Tennis anyone? Yes, the game with those racquets and those fuzzy balls that you have to hit on the first bounce and that scoring system that makes no sense with sets, games, love, advantage and deuces. The good news is there are at least eight major tennis facilities east of the Shinnecock Canal where the public can play or join, not to mention the historic private clubs that one must be born into or perhaps buy their way in. The sad news is, according to East Hampton Indoor Tennis General Manager Scott Rubenstein, the median age of the players is “greying.”
Rubenstein, who has been a staple of the Hamptons tennis scene for years, loves the game. He seemed sort of heartbroken as he explained how the young students of the game are too bombarded with other options for their free time. “No one just hangs around like they used to, too often they come, they play, practice, take a lesson and leave.” The demographics from the USTA portray a robust over-40 league, with competition participation that is stronger in the older age brackets. One team captain told me he still has the same team he fielded 20 years ago, laughing, “We just don’t do as well in three-set matches!” He also said it’s tough to sit a loyal player for a new guy after so many years of service to the team. Rubenstein said rival Sportime in Amagansett is the largest Hamptons tennis facility with 34 outdoor courts, mostly Har-Tru, which is crushed rock, a surface that is easy on the legs, cooler and dries faster. East Hampton Indoor Tennis, located at 175 Daniel’s Hole Road, has 20 Har-Tru outdoor courts and eight indoor courts which are open all year. Buckskill Tennis Club, located at 178 Buckskill Road, East Hampton, is the only public club with grass courts (three of them) for public use. It is therefore the only public facility in the Hamptons with all three major surfaces: Har-Tru, grass and the hard courts called DecoTurf (cork, asphalt and cement). [expand]
Montauk has public facilities at Montauk Downs on Westlake Drive, and most of the high schools in the Hamptons have public courts available when school is not in session. There are town courts also, as well as ones at many of the local resorts.
But the problem is players…the players are getting older. They’re playing less, playing more doubles and there are not enough new players coming along. Yet the new players are better than ever with power games that blow old-timers off the court. When I was 50, I played the reigning New York State 18-and-under champ James Moore, who later played #1 at Columbia during the New York Athletic Club Championships. Within minutes I was concentrating on just not getting hurt, as serves whizzed at me at over 120 MPH. I lost 6-1, 6-1, but truth be known, Moore, who had known me his whole life, actually went out of his way not to bury me. The point is the new young game is played at a speed that older men like me can’t compete with, whereas on a par-3 hole in golf a guy of any age can win the hole. And what about women players? More U.S. women now play tennis than do men. The pros agree they seem to organize better, with standing doubles games that start and end like clockwork, so they can get on with the rest of their day (maybe they’re just better multi-taskers).
There are many Pro-Ams and fundraising tournaments in the Hamptons like the one I covered at the wonderful new Ross School facility. Last August, Michael Milken raised $1 million for prostate cancer in one day while high-net individuals ponied up tens of thousands to team with pros including Jimmy Conners, Johan Kreik and Jimmy Arias to help raise money to fight cancer. The Ross School held its own Pro-Am and Round-Robin to raise funds for school programs, scholarships and charities. In recent years, Jim Grabb, Andre Agassi and the Williams sisters have participated in these fundraisers as well as numerous local celebrities including Christy Brinkley and Alec Baldwin. William J. Tully, who played in 14 U.S. Championships (now the U.S. Open) and won the Canadian Open, and is now in his mid-80s, reminisced about tournaments he played at the Meadow Club in Southampton where the likes of Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Bill Talbert and Gardner Malloy tuned up on the grass courts there before moving on to the U.S. Championships then played on grass at Forest Hills. In the days before the tiebreaker, Tully played the great Poncho Gonzalez at the Meadow Club losing 9-7, 6-3 (mid-1950s).
Scott Rubenstein of East Hampton Indoor Tennis said his goal for a new growth spurt in the sport on the East End is “to make tennis in the Hamptons fun again.” We wish him well! [/expand]