Peggy Beard: Transforming the Court-Building Business
Pioneers in Tennis
Peggy Beard never paid much attention to glass ceilings. She was too busy with other boundaries. Service line. Baseline. Clear-playing back-space. And beneath that, the depth of the surface course, base and sub-base.
Beard was one of the first women to run a court construction business, in an industry that was by her own admission “traditionally associated with men.” Welch Tennis Courts was the brainchild of Peggy Beard, her husband Burnham, and Peggy’s father.
“My father had worked for Har-Tru for many years, and when he retired to Florida during the height of the tennis boom in the ’70s, he called us and said, ‘I think there’s really a need for a tennis court construction company here in Florida.’” She laughs. “Why we did it, I don’t know, because Burnham and I are very conservative.”
The Beards moved to Florida and set up shop, with Burnham (previously the president of a tennis court company in New England) as president, and Peggy as secretary, treasurer and majority business owner. Florida had always held an attraction for Burnham and Peggy, but being there in business rather than on vacation was jarring. “Before, we would come here, and we’d fish and relax and have a great time. Then we came here and opened the business and I don’t think we fished or relaxed for about 30 years.”
Welch Tennis Courts flourished and Peggy’s involvement in the intricacies of the business, and its ever-expanding industry, grew. As a member, and later chairman, of the USTA’s Technical Committee, she was key to the development of the Facility Assistance Team, which oversees grant funding and technical information assistance to communities who want to improve their facilities.
“Peggy was instrumental in forming that,” says Virgil Christian, the USTA’s director of community tennis development. “She was a real leader for the program. She said, ‘It’s important we get the right information to people’ and of course she had the technical background as a builder. She’s very knowledgeable, and she has a really powerful style, but really, it’s the way she expresses herself; she can just transform things.”
Already involved as a member of the American Sports Builders Association, in 1990 Peggy became the first woman Certified Tennis Court Builder.
“People used to say to me, ‘It must have been really hard for you to pass that test.’ At the time, men just associated women in the business as being in office work and not construction. I was probably one of the few.”
She broke another barrier in 1998, becoming the first woman chairman of the association. She received the ASBA’s Industry Merit Award, for outstanding contributions to the industry, in 2001. She has also served on the USTA Florida Section Foundation Board of Directors, and the ITF Technical Commission.
“Up until Peggy,” says Jeff Williams, publisher of Tennis Magazine and co-publisher of Racquet Sports Industry, “the industry was a boys’ club.”
Peggy, however, doesn’t cast herself as someone who went around kicking down doors or pushing the envelope in the industry. “I only look at things as being a challenge,” she says. “I feel like I’m probably more of a facilitator than a chief of anything. I’m good at getting other people involved, and getting the best person for the job. That’s always been my approach to everything I did.”
In 2003, after 30 years in the industry, Burnham and Peggy retired, sold their house and embarked on a four-year sojourn on a trawler they had purchased together. Peggy, still actively serving with the USTA, would make sure they put into port periodically so that she could join conference calls.
“Some places we stopped, there wasn’t even a dock, so Burnham would bring the boat in as close as he could, drop me off in 3 feet of water with me holding my notebooks and folders on my head, and I’d wade ashore and find a pay phone and call in.”
They sold the boat in 2008 “and now we’re landlubbers, which is good,” says Peggy, “because I never really got over being seasick. That was kind of a problem.”
Welch Tennis Courts is still in business. She and Burnham are still involved in tennis, but mainly as players.
“It’s funny,” she said, “but people still remember us. We’d built a court at Jim Courier’s house when he was about 12 and still playing Little League Baseball. A few years ago, his mother called me and said, ‘I remember you; you built our court, and now Jim’s niece is playing and wants a court.’ I had to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, we’re retired, but I can give you a number to call.’”
“Pioneers in Tennis,” an occasional column in RSI, draws attention to trailblazers in the sport. Have someone to suggest? E-mail email@example.com.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.