Anyone who's played tennis at the Boyle Park courts knows that the only good thing about the cracked courts, slippery surfaces and bad lighting is being able to play them to your advantage.
"If you hit a crack (with the ball), you win the point," joked Mill Valley resident Larry Smith, captain of a 5.0 tennis team at Boyle Park. "But you can also trip over that same crack."
The park's five courts have seen a lot of action since they were built in the 1930s. They host league and tournament events year round, as well as classes for adults and summer camps for kids, all taught by teachers certified by the United States Professional Tennis Association.
All that play has left its mark. Bad drainage, for example, has resulted in a six-to-seven-inch disparity between the net and the baseline.
"It's one thing if you're plopping the ball around," Smith said. "But if you're playing a high-level game, you don't want to play it."
What's surprising, however, is that there are no plans to fix them. But that's not due to any lack of trying.
Smith is part of the Boyle Park Renovation project, a group of residents working to raise funds to renovate the park's five courts. So far, they've raised more than $26,000. But that's just a drop in the bucket toward the $250,000 that's needed to do the job right.
Everyone is hoping the city will step in and help, but like local governments all over the country, the city's budget belt is strapped on tight. In its latest round of budget talks in June, the City Council approved a budget plan that called for a wide range of parks and recreation cuts.
"I would love to have them redone, and it's a very expensive task because we're talking about completely tearing them out and doing the drainage and the lighting and the whole thing," said Christine Sansom, director of Mill Valley's Parks and Recreation Department.
In good years, Mill Valley usually secures between $2 million to $3 million citywide for capital improvement projects. This year, the pot has dwindled to about $600,000, Sansom said.
"It's unfortunate," she added. "I'm sorry that the courts are they way they are, and I hope we have funding in the future."
So, for now, the fundraising ball is back in the renovation group's court. Garnering momentum and financial backing, however, has been difficult.
An attempt to host a black-tie fundraising event in July failed due to escalating costs and lack of interest. And while the group continues to pursue other fundraising options, they still have a long way to go.
"Tennis, in terms of a spectator sport, doesn't get a whole lot of support," said Smith. "Fifteen years ago, Boyle Park used to be the place. It was Mecca for some of the top tennis pros."
These days, players tend to prefer the nicer amenities (and better courts) at the local private tennis clubs like the Harbor Point Tennis & Swim Club, which hosted the eSurance Tennis Classic last weekend. Even Smith has acquiesced; he's a member of the nearby Mill Valley Tennis Club.
Still, Smith says the tennis courts are worth saving, especially since it only costs $2 a day to play.
"They're the only courts around that kids don't get kicked off of," said Smith, adding that this is common practice when courts are full at private clubs.
For more information on the fundraising efforts of the Boyle Park Renovation group and ways to donate, visit Boyle Park Renovation.