Originally Published: August 11, 2015 6 a.m.
Throughout my working life I've been asked the following question time and time again: "When are you going to get a real job?"
As a kid, it never entered my mind that I might end up making a living in and around the game of tennis; I had only met a couple people who I knew taught tennis, but at that point in my life what I might want to do for a real job wasn't even part of my thought process. I had done a couple unusual things with tennis in starting a tennis team at my high school and teaching tennis at the local courts by putting up my own sign and enlisting clients as an entrepreneurial 15-year-old. That probably couldn't take place today, but that was a different time with fewer rules and worries about liability.
Being one of the better younger players in Newark, Ohio, did have a perk that took place - I was asked if I might like to work at the new indoor tennis facility that Dr. Jones and partners were building - six indoor courts, six outdoor courts, two racquetball courts, locker rooms and party area.
My job would be helping to run the front desk, stringing racquets, selling memberships and goods from the pro shop, putting together playing groups and assisting the pro when he needed help.
As a recent high school graduate and going to the Ohio State community college where I was taking business-related courses without much thought what would take place after four years, I found this new job very intriguing.
Not only did I love what I was doing, I was pretty good at it. The questions in my mind were, could I make a real living in this relatively new field and how do you get thoroughly trained? This was in 1973-74 and the tennis industry was just beginning to take off in a major way.
Not long after, I was asked to become the assistant pro at the Granville Tennis Club, a six-month summer club consisting of eight clay courts and two hard courts near Dennison University, where I would be paid $1,000 per month and get to keep 100 percent of my tennis lessons. As a 19-year-old, I liked what I was doing but it seemed the training I received on the job, primarily from the head pro, was somewhat limited.
I'm sure my parents were skeptical, but my mind was made up - I was going to pursue this line of work, but I needed to put myself in an area where I could learn the trade by the best and that wasn't in Ohio or at a college institution (at that time).
The president of the GTC, Mary Verdon, knew a couple bigger hitters in the field of tennis and resort management, a Mr. Connors, who managed the Arizona Biltmore Resort in Phoenix, and Vic Braden, a well-known tennis professional who was about to open his own tennis college in Southern California. Interviews were set up with both.
So newly married and with my first son of six months, we filled an old station wagon with all our worldly goods and made the move to Arizona, where the first interview was to take place.
The interview at the Biltmore went well. I was hired and now at a place where I could hone skills many other places could never have provided.
The Arizona Biltmore was in its prime, recently purchased by Tally Industries from the Wrigley family and was one of the finest hotels in the world. It catered to the rich and famous and expectations by those working there were taken seriously.
The tennis facility was made up of 18 lighted courts, a training center, pro shop, pools, health club, a women's professional tournament, an outside tennis membership for locals and convention and hotel guests. There was a tennis director, touring pro (Virginia Wade), head pro and many assistants.
I was in heaven.
I got to learn from the best in every capacity imaginable - pro shop, racquet repair, equipment, running tournaments - working with many of the top professionals in the field of tennis, professionally and in the industry. Meeting people from all walks of life many tops in their own business fields - teaching them the game, laughing and enjoying what tennis offers us all ... and many would say, "I know you enjoy what you do here, but wouldn't you like to get a real job? I might have something to offer you in my company that you could do really well at."
"Thanks, but no thanks" was my normal reply.
My department head, Donna McBeth, knew and felt that after five years at the Biltmore, I was ready for becoming a tennis director or more and she knew of a new resort down the road she said she could recommend me for. So I interviewed and took over at the new Del Webb La Posada Resort as their sports and tennis director - not bad for a 25-year-old. And I loved it. Every day was interesting and a delight.
We built the third-largest pool in the continental U.S., started a local club to intertwine with our convention groups, had kids' camps, ran airline parties for all the major carriers; it was a happening place. And I'd still have people ask me when I was going to get a real job.
Four years later I was looking for more challenges and I thought ready to own and manage my own club, certainly a tennis professional's dream.
I had a good friend, Myron Snow, who said I should come visit him in Prescott. He was president of the Yavapai Tennis Association and encouraged me to spend a couple days a week during the summer to teach at the new courts at Yavapai College, and to get out of the heat of Phoenix. I did. And during that time wondered, is Prescott ready for its own private multi-purpose/tennis club? Now almost 30 years of age, I met and talked with many people in the area about such an enterprise and Bob and JoAnn Hannay were soon to start a new sub-division called Kingswood. We formed a partnership and the Prescott Racquet Club was born.
Bottom-line is, 30 years later and at the age of 60, I'm still in the tennis business - diversified in many avenues of writing, teaching, running tournaments, managing the new Yavapai College tennis facility, trying to look at the big picture of how to still promote the game of tennis that I continue to love and compete in - and still I find people asking me, "When are you going to get a real job?"
Never, if I can help it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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