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National Tennis Month: Hilton Head Island’s rich tennis history

Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center
Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center(WTOC-TV)
Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 6:04 PM EDT
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HILTON HEAD, S.C. (WTOC) - May is National Tennis Month, and while many think of Hilton Head Island and all the golf they have to offer, but Hilton Head has a rich history in the world of tennis, too.

At one point, the island had the most tennis courts per square mile than anywhere in the world and was called the “Tennis Capitol of the World” according to Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort.

In the 1960′s and 70′s, Palmetto Dunes, Sea Pines, and Port Royal Plantation all built large tennis clubs and stadiums, and it all started with a couple of pros moving to the area.

“Evonne Goolagong whose an Australian pro back in the day, she actually built the Ship Yard racquet club, and then Stan Smith, who is still on Hilton Head today is very much involved with the Sea Pines Resort tennis, and he actually runs a junior academy there as well,” said John Kerr, the longtime Director of Tennis and Pickleball Operations at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. “The island over the years, we have hosted numerous regional tennis tournaments, local, state tennis tournaments, and as far as I know, we still hold the record for the largest state tournament with over three-thousand people in it that came to Hilton Head.”

Sea Pines hosted the “Family Circle Magazine Cup” tournament for nearly three decades.

Palmetto Dunes hired tennis legend Rod Laver as the resort’s Touring Professional. This was big for the island, as Laver had won the Grand Slam (all four major tournaments in one calendar year) twice.

Another tennis legend, Roy Emerson, joined Laver at the tennis center in 1977. He is the only male player to have completed a career grand slam in both singles and doubles. According to Palmetto Dunes, his 28 major titles are the all-time record for any male player.

Kerr said that that one silver lining of the pandemic is they’ve seen a resurgence of interest in tennis and pickleball from the younger generations, and they hope that can help the sport grow.

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