Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Spectator Sport

Coach Wayne’s Corner


Having spent a good part of my instructional career involved with both amateur and professional tennis tournaments, as a coach, a competitor and as an event coordinator, I am very familiar with the logistics, infrastructure and organizational aspects required to run an event as large as the Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships. I want to first and foremost compliment tournament coordinators, Chris Evon, Terri Graham and Jim Ludwig, as well as all of the over 300 volunteers and staff who work very hard to make this great event the success that it is.

As I was spending time at this year’s tournament, gathering information for this article and talking with the players, vendors and sponsors, getting their comments, outlooks and opinions on the success of this years tournament, I decided that since I have so many of my customers/students who are new to the sport that I would try to approach the whole affair from a novice’s point of view.

So I spent a day attending the tournament as if I were just a regular fan going to a sporting event like a football, baseball or hockey game. I must say that I found the whole affair to be an enjoyable, refreshing and fun experience.

Touring around the concessions and vendors’ tents, the atmosphere reminded me of major tennis tournaments I have attended. As I was observing other fans taking advantage of all of the offerings, I found the representatives of the companies who were there, selling their wares, to be very good spirited, helpful and informational, without trying to pressure anyone into any kind of purchase.

Everything you need to play pickleball was available under the vendors’ tents.

Roddy Cantu of Pro Am Sports was there with a full line of Head paddles, shoes, bags and accessories.

In addition to equipment, there was plenty of food and beverages available for purchase. Unlike attending an NFL or Major League Baseball game, where a burger and a beer can run over $30, I found the concessions (which were being provided by local eateries) to be very reasonably priced, as well as delicious. The Landshark Beer Garden provided plenty of seating, along with music and live coverage of matches being played on the Zing Zang Championship Court.

As far as watching the competition, spectators were required to have a ticket or a pass to gain entrance to the Zing Zang Championship Court, but access to all the other nearly fifty courts (many with covered bleacher seating) was very user friendly and free.

Once you coordinate yourself with the area and listen to the announcements over the loud speaker, you can have a ringside seat to watch some of the best amateur and professional pickleball players on the planet compete.

While an event like the Minto U.S. Open is very different from an event like the Miami Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, they do share a lot in common.

For one, they are both held at public park facilities.

The Miami Open is Masters 1000, top tier professional tennis tournament, and is one of the largest and most important tournaments of the year for both prize money and ranking points.

While professional pickleball does not (yet) provide the large amount of prize money or have a professional tour ranking system as tennis does, the Minto U.S. Open is the world’s largest pickleball tournament, with 2,000 athletes from 47 states and 17 countries participating in a variety of age and skill levels, competing in over 4,400 matches. It provides $40,000 in prize money for the professional players, and is considered by most of the pros, to be the premier event of the year. The Zing Zang Championship Court is the best showcase pickleball court in the world.

With that said, I want to compliment the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department and County Commissioner Donna Fiala for being instrumental in realizing the social impact and economic benefits which an event like the Minto U.S. Open brings to the community, and for arranging the funding to construct a public use facility, which is a truly state-of-the-art.

I feel it is a shining example of keeping up with the times, and is a guideline which should be followed by other communities and cities; improving and updating facilities would/could provide for both the health and well being of the citizens, as well as the health of it’s own economy.

So, as a player or as a spectator, if you have never attended this event, I highly recommend you add attending it to your bucket list. The Minto U.S. Open Championships will continue to be held here in Naples for at least the next three years. It is truly a world-class sporting event and is setting the standards for how a public use pickleball facility can enhance a community, and benefit its citizens and tax payers.

Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis/Sports Juniors programs run year round, and offer classes for players ranging from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at coachwayneclark@aol.com or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.

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