When the Family Circle Cup arrived on Daniel Island for its 2001 edition, a new world of tennis facilities and enthusiasm followed the elite professional women's tournament to the Charleston area. As the enthusiasm for the game spread, local tennis complexes got better and better while trying to keep up with Family Circle Tennis Center and the Players Club.
All of this led to Charleston being named America's Best Tennis Town in 2010, recognition the area richly deserved.
Not surprisingly, other cities across the state now want a piece of the action, to cash in on some of the new energy and excitement that was created by the Family Circle Cup's move from Hilton Head Island to Charleston.
In recent years, the middle section of the state has become something of a mecca for big-time tennis facilities. I don't mean world-class facilities such as Family Circle Tennis Center, Kiawah Island, Sea Pines Plantation and the other nationally ranked resorts along the coast. No, just excellent huge tennis layouts, the likes of which South Carolina hadn't been accustomed to seeing.
If you haven't checked out the relatively new tennis facilities in Florence, Sumter and Lexington, and now Cayce, they probably rank with the best in the country in being able to offer the public a true competitive tennis option, not just on a community or playground court but at facilities that have the resources to hold just about any size tennis event below the Grand Prix level.
You might not think of Florence as a tennis hotbed, but this Pee Dee town that once was in the hub of tobacco country manifested the vision to construct a 30-court tennis complex that opened this past July, complete with a large, modern double-decked tennis center.
Lexington has now responded for the second time in a decade, this time with the excellent Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center just a couple of months ago. The sprawling Cayce layout has 23 regulation hard courts and seven of the kiddie-sized Quick Start courts, not to mention a two-story, 11,000-square foot clubhouse with fitness and conference rooms.
Although Charleston might not want to admit that a Columbia facility is convenient to the Lowcountry, the Cayce tennis center doesn't seem like it's much farther away than a couple of trips to Legend Oaks, because of its proximity to the conjunction of I-26 and I-77.
Of course, the 21-court Lexington County Tennis Complex has been a big part of league tennis, the high school playoffs and International Tennis Federation events since it opened in 2001.
To be truthful, these two superb Lexington County facilities would be an excellent choice to serve as the host for the state's annual Southern junior qualifying event, the Palmetto Tennis Championships, which are currently held in the far northwest corner of the state in Belton and Anderson. Since many tennis parents may be having a hard time trying to keep their juniors in the competitive circle, it might be time for the state tennis association to consider helping to reduce traveling expenses for juniors by relocating the most prestigious statewide junior event to a more central location.
In the meanwhile, the USTA has awarded the 2012 and 2013 Junior Team Tennis National Championships to the two Lexington County facilities.
While the Charleston area is loaded with excellent facilities, especially in Mount Pleasant, Daniel Island, the Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island, West Ashley is lagging behind. Charleston Tennis Center has been one of the top public facilities in the country for several decades and is probably as well-run as any tennis complex in the country.
But the sad news -- or the exciting news if you're considering the bustling participatory side of tennis -- is Charleston Tennis Center is somewhat outdated as just a medium-sized complex when compared to the newer facilities in Florence, Sumter, Lexington and Cayce.
Charleston Tennis Center has reached something of a saturation point. League tennis has pushed the West Ashley complex to the limit, to the point that it is in dire need of expansion to 20-24 courts from its current 15-court layout. Such a move would only ensure the continued growth of league tennis in the West Ashley area as it competes with the ever-growing Mount Pleasant tennis presence.
Three VIP winners
The Family Circle Cup has announced three winners of its VIP Experience. Stella Eyres of Ontario, Canada, won on Nov. 25, and Stephen Napoli of Hilton Head Island and Laura Ervin of Sanford, Fla., were winners the last two weeks. Weekly winners will be announced on Fridays through the end of December, and the Grand Prix VIP Experience winner will be announced on Jan. 2.
Region 8-AAAA team
Ashley Ridge placed Ali Herrera and Alicia Bonvillain on the All-Region 8-AAAA girls tennis team. Fort Dorchester landed Maya Snype and Kim Bui, while Summerville put Caroline Green and Maria Edwards on the team.
The all-region team is rounded out by Chelsea Bellomy, Charlotte Bellomy and Shaye McAuliffe of Beaufort; and Colleton County's Kyla Floyd and Megan Mitchell.