January 2018 was a landmark month for USTA Florida. It marked the grand opening of the organization’s first managed facility under the new Tennis Management Division. As 2021 draws to a close, we reflect on how far we’ve come in the four years since partnering with the City of Cocoa Beach and sailing into uncharted waters.
A once fledgling division has now become a vibrant force and integral part of our mission. Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Our experience with facility management has increased our knowledge of both the state of tennis play in Florida and the many challenges public tennis centers face. When we first took on our three municipal partnerships, each tennis center was unique and in a very different position.
The Racquet Club of Cocoa Beach had strong play in the morning and a solid partnership with the high school. However, there was no entry-level youth programming, no adult beginner programs and few events. In the four years since it’s launched, we have re-built the red, orange and green-ball programs from scratch; added a continually growing summer camp; and in 2019, added Love to Learn programs for adults, which now run regularly. Today, RCCB is filled with players – and more demand than we can handle.
Play Tennis Gainesville, which we officially re-opened in February of 2019, had very different challenges and opportunities. The city’s strong connections with underserved youth programs, Special Olympics, and good junior participation gave us a foundation. However, the parks had virtually no adult play. The courts in Gainesville also needed re-surfacing, making it a hard sell for existing League teams that prefer to play at the local clubs. As the city worked on improving the courts, we worked on serving the rest of the community. In 2019, we added summer camps and wheelchair tennis. This past year, we launched a new partnership with 100 Black Men and Aces in Motion to bring Love to Learn adult beginner programs to the Black community at TB McPherson Park. Today, PTG is a shining example of how our Tennis Management Division fulfills our USTA Florida mission – To Promote and Develop Tennis for ALL.
Fort Walton Beach Tennis Center, which first re-opened in January of 2019, was in many ways the impetus for the creation of our facility management arm. It has been our biggest challenge and best learning opportunity. With the exception of some middle school and high school play, there was no business at this location when we took it on. Situated in a military-driven community and surrounded by resorts and clubs, we knew it would take time and effort to bring this tennis center to life. We started with what we had – Pickleball. We re-lined our 36-foot courts and offered programs to the Pickleball players who were our only steady business in the morning. To reach new players, we offered military discounts, lesson packs, community events, and robust youth and adult beginner programs. Our partners with the city were equally committed – in 2020, they expanded the tennis shop, giving us an indoor option for summer camps and tournaments. Today, the facility that was once slated to be bulldozed, is financially solvent and providing much-needed service to the local community.
Since January of 2018, we have invested more than $2 million of our own funds in these three public tennis centers directly. We did more than just keep them open – we grew. The return on that investment has been a stellar education in how difficult and necessary it is to deliver tennis in public parks across the state of Florida.
As we reflect on the many changes that have happened in our tennis ecosystem this past year, one thing is certain: our Tennis Management division is an integral part of our mission and our investment in Florida public parks. We’ve come a long way, and we’re excited to see where we grow next. For more information on USTA Florida’s Tennis Management division and the services we offer, visit USTAFlorida.com/TennisManagement.