In the five years since Alex Brown first set foot on the courts at the La Jolla Tennis Club, the venue has seen its share of controversy — from lights that obstructed the view of the night sky to the departures of two managers in less than a year and the termination of some coaching contracts.
But Brown argues that the club has also seen positive changes lately, including increased membership and more transparent operations.
Brown was elected the club’s board president on March 8. The board is responsible for running the Draper Avenue site as a nonprofit service to the city of San Diego on nine city-owned courts. The group meets every other month at the nearby La Jolla Recreation Center.
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Brown moved to San Diego five years ago after visiting a friend who was living in La Jolla. “The week I was here, I went to the LJTC clinics every morning and decided to move to San Diego a month later,” Brown said. She had played tennis on and off and wanted to get back into the sport.
She said the La Jolla Tennis Club stood out in that it was “open to everyone” and had opportunities for people to drop in and play.
“I had a lot of experience in the past with sports like basketball, where you could play pickup in a park, where you know people will be around and it is open to everyone. I hadn’t experienced that with tennis,” she said. “You needed to have a partner or a schedule. At LJTC, my experience was different. People were super welcoming, people would hang out in the bleachers, they were really nice and talk about your game and who you might be good to play with.”
The facility also has a “challenge court” on which anyone can sign up to play whoever is there. The winner keeps the court and plays the next person on the list, up to two matches.
Brown started with the board by volunteering in its annual summer tournament in 2019 and got familiar with its inner workings. When elections took place that November, she applied for a seat.
About a year later, complaints started rolling in that the club’s lights were “obtrusive” and created “a nuisance for neighbors” by spilling light outward instead of down onto the courts.
Soon after, a project got underground to replace the lights.
“The lights are something we are really excited about,” Brown said. “It was a $70,000 project. The new lights are Dark Sky-certified [from the International Dark Sky Places organization]. They don’t bother the neighborhood, which is important for us. They also meet [U.S. Tennis Association] standards. We’re really happy people like them, but it means the courts are busy all the time, even in the winter.”
In spring 2021, controversy hit the club with a one-two punch when leaders offered longtime manager Scott Farr a pay cut and he declined, prompting him to leave his post after 15 years. The club also terminated the teaching privileges of Ronald Agenor (a Black man), Jennifer Dawson (an Asian woman) and Mark Davis (a White man), leaving only White men remaining with contracts.
Some critics claimed race was a motivating factor in the decision to remove some of the coaches. The board emphatically denied that and said several other factors were considered, including the coaches’ length of service, interest in taking on new clients, the membership status of their clients, whether the pros had a formal or informal arrangement with the club, and their general involvement with the club outside of private lessons.
The board also had told club members in April last year that the number of teaching professionals would be reduced from seven to four because “the board has heard consistently from members, and from the pros, that there are too many pros at the club,” leading to conflicting “demands for court time between pros and members.”
Brown contended that after the club he explained the situation to angered members, many of them understood. “I would say about 5 percent are still mad,” she said. “Even if they were disappointed on a social level, they understood where we’re coming from.”
The Rev. Mark Hargreaves, pastor of St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in La Jolla and a member of the Tennis Club for six years, said that “in the last couple of years there have been some significant changes. Change always leaves some people disgruntled. However, my sense is that the majority of members are well-satisfied with the changes that have been made.”
The board also has faced criticism for what some members see as a lack of transparency in its approval earlier this year of a $20,000 contract with a recruiting agency to find a new manager after Vic Kramitz, who had been hired to replace Farr, left in January . Some were stunned by the expenditure and said the board did not consult members before authorizing it.
“We might not be taking out billboards to announce what we’re going to do next, but no one is being secretive here. We’ve been an open book.”
But Brown, serving as the club’s employment committee president, said in February that “the club’s financial position is much clearer and very strong.” She said that in the previous 10 months, the club’s operational revenue had increased 1,500 percent and that it could fund the search agency contract and about $110,000 in salary for the new manager.
Brown says now that “all of our changes have been to make us more transparent.” She noted that board meetings are open to the membership and said: “We might not be taking out billboards to announce what we’re going to do next, but no one is being secretive here. We’ve been an open book.”
Looking ahead, Brown said the board has several projects intended to improve the club’s offerings.
It “cleaned up” the clubhouse/pro shop to “make it more inviting” and started resurfacing some of the courts, she said.
“As of the first week of May, we will have resurfaced four courts this year,” Brown said. “We did five courts last year.”
Hargreaves agreed that the club’s finances and infrastructure have “made significant improvements.”
Brown said the board is looking to determine whether the foundation of some of the courts needs to be replaced, given that cracks have come back even after resurfacing.
She said she is also looking to improve the junior program for players ages 5-18. “We want the juniors more integrated into the way the adults play,” she said. “We have a great junior program after school during the school year and every day during the summer. The program is always full and there is always a wait list.
“We’re giving them competitive opportunities with our challenge courts if they are at that level, because it’s important to keep kids playing to continue the program.”
Learn more about the club at ljtc.org. ◆