The 15th official conclave of the United States Court Tennis Association, the Annual Dinner came off in spectacular fashion at the Racquet & Tennis Club on Friday 7 December 2012. The largest crowd in the history of the Annual Dinner—save when there has been inductions into the International Court Tennis Hall of Fame—came to New York to celebrate one of the most successful years in the history of the Association. Membership is at an all-time high; the number of courts is at an all-time high; and play, as seen upstairs during the Whitney Cup, is perhaps for amateurs also at an all-time high.
The evening began in a most unusual place: the famous racquets court was the locale for the pre-dinner cocktail party. Rugs on the floor and heat being pumped in from the gallery gave the court a warm, inviting feel. A video taken in the nineties out at Greentree and featuring the late professional Jack Hickey played on a wide screen in the corner and the night’s silent auction items, organized by dinner co-chair Brian Owens, attracted much interest—one photograph by Freddy Adam received nearly ten bids.
Peter Pell, the chair of the Whitney Cup committee, welcomed the crowd in the R&T’s main dining room as they sat down for dinner and introduced the seven new players in the Whitney Cup: Dillon Aldrich, Clayton Vaughters, Zach Sacks, Vu Hoang, Marty Kinsella, Steve Rozak and David Tedeschi. Greg Van Schaack, the president of the Association, then gave a quick report on the robust health of the game, noted the esteemed guests and new attendants at the dinner and led a moment of silence for two giants of the game who had recently died: Dick Sears, the former president of the Tennis & Racquet Club, and Jack Hickey, the former pro at the R&T and Greentree. Peter di Bonaventura also gave a short but moving remembrance of Hickey.
The Association’s annual awards followed. Temple Grassi was awarded the Association’s highest annual award, the Hughes Slater Cup, for his contributions to the Association. Grassi, nicknamed the Ambassador, has for years served as a one-man recruiting band for the game, constantly promoting tennis (rare is a social or cultural event that he doesn’t bring a tennis bat to), enticing new people to the game, traveling to tournaments around the country and world housing players with his wife Ellie, and being one of the most generous supporters financially in the history of U.S. tennis.
The Bobby Goodyear Award, given to someone who has shown extraordinary hospitality, was awarded to Howard McMorris who has been the key billeting person in New York City. Along with his wife Clare, McMorris has graciously housed many touring and tournament players, some for long stretches of time.
Zach Sachs won the 2012 Most Improved Award. In the past nine months, Sachs handicap has plummeted from a 34 to a 19, and he has become one of the standard-bearers of a new cohort of avid, active players.
Barney Tanfield won the Professional of the Year Award, receiving a standing ovation. Tanfield grew up at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia and became a pro there in 2007. Eighteen months ago, he migrated north to the R&T. He has become a key member of the professional staff on the fourth floor. His handicap has dropped in half, from 8 to 4 and he has been active in mentoring many members in all three of the R&T’s sports.
Lastly, the loudest applause in the evening might have been for the winner of the Boenning Trophy for sportsmanship. It went to Boston’s Arthur Drane. A well-traveled player and active representative for the Tennis & Racquet Club on the USCTA Board, Drane has long been an exemplary example of positive sporting attitudes.
After a delicious dinner, Brian Owens began the live auction. It was the most successful auction ever, in part because the proceeds, for the first time, were earmarked—for the renovation effort at the Tennis & Racquet Club—and in part because a professional auctioneer, Brook Hazelton, building on Charlie Johnstone’s fine work over the years, was able to quickly elicit bids for the twenty-three lots. (Hazelton was the chief executive and minority owner of the art auction business Phillips de Pury and knew how to operate at a charity auction like the Annual Dinner.) Golf outings, wine packages, vacation weeks, racing at Saratoga—the lots went fast and furiously. A total of $57,000 was raised, helping push Boston close to the finish line for their fundraising effort.