Tennis could be for everyone on Hilton Head Island.
Hilton Head has deep roots in the sport. It has good weather for the sport. And it has enough courts of various surfaces, with programs for all ages and skill levels, to be among the world's leading tennis destinations.
A new study by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce lays out very specifically how the island might better take advantage of these assets to boost the economy.
The study calls for more marketing to promote tennis as a tourist attraction. It identifies cable networks such as ESPN and the Tennis Channel as untapped sources for advertisements. It lays out plans for packages of airfare, lodging and court time to attract tennis vacationers. And it recommends luring a major professional event.
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More marketing, and the clear instructions on how to market to specific areas and individuals, is something the private sector can do. The chamber gets a great deal of accommodations tax revenue annually to serve as the community's designated marketing organization. Zeroing in on how to market tennis is a great idea because the harder part -- building a superior product with a good name -- has already been done.
In 1978, a Sports Illustrated article called Sea Pines the largest tennis resort in the world, with 53 courts and the legendary Stan Smith serving as its tennis ambassador and consultant.
That was five years after the Family Circle Cup made history at the Sea Pines Racquet Club when it was the first nationally televised women's tennis event and had the sport's first women's purse of at least $100,000. With Bud Collins often describing the action for network television, the Family Circle Cup was a Hilton Head and tennis institution until it moved to Charleston after the 2000 tournament.
It left in large part because the dates conflicted with the PGA Tour golf event hosted by Sea Pines, and scheduling it at another time was not feasible. Also, the Charleston and the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism contributed financially to attract the Family Circle Cup to a new 17-court Family Circle Tennis Center on Daniel Island with a 10,000-seat stadium.
Hilton Head proved that it could stage a major event and do it well for the long haul -- almost 30 years.
But it would be wiser to capitalize on what we have today, rather than to pine for something as glitzy as the Family Circle Cup to return to this small market.
The sport has many more niches, and we fill them well. What the island offers in tennis would fill a large book. Certainly, that is why the chamber's study showed that Hilton Head already is the No. 1 destination in the Southeast for 65 percent of the players it surveyed.
Hilton Head resorts have highly ranked tennis facilities -- long after some were represented by big names like Rod Laver and Billie Jean King.
Hilton Head has facilities -- both public and private -- for all ages, long after the island hosted tournaments on the senior circuit.
Stan Smith, Dennis Van Der Meer and Ivan Lendl are valued names in the sport that still are associated with an island offering myriad opportunities for players to learn, compete in and enjoy the sport.
The Banana Open has for decades attracted college tennis teams to the island, quietly introducing generation after generation of families to the community. Many return as tourists, or residents.
Hilton Head Island High School's girl's tennis team won six consecutive state titles prior to this fall.
Palmetto Dunes has reconfigured some courts to attract the youngest of players to the sport. Studies show that the sport is growing worldwide despite the hand-wringing over the dearth of American men in recent Grand Slam finals.
Hilton Head Island has an unparalleled tennis story to share with the world. It has the facilities, programs, tournaments and other amenities for tennis to be an even greater tourism driver. We hope the new study's practical advice can be used to tell more people about what is already here.