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Mardy Fish Tennis Championships moving to Timber Ridge

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of November 17, 2022)

The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships are moving again.

After a four-year run at The Boulevard Tennis Club, the $15,000 men’s tournament will be played April 24-30 at the Vero Beach Tennis Club, located in the Timber Ridge community on Oslo Road.

The United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit event, which features singles and doubles competition, has been played in Vero Beach since 1995 and is widely regarded as one of the best-run, entry-level tournaments in the world.

According to the foundation’s executive director, Lynn Southerly, the tournament is moving for “financial reasons” – after donating the use of its courts and other facilities the past three years, The Boulevard requested payment for the 2023 event – as well as the need for a larger footprint.

Southerly said the foundation plans to expand the event beyond the tennis courts and create a “mini Miami Open feel” to the tournament by adding booths, tents and even food trucks.

She said the foundation could not pursue those plans at The Boulevard, where the club’s membership has reached its capacity, new programs and activities have been added, and the demand for court time continues to increase.

“The Boulevard’s membership has grown a lot the past three years, and they’ve got a lot of activity going on all day long and throughout the week,” Southerly said. “It would’ve been difficult for us to work around all that.

“So, it’s not that The Boulevard told us no, but they said they couldn’t provide the flexibility we needed,” she added. “The tournament is our biggest fundraiser, and we want to bring in more money, but our footprint there was getting smaller and smaller.”

Also, Southerly said, the foundation couldn’t justify paying The Boulevard management’s asking price, which she described as a “very big fee.”

Neither Southerly nor Ed Shanaphy, The Boulevard’s director of club operations, would disclose the amount of the fee.

Shanaphy, who was hired Oct. 1, said The Boulevard has adopted a fee structure for use of its facilities by outside groups, including nonprofit organizations, which qualify for a “charity rate” that is higher than the club’s “private party rate.”

He said the growth of the club’s membership and increase in activity made it impossible to accommodate tournament organizers – especially with the foundation’s plans to expand its offerings.

“They’ve outgrown what we can do for them,” Shanaphy said. “We’re busier than ever now, and we’re busy all day, so it’s harder for us to give them as many courts as they need. We can’t just shut down our programs for a week.

“We’re already having problems with parking.”

The Boulevard’s afterschool juniors program has been wildly successful, but it also has put a strain on the club’s late-afternoon parking availability, as many parents stay to watch their children play.

Usually, when The Boulevard plays host to big-crowd events, the club gets permission from the county to allow overflow parking along the west side of Indian River Boulevard.

But Southerly said parking wouldn’t be the only challenge, explaining that it would be difficult to conduct a professional tennis tournament amid the noise and activity of the club’s after-school program, which runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

There should be no such problems at the Vero Beach Tennis Club, where budding pros will compete in a 32-player singles draw and 16-team doubles bracket.

Both Southerly and foundation president Tom Fish, Mardy’s father and longtime tennis director at Windsor, said they were excited about taking the tournament to the South County club, which offers more courts, more parking and more room for other activities.

“Our goal is to make the tournament bigger and better and more exciting, and making this move allows us to do that,” Fish said. “The Van Deinse family has done a great job of improving that facility. Hopefully, this new partnership to be beneficial to both of us.”

Longtime Michigan teaching pro and entrepreneur Tom Van Deinse, along with sons Joseph and James, bought the Vero Beach Tennis Club in 2016. The younger Van Deinses have managed and operated the facility since.

“The foundation approached us and asked if we’d be interested in hosting the tournament, and we’re thrilled to have this opportunity,” Joseph Van Deinse said. “We’ve been steadily working to improve the facility for almost seven years now, and we’ll do everything we can to get it ready.

“Our club has been growing every year since we started,” he added, “and hosting the tournament will continue to get our name out there.”

The tournament was played at Grand Harbor from 1995 through 2009 before moving to The Boulevard in 2010. After seven years, the event returned to Grand Harbor in 2017.

In 2019, the tournament moved back to The Boulevard, where the COVID-19 pandemic forced the foundation to postpone the 2020 event until October, when it was unsanctioned by the USTA.

Now, the tournament – which was briefly homeless, prompting Southerly and Fish to explore sites outside the county – is headed for its third home.

“We didn’t want to see this town lose the tournament,” Southerly said. “It’s a special event that helps us help so many children, and there’s the obvious connection to Mardy, who grew up here. But everything was under consideration.”

Tournament organizers inquired about another return to Grand Harbor, but the club is preparing to host the Vero Beach International Open, a $60,000 USTA Women’s Pro Circuit event scheduled for Jan. 16-22.

Southerly said Grand Harbor couldn’t accommodate a second event three months later.

As for the Vero Beach Tennis Club, Southerly said the Van Deinses are not charging the foundation to use the facilities there.

“We had a great run at The Boulevard and enjoyed our time there, which was beneficial for both of us,” Southerly said. “They had new ownership and were trying to promote their club, and we needed a place to hold our tournament. It’s not easy to leave a place where you’ve been very successful.

“But we were no longer on the same path,” she continued. “They’re looking to increase their profits, and as a nonprofit, we have a responsibility to make sure our dollars are going to the kids. We really couldn’t justify paying what The Boulevard was asking.

“At the same time, we also want to expand the tournament’s footprint, and we couldn’t do that at The Boulevard,” she added. “We can do it at the Vero Beach Tennis Club.”