Rich Nicoletti at Red Bank’s clay courts, which remain out of commission seven months after Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)


Rich Nicoletti first hit Red Bank’s clay tennis courts in 1955. A few years later, he became assistant to the facility’s tennis pro. In 1990, he was named pro, a title he holds to this day.

“It’s safe to say I easily spent a quarter of my life down here,” Nicoletti said recently, standing on the red clay surface in Marine Park. Rarely, though, has he seen the courts as ravaged as they were by the churning waters of the Navesink River, just feet away, during Hurricane Sandy.

The courts, he said, “were just completely dug up” by the roiling river.

The four clay courts, run by the Red Bank Clay Courts Tennis Association, were built by the borough in 1941, before “hard” courts became the standard, according to Nicoletti,

“In those days, clay was the game,” he said. “Either that or grass. They both require a lot of maintenance, and [town officials] went with clay.”

Nicoletti says that while he has to resurface the court every year spring, Hurricane Sandy completely devastated the courts, as well as the maintenance shack and pro shop on the property. Nicoletti attributes much of the damage to wind and violent surges of water that literally dug up the court down to the stone foundation in some parts.

“They require a lot of daily maintenance, but we also have to kind of redo them every year, clear them out and lay down new clay,” he said. “But this year, they were completely dug up from the hurricane. We simply can’t do [the repairs] by ourselves.”

Nicoletti estimated that the total costs of repairing the courts will be around $36,000.

“It’s going to take five or six professionals to come in here, with all the proper equipment that we frankly don’t have,” Nicoletti said, “It’s going to take about 60 tons of clay to cover the four courts, believe it or not,” he added.

Luckily for Nicoletti and tennis enthusiasts, the borough has enlisted the help of FEMA in restoring them. The only problem is no one knows when the help will arrive.

“We could see something in three weeks, or it could be three months, we really don’t know,” Nicoletti said. “Obviously FEMA has a lot of other priorities at the moment, so we just have to wait and see.”

Despite the costs, Nicoletti said he believes the courts are important to Red Bank.

“They really are beautiful courts, in a gorgeous park. It’s a just a great setting,” he said. “Clay courts are really rare, and they can actually help older people play the game. They are a lot easier on the knees and joints than hard courts.”

“We know we’ll be back eventually,” he added, while locking up the courts he has spent so much of his life on. “It’s amazing they look like they do right now, but they’ll get fixed up, and be better than ever.”