Tennis Industry magazine


Your Serve: Relationship Advice

Tennis has played second fiddle to golf at country clubs for decades. How can tennis increase its role?

By Bruce Knittle

Why is it that tennis programs at country clubs are often considered “second-class citizens” to their golf counterparts? Why is tennis diminishing at many of these clubs, and how can this dynamic be repaired? How can tennis actually increase its role at these clubs?

I am not referring to clubs that offer tennis as the lone sport; I’m talking about the co-existence of tennis and golf at country clubs. The reality, which is certainly not new, is that tennis programs at country clubs often take a secondary role to golf. This has been going on for so long, it is thought to be the natural order. Country clubs started out originally as solely golf oriented, and tennis was added in later years.

Less money goes into tennis than golf at these clubs, and tennis pros are not compensated as well as their golf counterparts. One reason is that golf courses are considerably more expensive to maintain. While this is true, the investment accorded to tennis is rarely commensurate to its true value.

At many country clubs, the employees hired are mainly trained for working on golf courses. When I was the head pro at a country club many years ago, there was a superintendent in charge of maintaining the golf course and tennis courts. Because his knowledge of clay courts was minimal, I had to step in and direct the proper court maintenance.

Country clubs have also experienced declining memberships in recent years. Due to numerous factors such as aging members and economic uncertainty, many clubs have found themselves in precarious situations.

With this declining enrollment at country clubs, here are some ways tennis programs can improve this situation, and at the same time coexist better with their golf cohorts.

Be Proactive

With tennis memberships down, there has to be specific targeted goals, and an action plan to recruit members. When setting up this plan, there needs to be a realistic recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of the present tennis programs. No longer can tennis committees sit stagnant while losing members.

Consider discounted “tennis only” memberships as one method for both recruiting and keeping tennis players. With costs considerably more reasonable, clubs have a better chance to grow their tennis programs, while bringing in members not just for tennis, but to the restaurant, pool, children’s programs, etc.

Attract Younger Members

Whether tennis or golf, when older members leave, there needs to be a cycle of younger individuals to replace them. One suggestion is to appeal more to younger working families. By offering family activities, clubs can attract a market not previously attended to. Having varied youth and after-work tennis activities will entice a younger core of prospective members.

Adding to this family emphasis, having the spouses of golf members engaged in the tennis operations can be essential. Especially if these spouses are not golf-oriented, having them involved would benefit both the tennis program and club.

Tennis and Golf Should Work Togethe

Instead of having an adversarial relationship, it would be wise for both programs to support each other. There are shared goals of increased enrollment, and club growth. When recruiting potential members, having healthy golf and tennis programs will enhance the club’s marketability, and help separate itself from the competition. It is in the best interests of the programs to form a shared marketing strategy, with the club’s support.

Hold Open Houses

When recruiting for new tennis members, use your facilities to help market the sport. Once people view facilities firsthand, there is a greater chance of enrollment. These open houses can be on a group or individual basis.

Offer Clinics and Special Events

Providing free clinics and other instructional classes will help bring in new members to the club, and help promote the tennis program to existing members and spouses. At these functions, the club pros have a chance to interact with prospective members. Additionally, being creative with events can result in new members, and generate interest in tennis. A couple of examples are round-robin mixers and clinics centered on Grand Slam events, or theme-oriented tennis parties.

With a little effort, tennis, even though it might never stand on an equal footing with golf at country clubs, can coexist very nicely. With highly functioning tennis programs, country clubs will surely reap the benefits.

Bruce Knittle is the president of consulting firm Knittle Sports Solutions Inc. (, which offers advisory services to tennis and sports organizations. A former highly ranked player and captain of the Florida State University tennis team, he was a successful tennis camp owner, college tennis coach/pro, and director of sports programs.

We welcome your opinions. Please email comments to

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About the Author

Bruce Knittle is president of the sports consulting firm Knittle Sports Solutions. A former sports camp owner, he also was a college head coach and directed sports programs for many years. He can be reached at



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