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Mon, Sept. 16

Column: Step back in time - at the Newport International Tennis Hall of Fame

Last week, I was able to tackle one of the items on my "bucket list" - going to Rhode Island to cover the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, the inductions, the men's professional singles and doubles Grass Court Championships, known as the Van Alen Cup, the museum, the public/private club and its new expansion, as well as scenic Newport itself.

It definitely was everything it was cracked up to be - on every count.

Newport was a treat in itself. From the Providence airport it's only 19 miles away, so an easy and beautiful drive. As we drew near, we went over a couple large bridges to Jamestown and then dropped into Newport, which was founded in 1639. We passed an amazing old cemetery, Cardines Field (a "field of dreams" ball diamond), Banister Wharf, and past so many shops and eateries one might not even make it to the tennis destination.

The "Newport Casino" or ITHoF is located on infamous Bellevue Avenue, when driving east beyond the club we passed the mansions tour, which are some of the largest and most beautiful homes and settings in the world. What a great place for the game of tennis to have originated in the United States.

When we came to the entrance of this 1880's street-front, two- to three-story buildings, lined with a number of businesses, it was tough to understand the transformation that was going to take place in the next 60 steps. I can only liken it to watching the movie "Wizard of Oz," when Dorthy arrives in Munchkin Land and the film goes from "black and white" to "color." We stepped back mentally into the late 19th century viewing the horse-shoe- tennis court right in front of us, the museum to our right, large covered porches that are surrounded with shrubs, flowers, vines and trees; and a Disneyland-type band playing old tunes and tennis players in period clothing and racquets playing a friendly game of tennis graced the image as well.

The old brick sidewalk took us back to the rest of the club, 13 grass courts, stadium area, and outlying buildings. This area also is antiquated, but maintained like when originally built - few electronics are used. No lighted courts, and kids who put game/set scores up by hand. Recently, a clay court was added, and next to it is housed the indoor "court tennis" or "royal tennis court," a game that preceded tennis - the "Game of Kings."

After extensive fundraising a new $15.7 million project addition has started construction on a section of Memorial Boulevard with a new 16,000-square-foot building that will house locker rooms, a fitness area, social area, retail space and Hall of Fame offices. Adjacent to that building will be a 21,000-square-foot facility with three indoor tennis courts and three indoor/outdoor courts - also part of this expansion. This to ensure the facility and addition will not only benefit the Hall, but the community.

As you may or may not know, this facility - as well as the grass courts - are open to the public. The new expansion will continue with the Victorian Shingle-style architecture.

The construction renovation will expand the grounds by one acre, result in new tennis facilities, a significant museum renovation and improvements throughout the campus. This community treasure has become a destination for tennis fans from around the world.

Yes, the first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships were held in 1881 and the grass court tournament has been held here annually since; in 1954, the Hall of Fame was founded and officially sanctioned by the US(Lawn)TA; in 1955, the first Enshrinement Ceremony was held; in 1975, it was determined that international players would be honored; in 1987, the Newport Casino was designated a National Historic Landmark; 2004 was the 50th anniversary with over 45 Hall of Famers attending; and 2014 was the Diamond Jubilee and a good portion of the facility will be renovated and improved this anniversary year.

But when it comes down to making this historic site a real success, it's the staff and it's (130) volunteers who live, work, envision and donate to the best of their ability - time, effort and money - creating a fun, informative and enchanting place to work and visit.

From Todd Martin, who will be taking over for Mark Stenning as CEO, to director of Marketing & Communications - Anne Marie McLaughlin, who answered my every question and was a great host.

I enjoyed meeting and talking with the staff at the museum. Greg Sharko, with the ATP, continues to take care of the top players in each tournament; yet, he makes sure the media gets their fair share of time to do their jobs covering them, the event and subjective material that might be of interest to the general public. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of people who make this such a special place and week-long event.

Where else can you rub elbows with the likes of over 20 former Hall of Fame inductees; hang with many of the top players in the world at the intimate and original spot tennis started in the U.S.; and walk in the footsteps of every former great player and industry leader from the world of tennis, seeing and soaking in how the history of tennis unfolded since its inception.

Hopefully you got to watch the induction of this year's inductees on the TENNIS CHANNEL: John Barrett, Nick Bollettieri, Lindsay Davenport, Jane Brown Grimes and Chantal Vandierendonck. They and their presenters had many interesting words. Lletyon Hewitt, playing in the twilight of his career, had a great weekend, winning the singles and doubles titles. No doubt five years after he decides to retire, he will become a Hall of Famer.

It's just a no-brainer to take the time to visit Newport and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. If you can schedule the time to attend during the inductions and tournament it will be very memorable, but any time in Newport and visiting the museum - will be special ... take it from the local pro.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.

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