JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best
Punta Gorda Tennis Clubs: Setting the Bar
Q. Of the six clubs that provide clay court memberships in Punta Gorda – Punta Gorda Club Y, Isles Yacht Club, Seminole Lakes CC, Vivante, Emerald Point, and Twin Isles CC (Note: Fisherman's Village Tennis Club is omitted since it was reduced to a parking last year) – how many compensate a tennis professional to manage their overall program, oversee the daily maintenance of the clay courts, and provide marketing and promotional tools with regard to membership development?
A. Would you believe, just one – the Twin Isles CC remains the only club that is committed to paying for professional leadership. Kudos to TICC for setting the bar high.
All the others choose to merely only enlist lesson providers, who – with the exception of the Vivante residential development, once recognized as one of the five top new clay court facilities in the nation, and the premier PG tennis program in its early days, has chosen to not even offer that, not bother to fully develop an owner-resident tennis playing base, sadly lowering their bar to new depths – are not compensated in any other way. Yet some of their members, typically uninformed about their pro/club financial relationship, or lack thereof, often wrongly assume that they are indeed receiving a salary or management fee. They then become critical and frustrated because, in their understandably misguided view, "the pro doesn't do enough," "does nothing at all," "doesn't take care of the courts," or "is never there."
I've heard all these comments, verbatim, from my lesson clients at TICC – clients from other clubs - frustrated with their perceived lack of pro involvement, poor court conditions, or both and more. Once enlightened, they uniformly pause in genuine perplexed reflection – "Oh, I didn't know that."
Of additional concern is a curious expectation that has crept in over the years by some on-point for tennis in PG; because the pro is being provided with "a court to teach on," said pros – traditionally generous with their comp time to a fault - should be thankful and willing to then always provide program services on their own time for free.
This kind of attitude, sometimes cavalierly delivered - unbeknownst to the members they are representing - is disappointing to say the least.
I've personally experienced this needless condescension on more than one occasion in my many years in PG, and know of my fellow pros also experiencing this kind of treatment as well. Tennis pros, in their toothless union of one, are vulnerable and easily exploited. None of this makes for a positive longevity. The potential for exceptionalism, sooner or later, is lost.
News flash to Punta Gorda tennis program administrators and their members: That is not the tennis industry norm, as evidenced by the way it is up and down our own SWFL coast - from Sarasota, to Venice, to Ft. Myers, to Estero, to Bonita and Naples - where there are dozens and dozens and dozens of clubs that budget for, and positively work with, a qualified professional with the expertise and experience to create and implement a menu of activity offerings that members want, besides just lessons, for all level players.
They also can crucially provide/oversee consistently and properly maintained clay court playing surfaces that are not an injury and lawsuit waiting to happen, i.e. the latter where "high tapes" (in reality a low court where the surface material has either worn down or washed away) are usually the culprit. (Side bar: I recently served as an expert witness in a lawsuit with regard to exactly that. A large settlement for an older, badly injured plaintiff – who face-planted herself into the court - was reached, but only after the defendant club first attempted to side step their responsibility for adequate maintenance procedures despite previously receiving numerous recorded complaints about the dangerous line tapes.)
So why is this, collectively, the state of tennis in our otherwise charming, idyllic little town? What's the genesis of this geographical anomaly? Answer: Simple - doing it on the cheap in PG. Collecting membership revenues without providing a professionally led program or budgeting for it. Nice little arrangement if you can get away with it. Particularly mind boggling if tennis is the club's feature amenity, or one of its leading ones.
Reminds me of the long standing adage: Some know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing.
Unhappily, this has devolved into the Punta Gorda norm. The tennis member experience is minimized. Tennis itself is diminished. Everyone loses.
Going forward I remain hopeful that the more enlightened among us – both administrators and their respective members - can become proactive on these issues and promote change, raise the bar and join in with the rest of the tennis world in SWFL and beyond, for the greater good.
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