Pickleball Takes Center Court

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Mar 22, 2019 at 7:00 PM

It’s the fastest growing sport in the country, and McConnell Golf members have home-court advantage.

Pickleball is a paddle sport, similiar to tennis or badminton, but with fewer rules and, some would say, even more fun.

“This year is our test year for pickleball,” says Kyle Thortsen, McConnell corporate director of tennis. “We’re educating our tennis pros on how to play and running demos at clubs, so be on the lookout for more details from your pro shop on upcoming pickleball socials this year.”

Holston Hills Country Club and Country Club of Asheville have seen a big interest in the sport; both clubs have a regular group of players who meet weekly.

“The biggest fans of pickleball are usually those who are aging out of tennis,” says Thorsten. “It’s a slower-paced game with an underhand serve, played on a smaller court. It’s great for tennis players who may have had injuries or can’t take the wear and tear of covering a full tennis court.”

At CCA, Director of Tennis Bill Barber says pickleball is bringing new people to his indoor courts.

“I’m seeing new people out here, which I love. It gets people active, and that’s a great thing. I’ve been shocked at the interest. There’s a very quick learning curve and it’s an incredibly social game. People are watching and laughing at the good, the bad, the ugly shots. It’s almost like adult ping-pong. I love when I hear members say ‘I haven’t laughed this much in years.’” 

CCA member Wayne DiCastri recently moved to Asheville from Minnesota, where he and his wife, Ingrid, played the sport regularly. They didn’t miss a beat when they joined CCA last fall.

“We have a great core group that plays regularly,” he says.

“It was a great way for us to meet new people and get some exercise. There’s less area to cover on the court and all the equipment is here. You just show up and start playing.” 

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Barber Shop

by Brad King

 Mar 22, 2018 at 1:00 PM

For The Country Club of Asheville tennis program, the past, present, and future are bright

Young Athletes abound at McConnell Golf Clubs. Lately, The Country Club of Asheville, in particular, has garnered recognition for its impact on junior tennis in the South. That’s thanks in large part to the efforts of its Director of Tennis, Bill Barber, but also to top-notch facilities.

When Barber came to CCA in 2000, he brought with him a wealth of world-class playing experience and a pedigree that included nearly three years on the ATP tour — where he was ranked in the top 250 in the world — four years playing collegiately at UCLA and a junior experience that once saw Bill ranked among the top 20 junior players in the U.S.

At CCA, Bill started building a junior tennis program from the ground up. He initiated both after-school and summer programs, and the structure was rigorous but lighthearted. “The path to success in junior tennis is a long one, so there has to be fun along the way,” Barber says. “We don’t expect every junior to be a top state tennis player but we want to provide them with the tools to get them there if they desire.”

His attitude is contagious. “Bill Barber combines his wealth of tennis knowledge and his non-stressful, but supportive teaching style,” says Barbie Haynes, a longtime CCA member and mother of three junior players. “It has encouraged a love of tennis in my children.”

Of course, a first-class pedigree thrives in an outstanding setting. CCA built its state-of-the-art indoor facility in 2005, allowing members to practice and play year round — and particularly helping propel the junior program to the next level. Eight lit Har Tru clay courts sit surrounded by tall pines. And a pair of deco turf courts — an identical surface and color as those at Flushing Meadows, where the world’s best compete every year at the U.S. Open — give CCA’s indoor tennis facility a big-time feel and playability.

“The junior tennis program is a big reason that we belong to CCA,” says Lee Anne Kelley. Her son, Ben, is a tennis team member at Presbyterian College, which she credits to “the coaching he received in the junior program.” It’s about more than collegiate success, though. “We have all formed lasting, lifelong friendships with the parents and juniors who have participated in tennis. Best of all, we are engrossed in a sport that we can all enjoy as a family.”

Indeed, more than a decade since the completion of CCA’s indoor facility, the club’s junior players have seen increasing success on both the junior and college circuit. CCA has produced one junior ranked No. 1 in the South (an eight-state region), six juniors ranked No. 1 in the state in their respective age divisions, one high school state championship boys team, two state runner-up high school girls teams, and three state high school individual champions.

Barber’s history as a junior champion makes his on-the-road wisdom all the more valuable to CCA’s junior standouts. “Bill and Spencer [Mai, Barber’s assistant professional] provide priceless leadership to the program,” says Anne Roegner, who has two tennis-playing sons, Ryan and Blake. “The program has given our boys confidence, ploys, and focus — skills that will continue to serve them for the rest of their playing lives.”

Currently, CCA has young men and women playing collegiate men’s and women’s tennis at UNC, UNC-Wilmington, Appalachian State, and Presbyterian College. Not to mention the numerous juniors playing club tennis at their various universities. “It is great to see all of those kids continue their tennis careers at the collegiate level and be able to benefit from athletic scholarships,” Barber says. “They worked incredibly hard for many years.”

A younger group of tennis players are carrying on the club’s tradition of excellence. Adrienne Haynes, 16, and Anne’s son Ryan Roegner, 15, are ranked as top players in the state and among the Top 75 players in the nation. Both have the potential to play at the collegiate level.

Mary Victoria Young, now 11, and Bill’s own son, 10-year-old Xander Barber, were both ranked No. 1 in the state for the 10-and-under division. Their achievement has set CCA junior records, setting a high bar for future players. “Only time will tell,” Barber says. “But with hard work and a lot of fun, anything is possible.” 

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Holding Court!

by Matt McConnell

 Mar 13, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Game, set, dinner!

Exhibition matches have long been a celebrated occasion across the tennis facilities of McConnell Golf; however starting last year, a new twist was added — members can enjoy great food, service, and entertainment right on the court.

“What can be better than dining under the stars while watching local collegiate and professional tennis players compete?” asks Kyle Thortsen, director of tennis operations. “These Dining on the Courts events are a night for the entire family to enjoy.”

This February, CCA hosted its second annual Grand Slam Social on their indoor tennis courts. The event featured a menu of seared tuna, beef sliders, and a batch of the official cocktail of the U.S. Open, the Honey Deuce.

For the entertainment, Ben Kelley (former CCA junior and recent graduate of Presbyterian College) and CCA Director of Tennis Bill Barber took on Henry Patten (UNC-Asheville’s No. 1 player) and Alix Theodossiou (a former CCA junior and recent graduate of UNC-Wilmington). Last year, Kelley, who is the top player in school history, helped his team win the Big South tournament and gain entry into the NCAA tournament for the first time. Meanwhile at UNCW, Theodossiou played the No. 3 spot her senior year and her team finished second in the Colonial Conference. Patten is currently ranked No. 32 in the NCAA men’s singles, the highest ranking ever for a UNCA player.

Both Patten and Theodossiou played incredibly well and despite Barber and Kelley putting up a strong fight, the young duo won 8-5. Following the doubles play, Patten and Kelley played an entertaining set of singles to finish off the evening’s entertainment. 

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From the Stands

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Jul 18, 2017 at 8:08 PM

Avid tennis fans and Country Club of Asheville members Joe and Kathryn Scott traveled to New York last year to experience the US Open - in particular, the men’s double final and women’s single final. While Serena Williams was the one Kathryn hoped to see (she didn’t make the finals) the experience of being there in person was irreplaceable.

“You don’t get a good sense of the power or speed of the game when you’re watching from home,” says Kathryn, who plays tennis with her family. “The ball is there before you even see them hit. It’s across the court and being returned so fast. That athleticism is hard to capture on TV.”

The Scotts offer some good advice for planning a trip to a national tennis tournament besides the obvious, drink plenty of water and bring sunscreen. “Give yourself plenty of time to get out to the stadium. Go early, because there’s a lot to do on the grounds.”

While it's hard to match the excitement of traveling afar to watch the pros play, the Winston-Salem Open is a great event to catch big talent locally. Again this year, McConnell Golf will organize a group trip to the event, which is the final tournament in a series of nine leading up to the US Open. It's a great chance to socialize with members from sister properties and the group enjoys tailgating before the match as much as their group seats in the stadium. 

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Field Trip

by Laura Burkehart

 Dec 13, 2016 at 9:02 PM

McConnell Golf's tennis program brings all the clubs together. 

Each August since 2011 fans have gathered at Wake Forest University for the Winston-Salem Open. The last men’s tournament on the Emirates Airline US Open Series circuit before the US Open, this event draws top pros and a large, enthusiastic crowd.

For the past couple of years, McConnell Golf members have joined in the fun. “It’s a good event,” says Kyle Thortsen, McConnell Golf director of tennis. “We start out with a tailgate in the parking lot. We have a tent, and cornhole, and food, and everyone hangs out until the gates open.”

Member Jill Uttridge agrees. “I attended the WSO with my husband and sons, who are 13 and 9. While the boys enjoyed cornhole in the parking lot, we mixed with friends from our club, Wakefield Plantation, and met members from other McConnell clubs. It was fun to hang with the pros in a non-instructional capacity.” The highlights for the kids? “My 9-year-old loved watching the players practice a few feet away and getting autographs on his big tennis ball. We love the small tournaments because you can really get up close to the players.” Once inside, the group gathered at center court for a photo. “That was really cool,” smiles Thortsen. “Last year, we had 25 members, and this year we had 50. We hope it will continue to grow and grow.”

 The Country Club of Asheville trip took place in the spring, with members from the Raleigh area heading to the mountains. Member Mary Beth Corbin recalls, “We brought a lot of energy and were greeted with sincere enthusiasm. Everyone was so welcoming, and the clinic with the pros was well-designed to meet the levels of the different participants.” These excursions also involve entertainment and local college players coming out for some sets.

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