Southern California Tennis

Dawson Starting New Traditions At Bobby Riggs Club

Facility Spotlight: Bobby Riggs Racquet and Paddle Club

Steve Dawson is a firm believer that the long established sport of tennis and newcomer pickleball can certainly co-exist at the same facility.

The long-time Carlsbad resident Dawson, 56, was a top San Diego junior, a two-time Big 8 Champion at the University of Oklahoma who went on to become an ITF world-ranked No. 1 senior age-group player, just like his wife Jennifer Dawson, who has been ranked No. 1 in the USTA 30s, 35s, 40s and 45s.

Steve Dawson

Four years ago, the married couple took over what was formerly known as the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in Encinitas. The Dawsons have embraced pickleball so much so that they have recently re-named their club the Bobby Riggs Racquet and Paddle Club.

“We do tennis and paddle,” Dawson said. “A lot of people don’t know that Bobby Riggs was the California State Paddle Champion. And he’s also in the paddle tennis Hall of Fame. I think that if pickleball were around when he was alive, he would have loved it. He wasn’t just a tennis player, he’s a racquet and paddle tennis player.”

Dawson is a two-time US Open Pickleball Champion and has won other national titles, making him the only player in the history of tennis and pickleball to be a World Champion in both sports.

“My wife and I are very happy to be involved in a club with a historic legacy,” Dawson said. “We both enjoy tennis and pickleball and being involved with a club with two sports that are life enhancing.”

Invented in 1965, the game of pickleball is a mix of tennis, table tennis and badminton played with a Wiffle ball on the court one-third the size of a tennis court

Following his death in 1995, the former club Riggs played out of, the Cardiff Courts, was renamed after Riggs, and run for years by his best friend, Lornie Kuhle.

While running a club in Las Vegas in the late 1990s, Kuhle would visit San Diego and Dawson would give lessons to Kuhle’s daughter, country western star Jennifer Wayne.

“A few years ago Lornie was looking for someone to run the Bobby Riggs club, and everything fell into place,” and the Dawsons took over the management of the club.

The club still houses the Bobby Riggs Museum, where Riggs’ US Open and Wimbledon and numerous other trophies are kept. “Bobby’s life-long legacy is on display at the club and therefore it will always be associated with Bobby Riggs and his name will always be on the club,” Dawson said.

He added: “We do adult tennis clinics, and lessons and junior tennis programs, but we mix it equally with pickleball play. We try to do all of it together.”

Dawson said there are an estimated 10 percent of his tennis members who will play both tennis and pickleball. “But generally our tennis players play tennis and our pickleball players play pickleball,” he said.

Dawson said his club converted their center court to pickleball, and have four exclusively for pickleball, six for tennis, and two that be converted to both tennis and pickleball.

“If the center court was a tennis court, you’d have two to four players playing on it at a time,” he said. “But in the same square footage, you can put 20 people with 16 people playing pickleball and three or four people waiting to play on the same surface area. So you can get more participants per square foot.

“When we took over the club, I had never heard of pickleball. I’m just letting economics dictate my decisions. I don’t think it’s a fad. I think it’s going to continue to grow and I think it’s good. All tennis clubs and racquet clubs stand to benefit from the growth of pickleball.”

Dawson explains why:

“The number of tennis players has been constant for a long time so what pickleball is doing is bringing an amazing amount of people to the exact same amount of tennis clubs. Some clubs will do tennis and pickleball, like mine. Some clubs will stick purely to tennis, which means all the tennis purists will begin migrating to the same clubs. So the idea is that you are suddenly infusing thousands of more people into the same club market, and it’s good for everyone. All these thousands and thousands of pickleball players have to go somewhere, so it’s best they go into the tennis club industry because some clubs will grow by adding pickleball, and some clubs will benefit by being just exclusively tennis, and everyone stands to grow from this new sport.”

For more information, go to: https://www.bobbyriggs.net/

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