It would be understandable if Bayside, Queens, native and ETA legend Butch Seewagen were content to rest on his laurels instead of launching Long Island’s first pro team competition. After all, the 63-year-old Seewagen, who has been director of tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club in East Norwich, N.Y. for the past seven years, has so many credits to his name, both in local circles and on the pro tour, that he could be forgiven if he choose to relax a little.
But, instead, Seewagen has created the Long Island Professional Tennis League (LIPTL), which will run from June 18-Aug. 6. It will feature four teams representing Long Island country clubs, each playing six matches.
Seewagen said he was inspired by the German team event known as the Bundesliga. He ran a prototype of the program last year, and with increased sponsorship contributions from area companies, Seewagen is planning for his team event to become an integral part of Long Island’s summer sport calendar.
Possibly, Seewagen gets some of his energy from his father, the late George Seewagen, who was a well-known player, coach and administrator in the pre-Open era. The elder Seewagen was an all-city baseball player who was drafted by the New York Yankees, before he turned his attention to the sport of tennis. He gave his son a through grounding in the game. Indeed, the club that wins the LIPTL will claim the George Seewagen Cup.
Taking advantage of this legacy, Butch Seewagen himself has piled up a list of achievements in nearly all areas of the game. As a collegiate player, Seewagen was a two-time All-American for Rice University in Texas. He led the team to a berth in the NCAA finals. After graduating in 1968, he won the U.S. Amateur title in 1969. He turned pro a few months later.
For some years after his graduation, he tried to balance playing the pro tour. He rose to 70th in the world and played the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, while also working as a coach. Seewagen scored wins over Jimmy Connors, Stan Smith, Jan Kodes, Brian Gottfried and Brian Teacher during his pro years. He also played for World TeamTennis in the early 1970s as member of the Detroit Loves.
But with the Vietnam War in the background, Seewagen chose the draft deferment that went with full-time coaching. In September 1969, at the age of 22, he became the nation’s youngest college tennis coach when he took over Columbia University’s team, a post he held for ten years.
For two semesters in the early 1970s, he was Vitas Gerulaitis’ coach at the college. Seewagen told Long Island Tennis Magazine that surprisingly Gerulaitis wasn’t always number one on the team. “He was the best player, but he lost to some of the other guys.”
For Gerulaitis the lure of the pro tour was too strong to keep him in school, but his former coach noted that: “Vitas was a bright guy and could have done well in the academic side of college life.”
Some of the “other” guys from the 10 years Seewagen spent at Columbia are no slouches themselves as players and as coaches, including Eric Fromm, Henry Bunis, Rick Fagel, Jon Molin, Kirk Moritz, Bob Binns, Lloyd Emmanuel, and former ATP counsel David Cooper.
After his 10-year tenure at Columbia ended in 1979, Seewagen became director of tennis at the East River Racquet Club in Long Island City, Queens. Another project in 80s that Seewagen was part of was his part-ownership of what was then the tennis world’s main hangout in Manhattan, the Center Court Restaurant, near Lincoln Center.
Long Island Tennis Magazine recently had the opportunity to learn more about Seewagen’s latest project in a conversation in May.
Butch, tell us about the league you’ll be running this summer.
Our goal is to give Long Island tennis fans the chance to watch world class tennis up close and personal. I also wanted to create a venue for all the strong players in the area who have played on the pro tour, but are doing other things now.
What’s the format?
We’ll have a men’s singles, a woman’s singles and a mixed-doubles. Each match will be a six-game, no-add set. The team that wins the most games wins the match. The matches will be played on a center court with seating. The whole event will only take about an hour-and-a-half.
The clubs playing are: The Creek Club, Pine Hollow Country Club, Piping Rock Country Club and North Hills Country Club. There will be a total of nearly $10,000 in prize money and each pro should make a minimum of $100 per match. Our sponsors include Cablevision and U.S. Business Technologies Inc.
Do you see this league filling a void on the Island?
Definitely. If you look at all the events we’ve lost like the Hamlet Cup, there is a need for pro level events on Long Island. Plus, it is a way for us to grow interest in tennis at country clubs where, for some time, golf has dominated the sporting landscape.
My goal is to make the league as rewarding for the fans as I’ve seen that this type of event is in Europe. With a quality of play equal to Challenger Level, minor league pro tennis and the opportunities to do a lot of networking and extend peoples’ business relationships, there are a lot of positive synergies that will grow out of this league.
Who are some of the players we’ll be seeing?
We’ll have some of the top local teaching pros, as well as players who have competed in the Federation Cup and the Davis Cup. Last year, we had the former number one player in Greece.
Thanks for your time, Butch, anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to encourage Long Island tennis fans to check out our league. For myself, I feel like Zero Mostel in “The Producers.” Our sponsors have put up the money; now I’ve got a show to put on.