By Marty Farmer
Wimbledon, the US Open, French Open and Australian Open are deservedly recognized as the "Mount Rushmore" of premier tennis venues throughout the world. After all, they are the four Majors in professional tennis.
If you're in the Chicagoland area, however, and have no immediate plans to check out the "terre bateau" (red clay) in Paris, the pristine grass courts in southwest London or the other Grand Slam tourneys, the place to be is the Oak Brook Tennis Center (a facility of the Oak Brook Park District).
The USTA selected the Oak Brook Tennis Center as one of 12 winners in the 35th annual USTA Facility Awards Program, which recognizes excellence in construction and/or renovation of tennis facilities throughout the country.
"It's cool to see the (Oak Brook) Tennis Center win a nice award like that," said club member Chuck Jenner, who plays tennis regularly at the center with his wife and kids. "We've been here about a year and a half and really like it. It's a great indoor tennis facility with good coaching for kids group lessons."
The Oak Brook Tennis Center was honored at the USTA semi-annual meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City Sept. 1 at an awards luncheon.
The prestigious honor really hit home when the Oak Brook Tennis Center hosted its own party on Saturday, Oct. 1.
As a regular guest player at the Oak Brook Tennis Center and contributing writer for the club, I attended the tennis soiree and was throroughly impressed with the club receiving such an honor.
Oak Brook Park Board Commissioner Kevin Tan kicked off the party with a brief speech praising the Oak Brook Tennis Center for its award.
"The Oak Brook Tennis Center has done an excellent job servicing its club members and the community," Tan said. "Being recognized by the USTA as an outstanding facility provides further evidence that (Oak Brook Tennis Center Manager) Alin Pop and the staff have done a wonderful job making this place special.
"They truly strive to make this the best possible facility it can be. We're very fortunate and thankful to have this facility in our community."
The festive evening also included on-court activities, followed by food and refreshments, a prize drawing for assorted tennis gifts, and plenty of fun.
"We probably had about 100 people come out to celebrate which I think is as important as the award itself," Pop said. "It was a nice social event and the club members appreciated it.
"The national recognition is huge for us. There were only six facilities in our category who won the award. This is the third straight year we applied for the award and we got it. We kept improving courts and programming until the USTA let us know we met the criteria to win the award."
The Oak Brook Tennis Center previously won the award in 1985. Since then, the facility has developed tremendously.
"They have done a lot of good work and rebuilt everything (at the Oak Brook Tennis Center)," said Brian Pavuk, a 15-year club member from Willowbrook. "They take good care of the kids and really players from all over the place. I really like the fact they have great indoor and outdoor courts so you can play year-round."
The center is located on 71 acres of Park District of Oak Brook property and has been updated with $1 million of improvements over the past six years.
"Great tennis facilities like Oak Brook help us to grow the game at the grass-roots level, and we are proud to recognize them for their ongoing impact on the sport of tennis," said Kurt Kamperman, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, USTA. "Oak Brook has embraced many of our tennis initiatives and kept the sport at the forefront of its community each year."
Amenities galore at Tennis Center
Oak Brook Tennis Center amenities include eight indoor and eight outdoor tennis courts, five racquetball courts, full service pro shop, childcare, newly renovated fitness room, plus sauna and locker room facilities.
The center is also home to 20-plus USTA teams annually and is the host of USTA District and State Championship Adult leagues playoffs. There are more than 750 junior and youth players that play out of Oak Brook and various levels of adult players from beginner to advanced including college and travel teams.
"We were actually at the Oak Park Tennis and Fitness Center until we moved to Glen Ellyn," said club member Kim Foster. "My daughter (Lorenza Foster-Simbulan) takes lessons and does athletic training at the Oak Brook Tennis Center. When I'm at the center, I use the workout facilities.
"The staff is very supportive and the families are so close. There is a very friendly atmosphere around the club. My daughter feels like it's a second home."
Foster-Simbulan was a member of the OBTC's 10 & Under Junior Team which won the USTA Midwest 10 & Under Junior National Team Tennis Sectional Championship on July 31 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The other members of the OBTC 10 & Under Junior Team included Shokhrukh Muradov, Clare Lopatka (Oak Brook), Rachelle Qin (Oak Brook), Renee Qin (Oak Brook), Nick Marringa (Hinsdale), Alexander Pop (Morton Grove), Richard Chen (Clarendon Hills) and Alex Buttin (Western Springs).
Dorin Iacob and Pop coached the team.
"At the Oak Brook Tennis Center, we foster player development from the beginning with foam balls and smaller courts," Iacob said. "Once the kids can rally a bit, we move them to red balls and a bigger net. It's a developmental process with age appropriate equipment.
"Our 10 & Under team has been fun to watch because we have made them into serious players with a lot of remaining potential."
Speaking of potential, Pop believes the Oak Brook Tennis Center has room for improvement as well, even with its laundry list of honors and awards.
"The key to our success is programming," Pop said. "Good programming at the club brings in revenue, which enables us to have money for capital projects. As long as revenue is coming in, then improvements can be made. It's really as simple as that.
"Everybody has roles within the club as well. The tennis professionals on the court, our staff, administrators, and others all contribute to our club.
"There's a lot of work done behind the scenes."
The Oak Brook Tennis Center is a facility of the Oak Brook Park District, a National Gold Medal Agency.
For more information about the club, visit www.obparks.org/tennis.
2016 USTA Facility Awards Progam winners:
Public Courts: Small Tennis Centers (2 to 10 courts) San Sebastian Tennis Courts – San Sebastian, P.R.
Public Courts: Large Tennis Centers (11 or more courts) Oak Brook Tennis Center – Oak Brook, Ill.Cherry Hill Health & Racquet Club – Cherry Hill, N.J. Cooper Tennis Complex – Springfield, Mo. Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex – Clearwater, Fla. Oklahoma City Tennis Center – Oklahoma City, Okla. Sound Shore Indoor Tennis LLC – Port Chester, N.Y. Owensboro Tennis Facility – Owensboro, Ky. The Candy Erickson Tennis Center – Park City, Utah (Featured Facility)
Educational Institution: McCallie School Strang-Voges Tennis Center – Chattanooga, Tenn. Michael & Anne Greenwood Tennis Center – Stillwater, Okla.
Private Facilities: Sea Colony Tennis – Bethany Beach, Del.