It’s been fifteen years since the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club opened on a farm outside of Charles City. The property had already been in the family for more than 50 years when current owners, Mark and Denise Kuhn, decided to build a grass tennis court here. The idea came from Mark, who had listened to Wimbledon tournaments on a shortwave radio with his grandfather during childhood. He had also played tennis since age ten.
Beyond acres of corn and soybeans, the Kuhns built their court over a fourteen-month period. At the time, fewer than 100 grass courts remained across this country and this remains the only U.S. grass court located on a farm. In addition, the two other ‘Grand Slam’ tournaments – the Australian Open and the French Open – no longer take place on grass.
Designing their own ‘Wimbledon Centre Court’ was one thing but building it required additional expertise. The Iowa State turf management department helped a great deal, as did Mark’s visit to Wimbledon where he spoke extensively with groundskeepers. As a grass court, the lines must be re-drawn every four days.
Following a 2005 invitational tourney for Mark and some tennis playing friends, more than 100 people attended the opening tournament at AILTC. It included a special exhibition match between two of Iowa’s finest tennis players, Nick Barnes and Adam Elliot, with additional matches played by students and alumni from Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
One of Mark’s friends was so impressed with his AILTC experience that he contacted the United States Tennis Association. A story called, ‘Court of Dreams,’ on the Missouri Valley website generated plenty of phone calls. Next, L. Jon Wertheim wrote a piece titled “If you grow it…” for his July 2006 column in Tennis Magazine, My Point. Within the following three months, more than 250 people visited AILTC.
A two-page feature about AILTC appeared in the June 30, 2006 issue of the Des Moines Register, and it was named one of 64 hot U.S. tennis spots on the 'Great American Tennis Road Trip,' in the August 2006 issue of TENNIS magazine. Then, in 2011, AILTC appeared on the Tennis Channel in a story titled “Court of Dreams,” which aired during Wimbledon. Mark’s dream had come full circle.
Since its inception, tennis players have visited from dozens of states and countries. The AILTC hosts many tennis teams too. Today, the Kuhns’ whimsical replica of Wimbledon’s center court features poles waving flags from the U.S., Iowa, England, and AILTC, as well as a tall referee chair with a detachable umbrella. Another umbrella shields a court-side bench, and a low fence encircles the court. Even the vegetation mirrors AILTC’s bright purple and green color scheme. The couple planted a small strawberry patch too, so they can make Wimbledon’s signature strawberries and cream.
If you’d like to visit – or play on – this unusual grass court free of charge, contact the Kuhns at Visit@AllIowaLawnTennisClub.com. It’s open from Memorial Day through September, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., by appointment (the court is not available during routine maintenance).
Image credit: Lisa Waterman Gray