By James Zug
Last week the Racquet & Tennis Club hosted the twentieth annual United States Court Tennis Association dinner and auction during the traditional mid-December Whitney Cup.
The platinum dinner, originally conceived in 1998 and chaired for many years by Charlie Johnstone, was chaired this year by Brian Owens and Zack Sacks.
A splendid cocktail hour started the evening. Peter di Bonaventura brought numerous photographs and trophies from Greentree, which dotted the main reading room at the club. Guests reunioned with old friends and browsed the extensive silent auction items. Besides the usual offerings of lessons with some of the world’s leading professionals, a unique offering was a giant photograph of Queen’s Club given by Anglo-American photographer Freddy Adam. The centerpiece of the table of silent auction items was an ice sculpture of the USCTA logo.
James Zug, the president of the USCTA, started the dinner proceedings in the South Lounge by apologizing for coming down with a severe case of laryngitis. He asked former president Jeremy Wintersteen to join him at the podium. They asked for a moment of silence in honor of those members of our community who had passed away since the last annual dinner: Spencer Berger, Bob Harrington, John Mears, Berry Peckham, Jeannie Tanfield, Lucienne Van Schaack, Peter Wadsworoth and Denis Walsh.
They then praised Camden Riviere and Tim Chisholm. In 2017 Riviere pulled off the calendar Grand Slam in singles, one of only eight players to ever achieve the feat of winning at the Australian, French, U.S. and British Opens all in the same year. In doubles, Riviere & Chisholm had the best year in history: in the spring, they retained their World Doubles title in miraculous fashion, coming back from an 0-4 deficit to narrowly win 5-4 and then in the fall they completed the first-ever calendar doubles Grand Slam.
Dan Laukitis then helped Zug acknowledge the extraordinary leadership that Wintersteen provided during his three years at the helm of the Association. They handed Wintersteen an extremely rare artifact: an 1888 hand-colored trading card of Tom Pettitt. The card was created by Allen & Ginter, a Richmond tobacco firm (that was a part of one of the original twelve members of the original Dow Jones Industrial Average). Allen & Ginter issued the first-ever cigarette cards of world champions and among the pugilists and pedestrians was Pettitt. Like Wintersteen, Pettit was active at both the Tennis & Racquet Club in Boston and the court at Newport.
Peter Pell, the Whitney Cup tournament chair, welcomed everyone to New York for the eighty-fourth Payne Whitney Memorial Intercity Tennis Doubles Cup. As is tradition, he read out the names of the first-time Whitney Cup players: Erik Barker, Ben Hudson, Matt Mackin, Huge MacDonald, Noah Motz, Dylan Patterson, Shep Skiff and Dylan Ward.
Peter di Bonaventura, from the Whitney family, then spoke about old and new memories of the famous court at Greentree, having just visited the estate.
During dinner James Zug, chair of the USCTA’s Awards Committee, announced the winners of the Association’s annual awards. Professional of the Year went to Camden Riviere, the new singles world champion. It was especially fitting that Riviere received it in the presence of Jimmy Bostwick, as Bostwick was last American before Riviere to be world singles champion.
The 2017 winner of the George Plimpton Prize for artistic excellence, Mke Garnett, was acknowledged. Garnett received his prize earlier in the year in his hometown of Melbourne.
They gave the 2017 Edward J. Hughes & John E. Slater Award to Jonathan Pardee. A leading player from Newport, Pardee served on the board of the Association from 1991 to 2006. He joined the board of the Preservation Foundation in 1998 and was chair of the Foundation from 2002 to 2006.
They gave H. Dickson S. Boenning Award for sportsmanship was given to Walter Deane. Dick Boenning, Jr. was on hand to help honor Deane, an avid player and generous supporter of the game in New York and Tuxedo Park.
The Professional of the Year Award was given to Adrian Kemp. He came to New York three years ago and has been a key leader in the professional ranks, particularly as a commissioner of the USCTA National League.
The Grassi Family Junior of the Year Award was given to Erik Barker. Playing in Washington, Barker repeated as British junior champion. His handicap improved to a 24; he became perhaps the youngest-ever player to participate in the Whitney Cup; he won the Price Cup, the Washington 20+ tournament, the Stout division at the Haddon Tomes and the U23 doubles with Noah Motz. Last summer Barker & Motz won a crucial doubles match in the Clothier Cup, beating an Australian side that had a handicap of twelve points better.
The Most Improved Player Award went to Lucas Garvin. Playing in Philadelphia, Garvin last season went from a 65 to a 47 handicap.
The Most Improved Junior Player Award went to Freddie Bristowe. Playing in New York and at Wellington College, Bristowe went from a 41 to a 27 while recording more than fifty matches on RTO in a year’s time. Bristowe also won the U15 and U19 national championships and topped Erik Barker 5-6, 6-5, 6-5 in the U23 singles. His father Willie Bristowe accepted in his stead.
The final award was induction into the International Court Tennis Hall of Fame. Two former world champions, Chris Ronaldson and Wayne Davies, recorded brilliant video introductions. Then the entire crowd stood and applauded as Lachie Deuchar accepted induction into the Hall of Fame. The thirty-first member of the Hall of Fame, Deuchar spoke warmly of his love of the game. He thanked his wife Gay and their four children Angus, Sam, Finlay and Daisy who accompanied him to the dinner.
At the conclusion of the evening, Brook Hazelton served as auctioneer for the Association’s annual auction. Eleven lots were auctioned off, including a day at the races in Saratoga and a Palm Beach compound. Notable items amongst the golf outings were a new one to Sand Valley Resort in Wisconsin.
Because of Hazelton’s professional abilities and the exceptional quality of the lots, the auctions raised $40,000.