DULUTH — The Bulldogs hit some rare earth on Wednesday as the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s tennis team closed out its fall season practicing on the natural clay court at the Glensheen Mansion.
It’s one of two remaining natural red clay courts left in the state, according to UMD, and a major restoration a few years back returned it to playing condition.
“It’s cool to watch people actually play tennis on this,” said Glensheen director Dan Hartman.
Aside from a few private events, Wednesday’s practice was the first major use of the courts, but likely not the last.
“We’ll probably have more practices and more events,” Hartman said, teasing the possibility of hosting a tournament or even setting up a club for regular users.
The university-owned mansion and its tennis court was built for the Congdon family in the early 1900s just as synthetic clay was invented, Hartman said. Though it is a forgiving surface that can help prevent injury, the labor-intensive maintenance involved and the length of time it takes to dry out clay after rain meant many natural courts quickly faded away.
“They are exceedingly rare in the world today,” Hartman said.
The chance for college athletes to play on it, then, couldn’t be missed.
“It was the first time for many of our players to actually be able to hit on clay,” coach Jessica Worden said. “It was a real honor.”