both three-and-a-half years old after having a bi-lateral knee replacement in 2010.
“I love this that much,” he said.
The softer, clay court is known to put less pressure on players’ joints.
With the court watered and almost ready for match play, Moylan’s group installed the court’s lines in just over an hour after hammering in about 2,400 nails.
“I heard this was a party, but I found out I had to work,” said Roger Crossley, a French professor at Augustana College and Moylan’s longtime friend.
During the court’s prime season, Moylan sends out a mass email to more than 50 players on Monday morning with available times to play. Depending on who messages him back, Moylan arranges matches between similar skilled players.
Jeff Hargrave, who helped spread and sweep the clay upon delivery and also hammered in a few nails, said his buddy Bill is a professional host.
“You can’t beat this spot,” said Hargrave, who used to play against Moylan in tournaments. “As you get older, you want to enjoy time with your friends because we don’t know how long everyone will be around.”
Competitors of legal age at Moylan’s court almost always enjoy post-match refreshments.
“Beer is a huge part of it,” Hargrave added.
Glenn Pelecky, a former Bettendorf resident who recently moved to Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., returned to the Quad-Cities to help ring in another season for his former doubles partner’s backyard sanctuary.
“Only one thing better than having a clay court is having a friend that has one,” Pelecky said.
As soon as the court was ready for action, the winds started to pick up and overcast skies blocked sunshine from hitting the court.
Sporting sweatpants and sweater vests, the group, all older than 50, grabbed their rackets and took turns sliding to shots on the fresh surface.
“We’ve played in rain, hail and snow, so this won’t be so bad,” Pelecky said. “Want to play, Bill? I’ll let you.”
Moylan’s face lit up as soon as he struck his first forehand groundstroke from the court’s baseline.
“I might not even go inside tonight,” he said. “I might sleep out here.”
Moylan, who formerly volunteered as an assistant coach at Pleasant Valley High School when both of his sons played there in the 1990s, said he plans to play for the rest of his life.
“When I can’t play tennis anymore, I couldn’t stand to look out here,” he said. “That’s when we’ll move.”