Out of nearly 120 sports and activities surveyed recently by the Physical Activity Council (PAC), the sport of tennis turned up as the only traditional participation sport to be ranked in the Top 10 in terms of participant growth last year. That’s very good news for a sport that, since the 1970s, has bounced between boom times and lean times, even at one point being labeled a ‘dying’ sport by none other than Sports Illustrated. Ouch.
In recent years, however, tennis has been on a high, in part because it’s one of the few sports that can be played from the earliest ages to the latest. Participation figures show that in the U.S., close to 18 million people of all ages play the sport, an increase of four percent from the year before. One of the most important measures of tennis activity is the number of “frequent players” (those who play at least 21 times a year), which is also up four percent from a year ago, according to Jolyn de Boer, the executive director of the Tennis Industry Association (TIA).
“The majority of sports and activities on the PAC Top 10 list are fitness-based, such as walking, running, swimming and bicycling,” says Greg Mason, the president of the TIA. “Tennis fits nicely into the fitness arena, as more and more people continue to realize the great workout they can get on the tennis court, while still having a lot of fun.”
The desire to play tennis – and to continue to play – has created a demand for competitive events. Of course, if there is one thing tennis has in abundance, it’s tournaments for the millions of athletes, including the very youngest, who are playing a special downsized version of the game. That abundance of tournament options has also helped foster top-notch tennis facilities throughout the country that make players and fans – not to mention organizers – feel like winners.
Clemson, South Carolina
The city of Clemson, South Carolina, has two main tennis facilities that are used for tournaments. Clemson University is home to the 25-court Hoke Sloan Tennis Center, with 21 outdoor, lighted hard courts and four indoor courts, as well as outdoor seating for 700 spectators and indoor seating for 250. But Clemson’s varsity tennis program isn’t the only entity to benefit from this facility, nor from other nearby courts. Nettles Park, operated by the city, features seven lighted courts along with seating for spectators at a two-level facility.
For the last two decades, the city and Clemson University (along with the courts at Minor Herndon Mickel Tennis Center at Furman University, about a half-hour away) have hosted the four-day USTA Junior Southern Level 1A Tournament each spring, a prestigious event that brings in 256 of the best 15- to 18-year-old boys and girls of the nine-state USTA Southern Section.
“A primary goal of this event is not just to give top tennis athletes an opportunity to compete, but also to expose them to college life,” says Austin Canfield of the Clemson Area Chamber of Commerce. “Because this is such a valued aspect of this tournament, Clemson is looking to expand its offerings in tennis to give more student-athletes this experience. Tennis facility expansion has been entertained by both the city and Clemson University as part of an effort to grow sports tourism.”
Florence, South Carolina
Tennis is flourishing in Florence, South Carolina. This city of 30,000 residents owns and operates a total of 50 courts. “Florence is a tennis town, and becoming more so,” says Darlene Buchanan, the city’s recreation manager. The flagship facility is the 30-court Dr. Eddie Floyd Florence Tennis Center. The venue, which opened in 2011, features a total of 24 hard courts and six subsurface-irrigated Har-Tru courts.
Recently, the tennis center was named the 2014 USTA South Carolina Member Facility of the Year, awarded to an exceptional facility that supports the growth of tennis through its programs, tournaments, leagues and community involvement. The Florence facility was designed to host large tournaments, and it has a top-notch staff, under the guidance of Rob Hill, the city’s director of tennis. “We also partner with a great local tennis association, which does a great job of helping us reach out to the community and players,” Hill says.
The Florence Tennis Center hosted a wide range of tournaments in 2014, including state and college events—many bringing in hundreds of players. In early October, it hosted the Wells Fargo Greater Florence Tennis Championships, a unique tourney that includes both adult and junior divisions. Later in the month, it hosted the McLeod for Health Florence Open, the area’s only professional tennis tournament.
“There’s no better place than Arizona to play tennis all year round,” says Lorraine Pino, manager of the Glendale CVB. “Throughout our parks and rec system, we have nearly a dozen parks that feature tennis facilities, so there are plenty of opportunities for residents and visitor to enjoy the sport. But in addition, we have a gem of a racquet complex—the Paseo Racquet Center and Park.” Paseo Racquet Center is an award-winning world-class public facility that is privately managed and offers 19 courts with lights, a pro shop and much more, and plays host to numerous leagues and tournaments.
Just to the west of Glendale is the internationally recognized Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex, winner of the 2008 Municipal Facility of the Year from Tennis Industry magazine. The complex has 25 courts (17 with lights) and hosts a large number of tournaments every year, attracting juniors, adults and world-class players. It also boasts racquetball courts.
Tennis in Oakland brings with it a lot of history. “We have a very beautiful and historic tennis facility here,” says Marc Weinstein, the city’s director of tennis. “The Davie Tennis Stadium is located in an old quarry and was built as a public works project in the late 1920s. It has a beautiful historic building.” Davie has five courts, but close at hand are six additional courts at the Piedmont Recreation Center and four courts at the Montclair Recreation Center. For tournaments, says Weinstein, all or some of the courts may be pressed into service.
Davie recently received more than $100,000 in upgrades, including new locker rooms, prior to hosting the 2014 National Public Parks Tennis Championships in August. It was the first time the 88-year-old tournament was played in Northern California, and with nearly 500 participants, it was the largest USTA-sanctioned tourney in the USTA Northern California Section.
Oakland also is home to the historic, distinctive Claremont Resort, which has 10 courts (six with lights) and hosts many USTA tournaments. The facility has won many honors, including the USTA Northern California Member Organization of the Year.
Coming soon to Rome will be the state-of-the-art Tennis Center of Georgia, which will be one of the world’s largest tennis facilities with more than 70 courts, including six stadium-style courts and 12 smaller courts for youth tennis. The site will also include a clubhouse, café, meeting and event space, pavilions and more.
“Tennis has had a place in sports history in Rome for over three decades,” says Lisa J. Smith, executive director of the Greater Rome CVB. “The Tennis Center of Georgia at Berry College will be a game-changer for Floyd County and the state. This new center will allow the CVB and partners to diversify their bids and broaden their tournament attractiveness.”
“Excitement in the sports community is building right along with the Tennis Center of Georgia,” adds Ann Hortman, director of the Rome Sports Commission. “We are already working with several event rights holders about the center—and diversifying our outreach to include adaptive tennis and wheelchair tennis.”
Virginia Beach, Virginia
The Virginia Beach Tennis and Country Club is one of the most prestigious tennis clubs in the country, with 30 outdoor courts (27 clay, three hard, 18 lighted) and 10 indoor hard courts. The VBTCC, which has held many repeating events, including some that have taken place for 25 years, also has a health club and fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment, on-site child care, pro shop, wi-fi and two dining options. “It’s an incredible facility that has won numerous awards,” including 2013 USTA Outstanding Tennis Facility honors, says Nancy Helman, director of sports marketing for Visit Virginia Beach. The area also is home to the 14-court Owl Creek Municipal Tennis Center.
“The tennis market is very strong in Virginia Beach,” Helman says. “There’s definitely a great base of community support for the sport here. And the area is such a popular destination—it’s the right combination of perfect competition venue and family vacation venue.”
Walnut Creek, California
Walnut Creek caters to its active tennis community by offering a number of facilities suitable for running tennis events and tournaments. The largest is the Walnut Creek Tennis Center at Heather Farm Park, which is a 10-court facility with lights, and is managed and run by Lifetime Tennis.
“The Walnut Creek Tennis Center is a public facility with a country club feel,” says Joe Noth, director of tennis for Lifetime Tennis. In addition to the courts at WCTC, the area also has 10 courts available at Northgate High School, six at Rudgear Park, and four at Larkey Park. “With these outlying facilities, it would be easy for us to run events and tournaments,” Noth adds.
“I would characterize our local tennis group as robust,” says Jay Hoyer, president and CEO of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. “Our CVB is very enthusiastic about helping tournaments.”
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The tennis story in Winston-Salem starts with the Winston-Salem Open, played in August on the 13 lighted hard courts at the Wake Forest University Tennis Complex. This US Open Series event draws world-class players such as John Isner, Tommy Robredo, Sam Querry and many more, as they tune up their games to play the US Open the following week.
At other times of the year, the Wake Forest complex is home to a host of local, state and regional tournaments, in addition to college matches. “We have the same cushioned surface here as at the US Open, and the courts are resurfaced every year,” says Bill Oakes, Wake Forest’s associate athletic director and the tournament director for the Winston-Salem Open. Wake Forest also has eight indoor courts.
Including the courts at Wake Forest, Forsyth County boasts 233 courts, including 10 at Tanglewood Park Tennis Center, nine at the Smith Tennis Center and nine at Salem College. The tennis-friendly community owes its passion for the game to a woman named Mildred Southern, who in the 1960s started a youth tennis program that continues to produce active and passionate players.
Investing in the Future of the Sport
While outstanding tennis facilities abound across the United States, others are in the works. In Orlando, Florida’s Lake Nona area, the USTA is planning a facility it has dubbed “the New Home for American Tennis,” a $60 million complex with 100 courts, which is expected to be the largest tennis center in the country.
The complex, announced in May 2014, has been designed to house the USTA’s Community Tennis and Player Development divisions, and will be divided into dedicated areas that will focus on the complete tennis pathway – from the youngest players, to recreational players, to collegians, to future professional players, as well as to professional tour-level players. The target completion date is the fourth quarter of 2016.