The latest gadgets, makeup, and even cars are fairly common examples of what men and women in sales encourage customers to purchase. But, what if a salesman–an expert with kitchen appliances–could convince you to build and open a tennis club from scratch? More than 50 years ago, salesman Larry Johnson persuaded developer George Holstein to do just that. The result: the Newport Beach Tennis Club.
While Holstein was dedicated to his work, primarily constructing Orange County homes and condominium communities around Palm Springs, he was also passionate about a plethora of sports. The Balboa Bay Club, along with the Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course, were just two results of his appreciation for athletics prior to the Newport Beach Tennis Club. So, when Johnson presented his original concept of a tennis club, he was surprised to be met with Holstein’s skepticism. Holstein challenged Johnson to prove to him how a tennis club could possibly generate any revenue. Through many hours of research and planning, a savvy, exasperated Johnson finally had him sold.
The Newport Beach Tennis Club was envisioned to be the “Forest Hills of the West.” Invigorated with that image, the pair ambitiously sought out the Irvine Company, who owned the 7.5 acres of land above Upper Newport Bay they had taken to, and after much negotiating on Johnson’s part, the design for a tennis paradise was underway.
By May, 1966, the Newport Beach Tennis Club opened its doors to the public. One hundred memberships sold the first day alone, and each new member was presented with an official blazer insignia of a tennis racquet. The positive reception was truly a miracle, considering a mere four tennis courts and a trailer for an office were the primary components of the club. However, it does go to show how welcoming the spirit of the community was, and that spirit would continue to play a crucial role in the club’s expansion.
Later that year, the club grew into its own with the addition of a $600,000 clubhouse, swimming pool and 10 additional tennis courts. It really began to thrive with the community’s support and the camaraderie that had been fostered, and when the desire for even more courts was made known, the request was gladly met. By 1977, 19 courts were in full use nearly every hour on weekdays and weekends, and other enhancements included the iconic “TV court,” a sunken championship center court, patterned after Wimbledon, and designed to accommodate up to 6,000 spectators. The night-lit courts have since been rated the highest quality in the sport, offering better-than-sunlight playing benefits.
Aside from providing first-class facilities and amenities for the community, the Newport Beach Tennis Club has historically been called home by both celebrities and tennis pros alike. Playing at the club were some of the greatest male players in history, like Rod Laver, Pancho Gonzales and Roy Emerson, who won 12 major singles titles and had a tournament named after him. The tradition continues as the 55th Annual Roy Emerson Adoption Guild Tennis Tournament will be held the last weekend in May and first weekend in June at the club. Other tennis greats who played at the club included Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, and many more. Peter Arendrup, former pro Danish player, frequented the club in its early days and was the club’s pro for a few years. One club member fondly recalls, “a lesson from Peter is a great experience, even if you never go on the court again.”
In 1977, the club had the honor of holding the inaugural Ladies Professional Tennis Tournament in Orange County, capturing the attentions of Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Betty Stone. Even movie star John Wayne and his wife Pilar could be seen spending leisure time at the club from time to time. Drawn to the club for prestigious affairs, including the celebrated Pacific Southwest Championships, Top Gun Tennis Championships, and Davis Cup North American Finals, it has not been unusual to happen upon the stars of tennis and Hollywood.
Today, 19 tennis courts continue to light up the nights and glow under the sun, and the junior Olympic pool remains a popular center for recreation. The club is a deluxe haven for families and couples, where fostering new friendships and supporting timeless ones is the norm. A tempting full-service restaurant and bar, modern fitness center, and gorgeous grounds, popular for weddings and banquets alike, have become club cornerstones.
May will mark the club’s 50th anniversary. On May 21st, members are welcome to enjoy an elegant, black-tie optional celebration. Newport Beach public officials are expected to attend the private affair, and select members who have been with the club the longest are to receive special recognition.
Reflecting on past owner Johnson Arendrup’s outlook for the club, it is easy to see that his dream for the community has manifested.
“It’s the finest game in the world to play and to see,” Arendrup said, “and we believe in telling people about it. The day of the private tennis show is over…it’s for people to see and enjoy, and that’s the philosophy of the Newport Beach Tennis Club.”
In 50 years, not only are members treated impartially, regardless of skill level, but an honest sense of family and caring is promoted in the game of tennis and in life.