Tennis tournament to bring thousands to Hilton Head Island

dburley@islandpacket.comOctober 4, 2013 

Spectators watch a doubles tennis match during the semi finals of the Van der Meer Shipyard Women's $10,000 tennis tournament on Friday afternoon at Van Der Meer Shipyard Tennis Resort on Hilton Head Island.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

A busy October is in store for Jackie Reynecke.

Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center's tournament director is spearheading three consecutive weekend tournaments, which are expected to bring thousands of players, coaches and families to Hilton Head Island.

First there's this weekend's Banana Open Championships.

It will be followed Oct. 11 to 13 by the U.S. Tennis Association's Tennis On-Campus Fall Invitational.

The last of the tournaments, the USTA South Carolina Combo Championships, will be Oct. 17 to 21 and will occupy about 60 area tennis courts and draw more than 2,500 people to the island, Reynecke said.

The tournament is a major win for the Hilton Head tennis industry.

Normally held on Daniel Island near Charleston, the Combo Championships are the largest USTA event in South Carolina and one of the biggest amateur tournaments Hilton Head has hosted, Reynecke said.

"People are planning their vacations around it," Reynecke said. "The players are mostly out-of-towners."

Golf typically fuels off-season tourism on Hilton Head. The Combo Championships, which Reynecke hopes to retain for three years, represents the tennis industry's push to amplify its presence on Hilton Head during the latent fall and spring months.

"These tournaments come at a time when Hilton Head needs it," said Steve Zalinski, the South Carolina USTA representative. "The tennis people down there are cognizant of the fact that this helps the economy when the tourists are gone."

CAPTURING THE TOURNAMENT

In 2012, participation in the sport increased by 4 percent, up to 28 million players, and by more than 10 percent among those who play more than 20 times per year, according to a study by the Tennis Industry Association, a national research group located on Hilton Head.

The U.S. tennis economy -- a $5.57 billion industry -- grew 3 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, and revenue at Reynecke's Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center grew 3 percent during that time.

That prompted the center to get more aggressive and look for ways to capture off-season island-goers with fall and spring tournaments.

"During tourist season, I can't put in bids," Reynecke said. "You will never see us bidding on something that's in July and August. We can't close the tennis center down because of all the vacationers here. I'm looking for things in fall and early spring."

Reynecke put in bids to USTA South Carolina for a few large autumn tournaments and secured the Combo Championships, which have never been held on the island.

More than 10 Hilton Head-area tennis facilities are scheduled to hold matches for the tournament, including Palmetto Dunes, Sea Pines Country Club, South Beach Racquet Club and Moss Creek Tennis Center.

TENNIS TRAVELERS SPENDING

Tennis was once a major draw for the island, the site of many professional exhibitions and tournaments in the 1970s and 1980s and spring-break college events.

The college events still continue, but the island lost the Family Circle Cup after 2000. The WTA event moved to Daniel Island, taking with it the sort of exposure the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing gives to Hilton Head's golf industry.

The Combo Championships bode well for local businesses, though.

Someone visiting the island for tennis spends $2,800 on average, according to a 2009 study by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.

"I'm amazed at the way people spend," said Julie Jilly, vice president of marketing and events at the island-based Professional Tennis Registry. "We'll have people from Island Tire tell us someone went and got their car fixed after a match."

Such tales motivated the chamber to study the relationship between the sport and island visitors. In January, the Town of Hilton Head Island awarded the chamber money for the study as part of a $250,000 accommodations-tax grant.

The study should be complete in the next few weeks, according to chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark.

"There's no doubt that tennis travelers are positive toward the bottom line of tourism," Clark said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

Related content: Chamber to study tennis, tourism on Hilton Head

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