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The Newest Tennis Program Every Facility or Club Should Host

August 12, 2015 12:39 PM

Editor's note: This story originally ran in the USTA Southern insert into Tennis magazine's August 2015 issue.

By Jonathon Braden
USTA South Carolina

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – MaryAnn Bromley had to feel as if it were the 1960s again.

One Friday afternoon in May at the Moss Creek Tennis Center here, Bromley, 66, darted around the court as she had during her teenage years in Westchester County, New York.

She chased lobs, hustled for drop shots and followed her slice approaches to the net.

She even served and volleyed as she had watched Jimmy Connors do when she was a kid.

“I like the idea of serving and volleying,” Bromley said later.

Bromley could cover the entire court because she was enjoying a new tennis format that’s emerging in South Carolina and elsewhere.

Michael Smith and MaryAnn Bromley play Masters Tennis at the Moss Creek Tennis Center on May 1. Both players have enjoyed the new tennis format. (USTA SC photo)

Masters Tennis, played on a 60-foot court with slower-moving and lower-bouncing orange balls, makes it easier for players, like Bromley, who are dealing with old injuries and restricted movement to bolt around the court and crowd the net.

“You don’t have to be as good of a mover with the Masters tennis as you do with (yellow) tennis,” said Bromley, who’s had six back surgeries and shoulder problems. “But you can cover a lot more of the court.”

The easier-to-play format also helps beginners pick up the game quicker, said Tom Ruth, who started the Masters Tennis program at Moss Creek.

“It’s a good way to get them comfortable playing,” he said.


Last fall, Ruth, the club’s director of tennis, became the first pro in South Carolina to start a Masters Tennis program. The USTA Florida Section created the program two years ago to keep older players in tennis, help introduce new players to the game and let people of different skill levels play together, said Christine Murphy, Masters Tennis coordinator for USTA Florida.

Now about 25 facilities, including YMCAs, public parks and recreation departments and country clubs, have Masters Tennis programs. At least five state USTA organizations also are starting or looking into launching Masters Tennis programs.

“The buzz is out,” Murphy said.

Ruth started his program to draw more people, especially beginners, to the courts.

In September, after encouragement from USTA South Carolina, he hosted a Masters Tennis clinic, where he ran eight participants through serve-and-volley and overhead drills on a 60-foot court.

The next month, the players started what has become a weekly tradition: Masters Tennis on Friday afternoons.

During one Friday afternoon last May, Ruth nailed Har-Tru orange lines to mark the 60-foot baselines on two of the club’s green clay courts. He brushed the clay to create lines on two other courts. The 18 players there ranged in skill from beginner to lifelong player.

On the club’s show court, Bromley teamed with Bob Rennicks for a doubles match.


Rennicks, 81, has been playing tennis for the past 50 years. He said he plays some Masters Tennis now because of his health.

During hot and humid weather, which can be almost half the year in South Carolina, Rennicks feels dizzy. His blood pressure drops about 30 points to 90/50. He can’t stay on the court long.

Masters Tennis gives him what he needs: quick points and just enough of a workout. “You still have to move,” he said. “But you take two or three steps, instead of five or six.”

Watching Bromley and Rennicks play doubles, the only noticeable difference between yellow tennis was the thud the racket makes when striking the ball – a hollower sound because of the lower-compression ball. Otherwise, Masters Tennis was just like yellow tennis.

People shared enthusiastic remarks while playing.

“We’re off the bagel and we’re on a roll!” shouted Don Devereaux after he and his doubles partner won a game against Bromley and Rennicks.

Players mistakenly saved shots that were headed out. They dribbled easy balls into the net.

“It’s tennis,” Ruth later said.

On another court, Marie Long, a beginner player, was playing doubles. Forty years ago, Long had sworn off tennis after she grew tired of playing with her husband.

“He was just so far advanced that it wasn’t fun for me to play with him,” she said.

But she has enjoyed the slower pace of Masters Tennis. Last spring, she bought a new racket, the Head Ti.Essence. Now she wants to participate in more clinics from Ruth. She also looks forward to playing yellow tennis again someday.

“I wish we would do more of it,” she said of Masters Tennis.

The program has been good business for Ruth. Matches are played on Friday afternoons, typically a slow time for the club, and the program has attracted new players, such as Long. It also has cost Ruth nothing but his time. (He already had orange balls and lines.)


“If we add value to our club without spending a bunch of money, it seemed like a good fit,” he said. “If you can get people to do it, they have fun.”

For Bromley, playing Masters Tennis has been like returning to the tennis of her youth. She’s playing singles again and finding reasons to practice her volleys.

“You need really good reflexes with this game,” she said.

Masters Tennis also prepares her for the future.

At some point, Bromley said, she’ll no longer be able to play yellow tennis as much as she does now, which is about four times a week.

When that happens, she’ll already be a master of the newest program.




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