The sixteenth conclave of the United States Court Tennis Association, the Annual Dinner came off in stunning fashion at the Racquet & Tennis Club on Friday 13 December 2013. Last year’s dinner was the largest non-Hall-of-Fame gathering in the Association’s history. This year, it was even bigger.
It started with cocktails and silent auction browsing in the main lounge. The main attractions were a wonderful oil painting set in Aiken (with Pierre doing the marking) and some photographs and prints by Michael Do and Freddy Adam. Then one hundred and eighty-six people packed into the R&T’s dining room for a most festive and memorable meal.
Greg Van Schaack, the president of the Association, welcomed all the the members and guests. He asked for a moment of silence to remember two leading, larger-than-life USCTA leaders who are no longer with us: Newbold Smith (Philadelphia) and Eddie Ulmann (New York).
Last year the focus of the Annual Dinner was on the restoration of the court at the Tennis & Racquet Club; this year, attention was channeled towards the proposed court in Charleston. Van Schaack introduced Matt Sloan, the president of the Daniel Island Company. Sloan spoke about how excited Daniel Island is to host the tennis court and what a complement it will be for the community’s established activities.
Peter Pell, the chair of the Whitney Cup, welcomed everyone to the 80th playing of the Payne Whitney Memorial Cup Interclub Tennis Doubles. He acknowledged the captains of the six teams and then the first-time players in the event: Tom Brownlie (Philadelphia), Tom McGinnis (New York), Jason Mengel (Greentree-Aiken) and Al Gordon (Tuxedo-Chicago).
During dinner, the annual awards were bestowed. Brian Owens was given the Association’s highest award, the Hughes Slater. Owens, the co-chair of the dinner for the past half dozen years, has been a driving force in sustaining and elevating the event to its current heights.
Walter Deane received the Bobby Goodyear Prize for his longtime generosity in billeting players in both New York and Tuxedo.
JP Patton of Washington earned the Most Improved Award. Since the last Annual Dinner, Patton played in 120 singles matches and twenty-nine doubles matches recorded on RTO—a record, it is believed for an American in one calendar year. His handicap dropped from a forty-one to a thirty.
John Harkins won the Most Improved Junior Award. From Newport, Harkins saw his handicap plummet in the past year from a sixty-nine to a fifty-one.
The Professional of the Year Award was given to one of the unsung heroes of the professional ranks. Neil Smith, a longtime pro at the R&T and the former world racquets champion, has for three seasons now been the resident tennis pro at Georgian Court University. He has driven over four hours roundtrip each week to run tennis clinics on the famous Gould court, helping develop a culture of play there.
The Boenning Trophy for sportsmanship was awarded by Dick & Emily Boenning to Bill Barker of Washington.
Van Schaack handed out one final award, an antique Bancroft tennis racquet, to Joe Ashman’s wife Lynn. The world’s most avid ninety-one year-old tennis player, Ashman has been a key fixtures at Tuxedo and Philadelphia, playing doubles, introducing people to the game and generally showing everyone that tennis is truly a lifetime sport. The inscription said, “To Joe Ashman—one of a kind.”
After dinner, Brook Hazelton began the live auction. It was the most successful auction ever. Starting with the traditional first lot of a day of racing at Saratoga, Hazelton secured generous bids on all twenty lots. Golf outings, cocktail cruises, a “Day in the Life of Temple”—the lots went fast and furiously. The apartments for a week in London (Howard McMorris) and Paris (Walter Deane) both went twice; and ten members bought a print of the Racquet Club of Chicago print of Billy the dog.
A total of $58,000 was raised.