Column: Indian Wells is the Tour's fifth Major
Many of us who live in the western states find it very difficult to take the time and expense to fly or drive clear across the country to watch the top men and women tennis players compete together, in Miami, Cincinnati or at the U.S. Open.
Thus, we're very fortunate to have one of the best tennis tournaments in the world in our own back yard, namely the BNP Paribas Open.
The annual affair is on March 7-20 this year at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, at Indian Wells, Calif.
And when you say the best, this 36-year-old tournament is now touted as the fifth major.
Partners Charlie Pasarell and Raymond Moore envisioned, then built this super tennis complex on 54 acres opening in 2000.
It includes the second-largest tennis stadium court (16,100 capacity) in the world, the highest attended (339,657 fans - 2010) venue outside of the top four majors, with a relaxed atmosphere in which the players love to compete.
This dual-gender event with prize money of $9 million, will this year offer Hawkeye (instant replay) on all eight match-courts and better viewing for spectators on the 16 practice courts, making it easier to get close to the action.
Steve Simon, tournament director had this to say about the Hawkeye improvements, "Our event will be the most accurately officiated tournament in the history of tennis."
A separate men's and women's draw of 96 players each in singles, and another of 32 doubles teams each represent the premier athletes in what the game of tennis has to offer on a professional level.
This does not include an additional 96 players involved in the men's and women's qualifying tournament vying for 12 spots in each of the main singles draws two days prior to the main tournament commencing-where no admission is charged to view.
The women's qualifying is March 7 and 8, while the men's is March 8 and 9.
Last year this ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Event had Ivan Ljubicic defeat Andy Roddick in a tight 7-6, 7-6 finals, while Jelena Jankovic took down Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-4 to win the Sonic Erickson WTA Tour Premier title.
This year's list of players is a who's who of the current tennis world.
There's Rafael Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki, Roger Federer, Vera Zvonareva, Novak Djokovic, Kim Clijsters, the Bryan Brothers, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Na Li, Francesca Schiavone, Jelena Jankovic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Samantha Stosur...if they're ranked in the top 84 or so in the world and healthy, most likely they'll be in attendance.
The humble beginnings of this tournament started in 1976 at the Mission Hills Country Club.
In 1981 it moved to the La Quinta Hotel. It continued to grow in size and the Grand Champions Hotel, now called the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort was built.
Then in 2000 more growth was needed and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden came to life. In 2009 Larry Ellison became the new owner, although Pasarell and Moore remain on board and still over-see the tournament.
After spending five years covering this event, there are so many interesting and fun things to do over and beyond roaming the 8 courts of early continuous matches from morning to late evening.
When you get tired you can kick back in the spacious grassy area and close your eyes in the shade, grab all kinds of food and watch the big screen in the courtyard, people watch.
There are many famous people you'll recognize, as well as your extended tennis family/buddies and competitors.
Bud Collins puts on a daily interview of interest with an array of tennis personalities when he's not out on the midway selling his tennis encyclopedia and record book.
The many tennis outlets are there to visit, purchase from and daily autographs and pictures can be obtained at various times each day with famous tennis stars.
The grassy workout area for the players is fun to keep an eye on - as well as the many practice courts where you can pick up tips and really get a feel for how hard most of the players work at their games.
And when you leave the tennis grounds for your hotel, the resorts, weather, scenery and great dining will take care of any additional needs you might have.
For information or to buy tickets, visit www.bnpparibasopen.com or call the Indian Wells Tennis Garden at 800-999-1585.
Take it from your local pro, this is an event you do not want to miss.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-642-6775.