Facility Spotlight: Jack Kramer Club
The passing of the baton is now complete at the venerable Jack Kramer Club, but that doesn’t mean you won’t still see the baton passer Dennis Rizza at the iconic club in Rolling Hills Estates any longer.
Rizza recently retired from his position as the director of tennis at the club where he has taught and run tennis programming at the South Bay club near Palos Verdes for more than 31 years. Rizza has retired to the Palm Springs desert and traded in his tennis teaching cart in for a golf cart. But his newly named replacement and former student Jeff Tarango of Manhattan Beach still plans on seeing Rizza around the club.
“I’m not rushing him out the door,” said Tarango, who has won several SoCal Open doubles events with Dennis’ son Rylan over the past several years. “I need him to run the desk at the Woody Hunt Memorial. He said he was going to retire to the desert, but I think we need him to stick around here for a bit longer. He said, ‘I just want to stop teaching’ so I said, ‘Great, you can now run four tournaments instead of two.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I can do that. That’s a great idea.’ So I’ve kind of already sucked him back in.”
Tarango is excited about his new role at an iconic club first established by Jack Kramer and Vic Braden in 1962.
“I took lessons from Dennis when I was 6, 7, 8 years old,” Tarango recently said. “I took lessons from Robert Lansdorp at the Kramer Club but actually started with Ken Porter. When I heard Dennis was retiring, Tracy [Austin] approached me at the US Open and asked if I was interested. I said let me think about it. And I started thinking about all the possibilities of getting Southern California tennis going and I think that is one of the quickest ways.”
Tarango won two national team titles at Stanford in the mid-80s, and had a successful professional career. His post-playing career has been filled with time teaching, coaching college tennis at USC, and serving on the SCTA, USTA Board of Directors and on the U.S. Olympic Committee Board, a group that was successful in bring the Summer Olympics back to Los Angeles in 2028.
“I’ve been successful with the kids I coach,” Tarango said. “I started thinking what if I had 200 kids instead of 20. And I started thinking how does that pyramid down and what does that do for Southern California tennis and it just makes more competition. Now the other clubs and academies start trying to keep up, which is how it used to be. And then they get better. And because the tournaments are better, our kids get better. So it’s kind of a cyclical thing.”
In 1970, the Kramer Club membership purchased the land and facilities from Jack Kramer and issued stock certificates to 246 charter members. The Jack Kramer Tennis Club remains one of the few member owned tennis facilities in California and currently has more than 250 equity members.
Tarango said he’s already heard from some of the adult members about raising their level of play. “The vice president said he’s a 3.5 and he wants to be a 4.0 by the end of the month,” he said. “And he said by the end of next year he wants to be a 4.5. He said, ‘Can you do that?’ I told him, ‘Yes, I can.’ ”
Tarango added: “That’s not going to be hard for me and I enjoy the challenge. Having such a good technical background from Robert Lansdorp and being at such a great tennis academy growing up with people like Melissa Gurney, Stephanie Rehe, Tracy Austin and Eliot Teltscher and Robert Van’t Hof; that shaped me. Vitas Gerulaitis used to come by and work with Robert. It was so deep and just standing in line and listening to how Robert fixed everyone’s game one at a time. Robert kind of took me under his wing and always called me his apprentice. So it’s just kind of a natural fit for me to improve someone’s game. There are just little things you can point out in people’s games. You are not objective with your own game so you never see the pace you put on the ball. It’s very hard to improve your own game. But if you get a good coach who can just tweak a few things – not change things, but just tweak a few things – then you can improve greatly.”
Tarango assisted USC Men’s Coach Peter Smith for two years. “Having worked with a lot of Russian players and playing doubles with them, Peter called me and thought I might be able to communicate with some of his Russian players.
“We won two NCAA championships, and my wife even said, ‘Maybe you should pursue college coaching.’ But then after two years of doing it, my wife was like, ‘That takes a lot of time.’ We have five kids and she said I’m not around as much. I was offered the job at Creighton, and offered the job at Dartmouth, and offered a job at Alabama. And my wife said, ‘But we live in Manhattan Beach.’ She’s from Indiana and her lifelong dream was to live in Manhattan Beach. Now we are here and we’ve renovated the house and all our kids are in school so it’s not like we could pick up and move to New Hampshire.”
Tarango and his wife Jessica have five children: Nina Rose, Katherine, Jackson, Ace, and Jesse.
Tarango said the Kramer Club now offers individual junior memberships, so an entire family doesn’t have to sign up to gain access to the club. That gives him many more kids to mentor and coach. “It’s not a sprint,” he said. “I think the first goal is to get the kids college scholarships. That is a five, six-year program.”
Tennis pros at the Kramer club currently include Rylan Rizza, Cecilia Fernandez Parker, Kip Brady, Frederique Carver and Trey Mason.
“Another thing I want to start is a mentoring program,” Tarango said. “We have Cecilia and Trey Lewis Mason, girls I looked up to when I was coming up. I think we just have to have our system down and make it known and revamped and improved and I think it will promote itself.”