I thought I’d take this time to reflect on the site of the Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, Rhode Island.
When you watch the final on Tennis Channel on Saturday, you’ll see the well-manicured Center Court, but you won’t see all of the grandeur and history that surrounds it. The luxuriousness of the venue and its celebration of the sport belies it ATP 250 status.
The grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame really do justice to our favorite sport. There are some beautiful venues that come to mind on the ATP tour, but none of them do it the way Newport does it.
For example, the River Oaks Country Club in Houston, the host of the Clay Court Championships, is nearly as lush and manicured as Newport. They even have a gorgeous pool for the players to use. But you feel that tennis is the still the ‘other’ sport as you watch disinterested club members teeing off to the fairways just 50 yards from Stadium Court. And the brown clay isn’t nearly as pleasing to the eye as grass.
Indian Wells is the closest thing of beauty to approach the grounds of the Hall of Fame.
But it’s so contrived and new, like many of the desert communities in its vicinity.
No, a walk through the grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame is like a walk through the center of the Tennis Universe of generations past. The cooler climate also lends itself to soaking in the full experience.
It is the only pro tournament I have ever attended that does not have air-conditioning in the media center. And the media center is not a giant pre-fabricated tent, nor is it located in the bowels of a big stadium.
Instead, it’s on the second floor of a permanent building with windows open and facing the practice courts. It’s about 100 yards from Center Court. That means you can hear the crowd cheer every point. You don’t need a video monitor or a scoring app to know that a match is nearing an exciting finish. You can also see and hear the throngs of happy children below you for the early part of the week when the tournament hosts junior clinics.
The visuals are hard to top here. The only downside, if any, might be the way the non-show courts are lined up. The layout doesn’t allow fans to sit at the sidelines, but requires them to stand behind the players. The distance behind the baselines are reduced. That means the behind-the-baseline standing room viewers are likely to get an ace in their face at some point. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s a treat for passionate fans. I love when a casual fan expresses awe of the speed of the ball as it comes right toward them. Televised matches make every shot appear a little slower, but on the outer courts, the optics of speed and power are on full display to the naked eye.
There’s always down time at a tournament. Usually, it’s weather-related. And when you’ve got time to kill, there is no better way to spend an hour than at the Hall of Fame Museum. If you’re an old-timer or a young fan, this place is a treasure trove of the past and present of the game.
Don’t even get me started on the lobster rolls or the Del’s Lemonade stands or the fishbowl of an open-air players lounge that allows fans to stake out their favorite ATP star. Don’t get me started on the smallish and unobtrusive sponsor tents. At other venues, you have to run through a gauntlet of merchandise tents to get to the tennis. In Newport, everything blends seamlessly and is done in a way that is simple and elegant.
There’s no smash zone, no massive food courts, and really no place to get away from the matches. Even the restaurant offers perfect views of outer court matches.
You also have to remember that the Tennis Hall of Fame is a year-round operation. All of the physical structures are in place and maintained constantly. It feels like they could have a tournament here every day of the year. That’s very unique, as most tournaments have that “Circus Comes to Town” feel as they’ve slapped up temporary bleachers and built a shanty city.
From a blogger’s perspective, that means the tournament staff is permanent, too. Instead of media being managed by a public relations company that dedicates ten days a year to a tournament, the media is managed by full-time employees of the Hall of Fame. No media relations staff knows more about the grounds, the neighborhood and the history of the venue more than those who work at the Tennis Hall of Fame. The media relations director for the tournament, Anne Marie McLaughlin, is the media relations director for the Hall the other 51 weeks a year. And she lives down the street. You can’t get more local than that, whether you need to know the way to the nearest Radio Shack or even where to eat or stay.
There’s a larger presence of dedication in the air during tournament week as the staff prepare for Hall of Fame weekend. This year, the event within the event is the induction of Martina Hingis and tennis legends Ion Tiriac, Charlie Passarel and Cliff Drysdale.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame really is our shrine to the sport we love. If you’ve never been during the Championships and Enshrinement ceremonies, plan to make a pilgrimage next year during its holiest week.
—Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com