Tennis participation in the U.S. continues to grow, although not by the leaps and bounds the sport experienced in the 1970s and ’80s during the “tennis boom” when everyone was donning tennis wear and pom-pom socks as a fashion statement – despite never having set foot on a court.
The more accurate and measurable data these days can be found in the latest figures from the Physical Activity Council, which show that participation from 2015 to 2016 increased slightly less than one percent, to a total of 18.08 million players.
Among the bright spots is youth tennis, which increased 7.2 percent for ages six to 12, in large part because of increased efforts by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) and the tennis industry overall. This bodes well for tournament operators, as tennis organizations continue to increase the number of events it offers, especially for youngsters. When looking to place a tennis event, consider these premier locations.
The City of Beaumont’s recently expanded Municipal Tennis Center offers a total of 24 lighted tennis courts (four of them covered). Part of the Beaumont Athletic Complex, the Tennis Center includes a new 4,500-square-foot clubhouse with a pro shop, lounge, locker rooms, restrooms and large covered porch. The Center hosts numerous tennis tournaments, from city championships to USTA Pro Future events.
“It helps that we have the covered courts,” says Beaumont CVB Director of Sales Freddie Willard. “Sometimes, that’s a deciding factor in whether a tournament will locate here. It helps guarantee that we’ll be able to play the championship even if the weather doesn’t cooperate.”
Beaumont benefits from strong local support for tennis. “I can’t say enough about how instrumental our local tennis organization, the Southeast Texas Tennis Association, has been,” Willard adds. “Four years ago, they really rallied and went before the city council to expand the Municipal Tennis Center from 16 to 24 courts. They saw the need to grow, and the additional courts have really opened things up for us, allowing us to host more USTA-sanctioned events. Plus, when events come to town, the association is always ready with volunteers, welcome receptions for players and more.”
This past September, for the second straight year, the facility played host to the USTA 55-and-Over Mixed Doubles State Tournament, which brought in nearly 1,000 players. In addition, the municipal facility has picked up USTA Junior Team Tennis tournaments, with hundreds of junior players hitting the courts. The CVB also works with Lamar University, which has 16 courts, including a stadium court.
Cayce/West Columbia, South Carolina
The Cayce and West Columbia area has two major, excellent tennis facilities just a few miles from each other: the 21-court Lexington County Tennis Complex and the 30-court Cayce Tennis & Fitness Center. Both facilities are lighted and both have stadium courts.
The two facilities fall under the excellent leadership of Director of Operations Jorge Andrew, a former Venezuelan Davis Cup and professional player who is a Master Professional with both the Professional Tennis Registry and the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. In 2016, Andrew was honored with the prestigious Tennis Educational Merit Award, presented by the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“Jorge has been integral in bringing tennis events to this area,” says John Banks, with the Greater Cayce-West Columbia Chamber of Commerce. The facilities have hosted some of the largest events in the country, including the Big East College Tournament, Southeast Regional events, and USTA tournaments of all sizes.
“The tennis community here is huge,” notes Banks. “There is a large adult tennis population, and they really help out in running and volunteering for events in the area.”
The Cayce Tennis & Fitness Center is steps away from the seven-mile Riverwalk Park and right across the street from a new Marriott hotel. Both facilities also are just a few miles from downtown Columbia.
Des Moines, Iowa
“Tennis is a unique sport for us,” says Ryan Vogt, the national sales manager for Catch Des Moines. “We have great facilities in town, and have very passionate local tennis leaders.”
One of the top facilities is the Roger Knapp Tennis Center at Drake University, which has six indoor and six outdoor cushioned hard courts, team locker rooms and meeting rooms. The facility has hosted the Missouri Valley Conference Championships as well as the NCAA Regional and Rolex Tournament.
The Prairie Ridge Sports Complex, just 10 miles north of downtown Des Moines in the suburb of Ankeny, is the largest youth sports facility in the state, and it has 16 outdoor hard courts, with concessions, restrooms and plenty of parking. “We hold some of our high school state championships at Prairie Ridge,” Vogt says. “The courts are new, nice and well-maintained year-round by a full-time staff. Plus, it’s a nice central location.”
Birdland Park in Des Moines has 12 lighted hard courts, in addition to smaller courts for beginners and youth players, and Waveland Park also offers 12 courts. The premier indoor court facility is the Aspen Athletic Club in Des Moines, which has 12 indoor courts — the most in central Iowa. “It gets used heavily in the cold months,” Vogt notes. “We have a lot of USTA-sanctioned events there.”
Greensboro, North Carolina
In Greensboro, local tennis advocates have launched a $5 million capital campaign to fully modernize and expand the Spencer Love Tennis Center, located at Jaycee Park in the heart of the Battleground Parks District. Once complete, the renovation and expansion project will almost double the court space, making the facility an even more attractive location for large tournaments. Currently the Spencer Love facility, operated by Greensboro Parks & Rec, offers 13 lighted, outdoor clay courts, along with locker rooms and concessions.
The expansion and renovation is a public/private partnership between the City of Greensboro and the private sector. Local tennis advocates, including capital campaign chairpersons Garson and Cathy Rice, are working closely with the City and Parks & Rec to ensure that tennis remains a vibrant part of the city and enhances the quality of life in Greensboro.
“The additional courts will really open doors to be considered for even more regional and national championships,” says Brian Ambuehl, the sports sales manager for Visit Greensboro. Also available are eight hard courts at each of three area colleges.
The capital of Washington state, Olympia is at the southern end of Puget Sound in Thurston County, which boasts 55 tennis courts. “Most of our courts are at area high schools, so we have different ‘pods’ of courts that work very well together,” says Jeff Bowe, the director of sales for Experience Olympia & Beyond.
Recently, Olympia hosted the USTA Sectional Championship for 55 and over, working in conjunction with its neighbor, Pierce County. “We’re very nimble and proactive in regards to tournaments and using our facilities,” Bowe notes.
The area has about 2,500 hotel rooms, and for the USTA event, the CVB helped secure room blocks for athletes and spectators. “The hospitality aspect of bringing in these events is a very important piece,” Bowe says. “Because we’re a smaller destination, the feedback we get is that we’re very easy to work with, so we can help them put together all the elements for their event with ease.”
Olympia is easy to get to and convenient to the entire state, being right off I-5, which is the major thoroughfare between Seattle and Portland. It’s also an hour from the SeaTac airport.
When it comes to tennis, no place in the country has the storied history and connection to the game that Rhode Island has. The town of Newport is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, with beautiful grounds and buildings designed by renowned architect Stanford White. In 1881 (just eight years after the sport was invented), the venue was the home of the first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships — what is now called the US Open and played in New York. Over the years, the greatest champions in tennis played on the grass courts there.
And those grass courts are available for all sorts of tournaments and events. In September, the Hall of Fame Intercollegiate Tennis Association Grass Court Invitational takes place, bringing in the top college tennis players and eight top NCAA Division 1 teams, for three days. There also are many USTA regional and national grass-court events there. (The Hall of Fame also has two outdoor hard courts and three indoor hard courts.) Of course, tennis players and fans can’t miss touring the extensive Hall of Fame Museum.
The Ocean State also offers the newly renovated eight courts at Brown University in Providence. “Brown is a great partner of ours,” says John Gibbons, the executive director of the Rhode Island Sports Commission. “They’re always generous about opening up their facilities for different tournaments.
The premier facility in Stockton is the new Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center at the University of the Pacific. The facility opened in March 2016, with 12 outdoor hard courts. A new 4,300-square-foot clubhouse was completed this past September, offering team rooms, lockers, athletic training room and office space. The clubhouse also contains concessions/restaurant area, sponsored by Valley Brew, including a bar area for special events.
“The Zimmerman facility is terrific,” says Tim Pasisz, the director of sports & tourism development for Visit Stockton. “There’s an elevated central spine, with six courts on each side, so spectators can easily move around and clearly view the action on all courts. We’ll be adding lights to the courts in the next few months, too.” Events can be live-streamed, and the large LED video board on the championship court can show live scoring on all courts or show the action.
Home to the Pacific Tigers men’s and women’s tennis programs, the Zimmerman facility also now is home to the USTA Stockton Challenger, a men’s pro event that takes place in September. The facility also is hosting a number of USTA events, including several 10-and-under Junior Team Tennis tournaments, along with Intercollege Tennis Association regional championships.
Also in Stockton is the Oak Park Tennis Center, with 11 lighted hard courts, and other facilities each offering three or four courts. Importantly, says Pasisz, there is huge support for tennis in the community. “The Stockton Tennis Club is eager to help with volunteers and staffing for events,” he adds.
“Tennis is one of our big sports here, because we have such great facilities,” says Will Phipps, the executive director and president of the Greater Waco Sports Commission. “Our two premier facilities here are the city-owned Waco Regional Tennis & Fitness Center and the Hurd Tennis Center on the campus of Baylor University.”
The Regional Tennis & Fitness Center has 19 outdoor, lighted hard courts, including a stadium court with seating for 1,000 spectators, locker rooms, clubhouse and pro shop. The facility has played host to a number of tournaments and events for players of all ages and levels, including women’s Junior College National Championships, along with high school regional tournaments.
The 12 outdoor courts of the Hurd Tennis Center, together with Baylor’s six courts in the Jim & Nell Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center, provide a state-of-the-art venue that, in 2015, was ranked No. 1 of all college tennis facilities by Tennis Magazine. The venue hosts NCAA national championship-level events, including Division 1 championships, along with some professional events.
Besides the Baylor courts and the Waco Regional Tennis & Fitness Center, there are plenty of other courts to satisfy players. “The Waco Tennis Association is very strong, with lots of kids and adults playing here,” Phipps adds, “so there is plenty of support for tennis events coming into this area.” SDM