After 83 years, Tulsa Tennis Club maintains its small membership and family feel, but welcomes one new feature.
With its lush, perfectly landscaped grounds; remodeled swimming pool; and prime midtown location next to the home of Mayor Kathy Taylor, the Tulsa Tennis Club (TTC) is a place where generations of families have grown up. And despite the name, not all of the 147 members play tennis.
Some value the family-like environment or enjoy watching their children and grandchildren play tennis. Indeed, the club is an escape outlet that Byron Alp, tennis pro and club manager, describes as a “good place to get away.”
Quiet, serene and secure, TTC is the oldest tennis club in Tulsa and the only clay court facility in Oklahoma. Diana Benien, who became TTC’s first female president in February 2009, says the club has a welcoming environment where “everyone is interested in each other’s children.”
After all, it is the members’ children who will carry on the club’s tradition for the next generation.
Eighty-three years ago, seven men gathered in an elegant dining room at Tulsa’s Mayo Hotel with plans to discuss the formation of a club dedicated to racquet sports. Three meetings later — on July 23, 1926 — they decided that the club would consist of 150 charter members and also include a special membership for women and children.
Construction on TTC began in 1926 at 2801 S. Columbia Place and included just five courts. A year later, the clubhouse was added, as well as two additional hard courts. In the 1950s, a 50-foot swimming pool was added and, in 1976, a new 4,500-square-foot clubhouse was built with locker rooms for men and women, a concession area, storage and laundry facilities and an adjoining caretaker’s residence.
Throughout the years, the club has maintained most of its original architecture. But in the three years before Benien became president, a new deck was built for the swimming pool, which was enlarged and renovated. She says her next priority is updating and remodeling the clubhouse.
TTC has experienced changes to more than its architecture over the years. From the time that TTC was established until the 1950s, men could dominate the courts and kick women off at any time.
Benien remembers the era when female club members were regarded as second class, but all of that changed in the early 1980s when members Carol Pielsticker-Bump and Mary Collins, whose husbands were on the club’s board of directors, suggested that they change those rules.
“The club started as a gentleman’s club and therefore there was a certain hierarchy as to who had priority,” Collins says. “It was a rule on paper, but in all my years of playing tennis, I never saw it abused. As the times changed and progressed, our rules changed accordingly.”
TTC also once played host to a variety of world-class tournaments.
During the Larry Simmons Invitational, a premier event held at the club from 1958-1977, legendary women’s tennis champion Chris Evert even competed. The club does not presently host tournaments, but Benien says there is discussion of bringing tournaments back to the club.
TTC is also known for its traditional member events, including Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day parties, as well as The Woody Event, in which adult members dress in white attire and play with wooden rackets and white balls.
As far as the club’s future, Benien says, “I would rather preserve what we (members of TTC) had, what we have now and be good stewards of our wonderful history.”
Although few notable private tennis clubs remain in Tulsa, longtime members work to maintain TTC’s integrity and standards for new and future members.
“I want the same feelings that I had and my children had and the love they have for the club to continue on to the other members’ children that come here,” she says.