Back on Serve
1 Nov, 2019By: Judy Leand
New and Expanded Tennis Facilities are Attracting Diverse Events
Over the past few years, participation in tennis has been what can best be described as stable, but things are looking up. In 2018, the U.S. had a slight participation increase of 0.9 percent over the prior year, according to the Tennis Industry Association. There were also 2.05 million new players in 2018, up 1.8 percent from 2016. This is positive news for the sport and for destinations that want to attract more players and events.
The glimmer of optimism surrounding the future of tennis is helping to spur growth and development (as well as the expansion) of major, state-of-the-art venues across the country. The upshot is that these modern tennis complexes are magnets for a wide range of events and as a result, tournaments and league play for all ages and ability levels are flourishing.
Because many venues host both tennis and pickleball events, planners should be sure to check out the adjacent article on pickleball for even more ideas for tennis locations. Here are six tennis destinations that are on the forefront.
When it comes to tennis in Arlington, it’s all about the Arlington Tennis Center, a city-owned facility located just 20 minutes from DFW International Airport and in close proximity to 6,000 hotel rooms, a wealth of dining options and a variety of cultural attractions. The 13-acre property is open seven days a week and boasts 22 lighted outdoor hard courts with gazebos, plus a 4,000-square-foot pro shop and a 2,000-square-foot covered patio for parties and social events.
The facility handles USTA league play, and 50 USTA teams call the venue home. In 2018, the center received 102,000 visitors and hosted 48 events including USTA adult and junior tournaments, college tournaments, and regional and state high school competitions. It also welcomes three to four USTA junior training camps annually. This past July, the venue hosted the USTA Zonals for the 14-year-old bracket which drew players from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Fun social celebrations such as Australian Open and Wimbledon watch parties were also part of the event mix.
The Arlington Tennis Center was built in 1995 and the city is dedicated to its upkeep, regularly tending to the landscaping and resurfacing five courts per year on a rotating basis. Going forward, the facility is looking to attract more UTR events and wants to develop more college matches and events.
In addition to its tennis facilities, Arlington will soon have three world-class venues adjacent to each other: AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Park and Globe Life Field. “We are undergoing a growth revitalization of Arlington right now,” says Matt Wilson, Vice President of Sports & Events for the Arlington CVB and Executive Director of the Arlington Sports Commission. “We will soon have three world-class facilities all within walking distance of each other.”
In 2018, the city opened the Conway Tennis Center with eight lighted outdoor hard courts and indoor/outdoor spectator viewing areas. Other amenities include parking, restrooms and a reception area. It is Conway’s first public tennis facility and is managed and maintained by the Conway Parks & Recreation Department.
Here, the Conway Area Tennis Association hosts a variety of club, league, scholastic and regional competitions and events. The biggest tournament on the roster is the USTA-sanctioned Conway Tennis Classic, a men’s and women’s event held in April. “This past tournament drew more than 300 players over three days, primarily from central Arkansas but also from eastern Texas and southern Missouri,” says Rachel Shaw, director of destination marketing for the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau. She adds that the High School 3A Fall Junior Championships were held in October of that year, and the venue hosts smaller, local events, too. USTA-sanctioned tournaments average about 100 players each.
“We offer a USTA apprentice program, a growing junior program, an after-school program, and junior and adult clinics and lessons. Also, the high school is directly across the street from the facility and is home to the tennis team,” Shaw notes. “We want to attract events for all ability levels and age groups and are looking to grow our reach with Play Tennis Fast, [a tennis industry initiative] aimed at beginners and returning adults.”
Shaw points out that the city is very supportive of sports and related facilities and toward this end, a part of the hotel and restaurant tax is earmarked for the Conway Parks & Recreation Department for the purpose of building new venues. “In addition to our phenomenal sports venues, we have 1,500 hotel rooms and 200 restaurants of all types,” she says. “Conway is a young, vibrant city and is easy to navigate, which makes it great for tennis and other sports events.”
Florida’s Sports Coast, Florida
Located in Pasco County, Florida’s Sports Coast is an hour north of Tampa and less than two hours west of Orlando, just above the Gulf of Mexico. It covers 742 miles of rolling hills, coastlines and trails, and offers a rich culture as well as plenty of sports venues and complexes. The key tennis facilities are Saddlebrook Resort and coming in spring 2020, the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center.
Saddlebrook consistently attracts top-notch events with its 43 tennis courts, including all four Grand Slam surfaces, and three lighted courts. The venue also has a fitness center, a tennis pro shop and a performance training facility that serves adult and junior players as well as some of the world’s top-ranked pros.
“Saddlebrook hosts a number of tournaments throughout the year, ranging from local junior matches to ITF/USTA sanctioned Challengers and WTA tournaments,” says Robert Riehle, Director of Media, Saddlebrook Resort. “We’ve hosted four women’s $15K ITFs and one $25K ITF in the past five years. We also hosted the women’s Fed Cup World Group 2017 semifinals between the USA and the Czech Republic.” For young talent there is Saddlebrook Tennis Academy, a full-time boarding and training school for those who seek to turn pro or gain a college scholarship. Each year the Academy enrolls about 100 students representing 30 or so countries, reports Riehle.
Meanwhile, construction continues on the $4.9 million Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center in Zephyrhills. The 7,400-square-foot facility sits on 8.25 acres and when complete will provide 11 lighted outdoor courts—eight clay, two hard and one stadium—built to USTA standards. There will also be eight pickleball courts and four padel courts. An indoor clubhouse will house locker rooms, a restaurant, a pro shop, a kids’ club, and a fitness and rehab center with a sauna, a salt room, cryotherapy, and brain mapping and peak performance services, according to Pascal Collard, owner of Tennis P.R.O., which will manage the facility. A multi-purpose indoor sports complex with four indoor tennis courts and an artificial turf soccer field could possibly be added later.
“We are working with tennis, pickleball and padel promoters and would like to host about 30 national and international events annually for all three sports, plus local and regional competitions,” says Collard. “We’re looking to attract all ages and both genders—this is a community sports center for everybody.”
Tennis is a big deal in Macon, and players will soon be able to take advantage of top-notch facilities at three main venues. The John Drew Center’s 24 courts and Tattnall Square Park’s 12 courts are all scheduled to be upgraded with new surfaces and lighting. The South Bibb Recreation Center will provide 24 brand new courts that will be available for play at the end of 2019, possibly as early as November. All three facilities provide spectator areas, restrooms and parking.
Macon currently hosts more than 12 USTA tournaments per year, including Southern Winter, Icy Hot, Junior Team Tennis and District League Championship. The economic impact spans $50,000 to $500,000 per tournament, totaling millions of dollars annually. “This city has become a tennis destination and we are looking for more tournaments,” says Ann Starley, Group Sales Manager at Visit Macon. “Although our season is year-round, we’d love to have more tournaments in the summer months.”
Most of the players come from Georgia and the Southeast region, but the destination has hosted national-level events, too. “Our tournaments range in size and we’re expanding to add bigger events that take up all 60 courts around Macon,” explains Starley. “We have events with 250 to 2,000 in attendance and room nights can range from 100 to 1,000. With the advent of new courts and the renovation of existing courts, we expect more and bigger tournaments to play in our city.”
Naples, Marco Island, Everglades City, Florida
Florida’s Paradise Coast includes the cities of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City, as well as the greater Naples metro area and the towns of Immokalee and Ave Maria. The destination’s marquee tennis facility is the Sánchez-Casal Tennis Academy (Academia Sánchez-Casal) in Naples, co-founded by former pro players Emilio Sánchez Vicario and Sergio Casal. In addition to its Florida location, the academy operates training facilities in Europe and China.
Sánchez-Casal boasts 38 courts (35 clay and three hard), 13 of which are lighted. Also on the grounds are a state-of-the-art fitness center, an Olympic size pool, a full gym, locker rooms with sauna and steam, and a suite of massage rooms.
“The facility hosts 12 major events annually for all ages and all levels of U.S. tennis,” says Jack Wert, Executive Director of the Naples Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It offers spectator areas, food and beverage concessions, and condos are available for players that are training. Because it’s a full-fledged academy, it also has tutors for schooling.
“The warm climate allows us to host events year-round, and we actively go to sports trade shows to meet with event organizers,” says Wert. “We’re always looking to bring more international players and events to the area.”
The City of Surprise owns and operates the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex, a facility boasting 25 Plexipave hard courts, all equipped with Musco tournament lighting for night play. Eight of the courts have been updated with state-of-the-art LED lighting. The venue also provides a concessions area, two complete locker room facilities, two indoor racquetball courts and a full-service pro shop. A spectator patio with shaded viewing areas overlooks the championship court and the facility, and throughout the complex each bank of courts has ample spectator seating and shade structures. Meeting and event spaces for player parties, events, and tournament staff and officials round out the package.
The venue holds approximately 15 to 20 events annually. “We host numerous adult, senior and junior tennis tournaments on a national scale. This fall, we will host six USTA League National Championships for the 18 and Over, 40 and Over and 55 and Over divisions of USTA League Tennis. We host a USTA National Level 2 Junior Tournament and are the host site for the USTA League 65 and Over National Invitational,” says Guillermo Lucero, City of Surprise Sports & Tourism Manager. The complex is also home to the Surprise Tennis Classic, a USTA Pro Circuit event.
Lucero notes that the city partners with the PacWest Athletic Conference, holding their championships each April, and has also hosted the NCAA Division II National Championships for men’s and women’s tennis on four occasions and will do so again in May 2021.
The key season for tennis events is October through March but tournaments can be played year-round, thanks to Surprise’s 300 days of sunshine per year. “For tennis events we host all age demographics from ages 5 to 80. The ability ranges from beginners to touring professionals,” says Lucero. The tournaments, which are primarily national-level events, attract mostly out-of-state players. “We’re looking to grow both tennis and pickleball tournaments and events with regional and national draws.” SDM