The year is 1987. Ronald Reagan is president and country club tennis is flourishing on the South Shore of Long Island. American tennis players, such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert and Tracy Austin, solidify tennis as part of the American landscape. South Shore golf and tennis country clubs, Inwood, Seawane, Woodmere and Middle Bay, have bustling programs. South Shore tennis clubs, Lawrence and Atlantic Beach have overflow capacity and full tennis courts throughout the day. Charity tournaments, such as the United Fund & South Shore Sweethearts, see bustling draws. The United Fund is so popular that each of the country clubs mentioned above send teams to compete in 16 flights with Lawrence and Atlantic Beach having so many players they need club elimination matches in order to qualify to compete. North Shore golf and tennis clubs, such as Engineers and Old Westbury, and North Shore tennis clubs, such as Shelter Rock and Piquets Lane have full memberships.
During the 1990s and the early part of this decade, the economic downturn saw many of these same golf and tennis clubs neglect their tennis memberships in order to attract higher paying golf members. Country clubs who viewed aging tennis members as breeding grounds for future higher paying golf members saw the younger generation of members bypassing tennis memberships and joining directly as golf members with the emergence of players such as Tiger Woods. The younger generation of tennis members opting away from country clubs in order to play at more economical alternatives, such as public parks and USTA leagues.
Field Maloney, in an article in Slate Magazine, compared golf and tennis by stating:
"There's a Cain and Abel element at play here. Golf and tennis are essentially sibling rivals, both raised in white polo shots, one wielding a nine-iron, the other a wooden racquet, who, during the leisure boom after World War II, left their stuffy country club to seek fame and fortune on a larger scale.”
As the summer of 2010 approaches, the tennis programs at some of these clubs have become almost non-existent, especially the golf and tennis clubs on the south shore of Long Island. However, a few of these clubs who neglected their tennis program in favor of golf have reversed the course in order to re-attract tennis memberships. One of these South Shore golf and tennis clubs is Inwood Country Club, which also has a Beach Club located on the Atlantic Ocean in Atlantic Beach. David Miller, who is the tennis chairman at Inwood stated, "Inwood did a cost analysis by comparing the spending patterns of both golf and tennis players. The board was surprised to learn that tennis members, as a group, spent more of their entertainment dollars at Inwood than many of the golfers." Miller went on to state that, "Percentage-wise, tennis players were more likely to participate in dinners and utilize the Beach Club by renting cabanas. Whereas in the past, the board made efforts to attract tennis members back to Inwood. Two years ago, the board aggressively made an effort to reconnect with tennis players. Instead of targeting anyone to join as tennis members, whether they played or not, we made a conscious effort to attract tennis players. Inwood's board lowered the introductory Tennis family membership to $4,200 a year for the first two years, which included a half-share of a locker at the beach and offered limited golf to its tennis members. In addition, we hired a new tennis pro that everyone respected, David Brent, and started women's and kid's clinics. The club also budgeted extra money to the tennis courts so they would rival any tennis club on Long Island."
Miller when on to state that Inwood's efforts have created a healthy tennis program.
"In the past two years, we have dramatically increased our tennis membership. More importantly, many of the members who have joined have 4.5 and 4.0 USTA Ratings, which has allowed us to create a travel team in the North Shore Country Club Leagues. It's nice again to see all of the tennis courts used on the weekends with pickup games and clinics."
One of the strongest tennis clubs on the North Shore, Shelter Rock Tennis Club in Manhasset, has also changed with the times to attract new members. More than 200 families strong, Shelter Rock is a year-round facility with indoor courts in the winter, card rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a dining facility open 10 months of the year. Lee Raisfeld, president of Shelter Rock stated that, "For the first time, Shelter Rock is now offering single memberships along with their family memberships. In addition, we made our food requirements and dress codes more user-friendly to attract some younger members.”
Engineers Country Club, located in Roslyn Harbor, is one of the most family-friendly country clubs on the North Shore. Justin Fries, membership chairman, stated that “Engineers came up with a step-up trial program four to five years ago to introduce tennis members to the club experience and the club life. By introducing gradual dues increases, the program attracted a number of young families who came to Engineers, enjoyed what we had to offer and allowed us to build a strong program. The program has not only been successful with the men, but with our ladies tennis program as well. Tennis members at Engineers enjoy all of the amenities of a country club in that they have full use of the clubhouse, dining facility, pool area with water slides, tennis clinics and limited golf.”
While some country club tennis programs continue to suffer today due to the current environment, it seems that the clubs which have taken the initiative to grow their memberships have been successful. Clubs that have recognized their demographics and have increased their services have both retained and grown members. Country club tennis is, in fact, alive and well on Long Island.
<p>Jonathan Klee is a partner at the Law Firm of Klee & Woolf LLP. He is the Long Island representative on the Eastern Grievance Committee, and currently serves as chair. He has played in league tennis since 2000, and has captained and played on many teams on Long Island. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.</p>