The tennis scene at any country club on Long Island is one of the most entertaining places to be. I have been involved with this scene as an employee for many summers of my high school and college years. In fact, if I ever had a chance to pitch a reality show to a television executive, country club tennis would be at the top of my list (with female bullfighting in bikinis as a close second). Every club has its own cast of characters accompanied by strange events with stupid, mindless rules that have to be followed at all times or a guy with a sniper rifle points a red laser dot at your forehead. If you step back and look at it as a spectator, you cannot help but be compelled at all the drama. It would score big ratings on prime time television networks. The world would be mesmerized with watching what unfolds on the tennis courts at a country club.
Okay, let’s get started with the main character of our show—The Head Tennis Pro. Every country club head pro that I have come across over the years is a tremendous actor and does a great job hiding his true feelings to the world. But the beauty of this guy is that he never shows it, no matter how far he is pushed. In essence, his whole job is to serve as a human punching bag. He takes jab after jab about anything and everything, and just sits there and takes it. The head pro just nods, smiles and agrees with whatever complaint is being thrown his way. He has long accepted that this is the main part of his job. I remember one time witnessing a member yelling at a head pro about the weather and how the weather ruined her time. The guy just smiled and repeatedly apologized as if he summoned the rain clouds to ruin the tennis part of this poor woman’s day. After all, she does have the weight of the world on her shoulders and is an extremely busy person. (In case you haven’t figured it out, that last sentence was oozing with sarcasm.)
Most head tennis pros can out-drink any college frat boy you meet. I think one of the job requirements is to have some type of mutant liver that can keep you alive after you consume a case of Jagermeister in a 15-min. period. I have been out to many dinners with these guys and there hasn’t been one time where I haven’t debated with myself whether or not to bring this guy to the closest hospital after our meal was done.
Every head pro repeats two phrases repeatedly during their private lessons. “Bend your knees … watch the ball” … “bend your knees … watch the ball.” One time, I had a clicker and counted how many times he would say these phrases in a one-hour lesson, and I stopped at 200 because I was starting to get carpal tunnel in my thumb.
Now let’s move to the next character of our show—The Assistant Pro. These are pros that teach sporadically throughout the day and come and go as they are given lessons by the head pro. This type of pro has issues of their own as well. He can get very disgruntled at times for two reasons. Reason 1: Most assistant pros are secretly upset because the head pro is taking a cut of their hourly pay. Very rarely are they getting the full money that is earned in the hour of the lesson that they teach. Reason 2: The assistant pro usually teaches the unattractive members of the club. Trust me on this one … it happens, and here is why. The head pro spends a lot of his day in the tennis office of the country club. Very rarely is the assistant pro there. He really just gets hours from the head pro and doesn’t schedule too much on his own. When a female member shows up to the tennis office looking to schedule a lesson, the head pro is there to help her. If she is attractive, the head pro will make sure he immediately puts her in his schedule of lessons in his day. Now, if a member shows up and looks like John Madden in a tennis skirt, he will, without a doubt, give this lesson to the assistant pro. I’ve seen many forced smiles from assistant pros faces over the years when their 2:00 p.m. lesson comes waddling in. The only thing missing from this picture is Chief Brodie telling the assistant pro, “We’re going to need a bigger boat!”
Now, let's move to the job that I've had for many summers of my college years—The Hitter. The hitter is usually a college player home for the summer lacking the ambition to get that internship at Goldman Sachs. His job is to hang around the courts and hit with members who show up unannounced. His mind wanders as he spends countless hours just hitting with random members. He pretty much spends the rest of his time wondering to himself if he picked up some type of vibe from the desperate housewife he just hit with.
At this point, we have met the staff and all the issues surrounding them. If you aren’t hooked on the show yet, you will be after you meet the members of the club. Country club members love to complain. I hate to be the one to say it, but it’s just how it is. It’s like they live for it. I think if things were going smoothly, they would all be miserable. The complaints can range from—I banged my knee on the ball hopper you left hanging around and now I can’t hit a backhand, to the guy who is sweeping the courts is making too much noise (both are complaints I heard in the past). But the complaint heard most often from members is always about the court conditions. The clay is never right. It’s sometimes too soft or too slippery. It’s sometimes too wet or too dry. And every time they miss a ball, they almost always look confused at the mark in front of them and immediately pretend to investigate it. It’s a little show for the people watching so we don’t think they normally miss that shot. After all, they did play for their high school tennis team during the Taft administration, so they are really good … again with the sarcasm.
Members also have to have new balls every time they play, because they can’t play with day-old balls. This just cannot happen! Those balls require optimum pressure when they hit their earth-shaking first serves! If not, then what’s the point of even being out there? Another quirk that they have also involves the tennis balls. They always have to have their three balls, and they always have to know where they are at all times.
“Does anyone have a Wilson 2? We are missing our ball! Wilson 2! Is anyone listening? Wilson 2!”
The whole club has to stop so we can find this specific Wilson 2. In the past, I have crawled through bushes and jungles looking for missing tennis balls for members. I’ve spent many hours hacking away at branches with a machete and digging holes with a shovel to find their very important third ball. I mean, we do have a hopper filled with balls about 10 feet away from them, but they cannot use any of those. They need that Wilson 2! Sometimes I find it for them on one of my expeditions in the bushes … that’s the good news. The bad news is I think I might have contracted malaria along the way.
One episode of our country club tennis reality show would be totally devoted to the Member/Guest Tournament. I have played in this tournament many times as a guest throughout my life. My personal resume includes being a nationally ranked junior, playing four years of Division I college tennis, and I traveled Europe after college playing professional tennis. I like to think that I have a very good tennis resume. So every time I am asked to participate in one of these events, I always assume that I am the ringer of the tournament. Now this feeling usually ends immediately when I show up and see whom everyone else brought. One guest has a ponytail, a deep tan and is running sprints back and forth on the court. The next guy is in the corner signing autographs on the back of kid’s shirts. And then I make small talk with another guy and, in passing, he mentions that he was once married to Chris Evert.
I never know how to play these Member/Guest Tournaments either. Should I play all out? Or should I try to set up the members so that they put the ball away and we all make a big deal about how great of a shot it was? I never know what to do and it’s something you don’t want to ask the members. It’s kind of an unwritten rule amongst the peasant guests. It’s something you have to just find out on your own. I came to this conclusion when the guy with the ponytail pegged me in the ear with his first return. Okay … I guess we are playing all out!
With all these things combined, who wouldn’t want to watch this type of show on television? From the events being held there … to the constant drama that involves everything. It’s a very dysfunctional environment and dysfunction sells! This is what the American public needs right now in these hard times. We need to be entertained! We need to be distracted! We need country club tennis in our living rooms! I’m talking about ratings that would take out season one of American Idol. People would be speeding home at night to make sure they didn’t miss a minute of the drama that is “Country Club Tennis.”