With members pitching in to put together every piece of the San Dieguito Tennis Club’s 50th anniversary party on Aug. 28, from bringing the chairs from a nearby church to playing in the dance band and string duo that entertained partygoers, the event was a microcosm of what makes the club special.
What was once a group of around 40 enthusiastic tennis players without their own court, is now a 200-member club that has built nine of its own courts, a sprawling two-story clubhouse, a pool and a playground for kids at its beautiful complex on El Camino Real.
“It’s unique in that it’s owned by the members,” said board president Dick Sanders, who noted that there are about 200 people with shares and they aren’t looking to make that number larger. When a member can’t play anymore, another tennis enthusiast can rent that share.
“The essence of the club is that everybody contributes, gets together and supports each other in times of good and in times of bad. (The original members) wanted it to be people who were enthusiastic about getting together as a family and playing tennis.”
The club’s story begins in 1965, when a group playing tennis at Glen Park in Cardiff-by-the-Sea lobbied the county to build more than the one available court. When their efforts were unsuccessful, they took it upon themselves, pooling their money to buy 2.5 acres of land along El Camino Real and build their first courts.
The San Dieguito Tennis Club (SDTC) incorporated as a nonprofit and, with 44 owner-members, opened with four courts, a small clubhouse, locker rooms and a swimming pool in 1966. Over those first few years, more land was purchased and more courts were added in 1972. A top level of the clubhouse came in 1978, lights were added to some courts in 1979 (and others in 1984) and land for the eighth and ninth courts was purchased in 1985.
For each expansion, financing came by selling more shares and adding more members to the club, which remained more like a circle of friends.
“We have barbeques in the family area, kids camp out during the summer, we have parties for every occasion — New Year’s Eve, Wimbledon, St. Patrick’s Day — we’ll have a party and play tennis,” Sanders explained. “Every Sunday, there’s a potluck with tennis. We have Mahjong nights, poker nights, a wine night (all at the clubhouse). This club becomes your family.”
Staying with the theme of SDTC members working together to improve the club, Sanders was part of a small but determined group of members, only some of whom had some expertise, who remodeled the clubhouse kitchen in 2009. A few years before that, when a small shed burned down, volunteers built a new one the very next weekend.
But they also play a little tennis on the nine sparkling courts, with weekly men’s and women’s leagues for all skill levels, tournaments and daily recreational play. The successful junior program includes a tournament, which this summer drew 120 players.
Brad Humphreys, a former state champion, was the club pro for 44 years before giving way to the current pro Dave Rapp in 2014. Under Humphreys, SDTC was named the 1998 Tennis Club of the Year by the USTA (United States Tennis Association) and the 2011 Club of the Year by the USPTA (U.S. Professional Tennis Association).
One member was ranked nationally for his senior age group for most of the past 25 years, while junior player Jacob Brumm was recently ranked in the top 20 nationally for the U16 age group.
Sanders, 70, isn’t in their class, but holds his own in his men’s leagues and doubles tournaments and has been on the board as president multiple times since joining the club in 1990. He rented at first, before getting to buy a membership in 1995, and his wife Jane is also a recreational player.
Dick and Jane Sanders were two of the 180 people who came out to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary at a magnificent event. Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar was there too, proclaiming Aug. 28, 2016 as San Dieguito Tennis Club Day.
“It was fantastic,” Sanders said, his face lighting up. “Everybody dressed in white, and you should have seen the decorations. Mostly it was just about renewing friendships.”
But the way the club has operated these past 50 years, most of the friendships were already pretty strong.