Southern California Tennis

Is Tennis A Country Club Sport?

Rallying With The Executive Director

Bruce HuntI wondered about that when I read a paragraph in a recent Sports Illustrated issue about the Rio Olympics and “the country club sports of golf and tennis.”   Sure, golf and tennis are played at country clubs, but tennis is played at many other venues as well.   I decided to do a bit of research.

I contacted the Tennis Industry Association (TIA), the not-for-profit trade association for all companies and organizations that are involved with tennis. Actually, the TIA is the source of a lot of data and good information about the tennis business.   The numbers the TIA sent me were very interesting.

As of April 2016, the most current information indicates that there are 44,219 tennis courts at private and commercial facilities. Some of the private facilities could be country clubs but there are many facilities that are membership-based and most certainly not country clubs. The commercial facilities are most usually open to the public and I wouldn’t include them with the country club group.

There are also 59,424 courts classified as public courts such as those in park settings. Even if all of the courts in the private/commercial category were country clubs, the number of courts in the public domain far exceeds the country club portion. But we aren’t done yet! There are a staggering number of courts on school and college campuses – an additional 45,614 courts!

But now, back to the original question: Is tennis a country club sport? With at least 2.4 times as many tennis courts located in public space versus those in private facilities, my conclusion is that the SI writer relied on an old sobriquet about tennis. While many people may play tennis and drink champagne or a Vesper martini after their sets, there are many more that fire up the grill and enjoy a banquet beer after their matches. If this was a story that required a morale it would be that it doesn’t matter so much where tennis is the star attraction – what does matter is that it is possible to enjoy tennis wherever you are fortunate enough to play it!

Bruce A. Hunt
Executive Director – Southern California Tennis Association

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7 Responses

  1. Interesting info. While I tend to agree with your assessment I would say that the sport of tennis has an PR/image problem since we haven’t successfully dispelled the old saying. In the words of Andre “Image is everything”. I would also say that when you look at the tennis in comparison to other sports the price of entry is relatively low. So why can’t we crack the nut on this one? I think what we have failed to do is grow our base by integrating sufficiently with parks and recs services. I know USTA has tried to do work on this; I even volunteered to help with some USTA pilot projects.

    I think more of the important questions are:
    Does it matter that we are considered a country club sport?
    If it does, how do we dispel that idea?

    Looking forward to your response

    • I agree that we need to have a strong relationship with Park & Rec facilities because that is often the first place that people experience tennis. We also need to have a consistent offering of tennis in all levels of school from elementary to college.

      I believe it is important to dispel the image of tennis as only a country club sport. We need to embrace all locations where tennis is played from public courts to private clubs because tennis is a sport for all people. When we get labeled “country club sport,” we need to correct that statement with the facts that I provided in my column. If we all act when we see statements like that, we’ll correct those who make the mistake.

  2. I think the implication is that it is a sport that requires devoting serious financial resources (country club as in wealthy not private) and there, even for people like me that have my kids playing only in city clinics on city courts, that requirement can sometimes feel daunting.

    • Jason: I’ve not heard “country club” used in that way with other youth sports like baseball or basketball, swimming or volleyball, that use expensive traveling teams to provide a path to excellence for those athletes. Tennis is not the only sport that requires significant resources to reach the professional or collegiate levels. Perhaps it may require more funds to do that because it is an individual versus a team sport. That shouldn’t be the fault of tennis, no pun intended. Thanks for allowing your kids to play tennis. Best regards!

  3. I agree with previous poster that advancing in tennis can more expensive initially than other junior sports, which may controbute to the “country club” reputation. When my son played baseball, he would recieve 2 plus hours per week of supervised practice with multiple coaches with one game per week – so a total of 4 hours or more of playing. This is a younger level, it’s many more hours once they advance to majors and the cost is around $200 for a full season worth of this. Yes, much is this volunteer on adults part but there is no culture of volunteer adults teaching tennis really – its all payment based and there is a lack of adults willing to teach children for low or no cost in a team setting.

    Compare that to the $30 per 90 minutes tennis clinic and you will clearly see why it’s much more of a financial challenge to become more developed at tennis. I am not speaking of travel teams, etc – just basic tennis clinics offered in the city I live run on city courts.

    • Nicole,
      I think “country club sport” speaks to accessibility which I have shown to be untrue because there are over twice as many public courts as there are country club courts even if all private courts were accessible by membership only.
      Progressing to an elite level in tennis or any other individual sport may always be more expensive than team sports. However, the USTA is piloting parent organized play for tennis much like the other youth sports. That may mean some of the early costs of becoming proficient at tennis may come down.
      I appreciate your comments. Cheers!

  4. Why even worry about this unless you’re in the business of commercializing tennis or making a living off it?

    Tennis was a serious sport well before the ‘open era’.

    Let those who love it, play it. Others should move on.

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