Teaching Pro Spotlight: Jeff Richards
If one were to look back at the past Sunset Hills Country Club past Singles Club Championship results from the mid to late 1970s, you’d find one final at the Thousand Oaks club that ended in a default.
Long-time Calabasas Tennis & Swim Center teaching pro Jeff Richards would be the one on the losing end of that final, as the runner-up that year was innocently caught for not actually being a club member, one of the requirements to participate in the club championships.
As Richards tells it, his father neglected to tell anyone that he had cancelled the family membership to the club. A clueless Richards kept on playing for up to two years and made his finals run to the annual Club Championships while in his early 20s. When his entry fee was charged to his membership account that was no longer, the tournament director was notified and Richards was defaulted from the final.
“No one had any idea my father had cancelled our membership,” Richards says with a laugh. “They made me default the final and I had everyone coming out to watch. I still collected my trophy, but it was a total scandal at the club for some time.”
Richards previously worked at Braemar Country Club in Encino for 14 years before moving over to Calabasas Tennis & Swim 13 years ago this June.
Before that, Richards taught for the Conejo Recreation and Parks District and was the first director of tennis when the City of Agoura Hills incorporated in the middle 1980s with Richards starting the first public tennis programming for the City at Agoura High School.
Richards moved to Thousand Oaks in the Conejo Valley when he was just 12 years old when his father got a job transfer from Huntsville, Ala., where he had taken up the game of tennis on the clay courts two years earlier.
He played No. 2 for Newbury Park High School and alongside former USC star Sean Brawley, and moved up to No. 1 when Brawley left Newbury Park for Villanova after his freshman year.
Richards played for Moorpark College and even served a one-year stint as the Thousand Oaks High boys’ tennis coach in 1986.
Richards at one point held his painter’s contractors’ license, and said being good at tennis helped him make connections with high-end real estate agents who would hire him to paint homes they were looking to sell quickly.
“Playing a proficient game of tennis really opens up a lot of doors,” said Richards, who added that finding a girlfriend was another motivation to keep him playing tennis. “I remember going up to The Ojai and playing the high school divisions and I noticed all the Pac-8 players had these gorgeous girlfriends. Finding a girlfriend was one of my motivations in becoming good at tennis and wanting to be a tennis pro.”
Richards says he has seen a lot of changes in the game over the years. “There is more focus on league play over tournaments,” he said. “And with the advent of super slow motion, you could see things in players’ games that you would not normally see. The open stance is so much part of the game now. And even the service motion has changed. You no longer just do a service motion because your body does it naturally that way.”
He added: “The kids have gotten smarter. They are able to visualize what you are saying better than they used to.”
Richards says now that he’s older, he appreciates that teaching tennis has kept him fitter than the average guy sitting in his office all day behind a computer. “As I get a little bit older I realize it’s pretty cool to have a job where I can run around for two or three hours and not be tired,” he said. “Not a lot of people can say that.”
Richards will once again help run the popular Calabasas USTA Pro Circuit Futures tournament in March. “Australian Open quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren won it three years, and we’ve had Ryan Harrison, Donald Young and Frances Tiafoe play here,” Richards said. “If you reach the finals of our tournament, you will be seeing those same players on T.V. as tomorrow’s stars.”