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HIST

 

 
USTAFYIG_SouthGAThe Georgia Lawn Tennis Association came into being in 1954 as one of eight Districts of the Southern Lawn Tennis Association, a Section of USLTA. The Georgia Tennis Association of today was incorporated on September 19, 1977 under the laws of the State of Georgia with the stated objective to “create, develop, maintain, and promote the game of tennis.”

The GLTA, though established as a District of SLTA in 1954, was not officially organized until 1959, when a group of volunteers and tournament players from Bitsy Grant Tennis Center were called to a meeting at the Cherokee Town Club and officers were elected. The first GTA officers elected at that meeting who continued to work for tennis in Georgia for many years were Vince Connerat, President, Ruth Lay, Vice-President, Natalie Cohen, Secretary, and Eleanor Hardcastle, Treasurer.

Prior to this time, however, tennis had existed in the state since the early 1880’s. Much of our information today regarding early Georgia tennis history is recorded in “An Outline of History of the Southern Tennis Association,” compiled in 1976 by Gilbert Stacy, a Georgia resident and past President of STA.

The USTA celebrated its centennial anniversary in 1974, commemorating its establishment in 1874 and struck a medal to celebrate the first 100 years. It is recorded in USTA history that in 1889, the USLTA changed its Constitution to include not only member clubs, but associations of clubs as well. It is believed that the SLTA came into official being at this time, and there were tennis courts in Atlanta, Savannah, and possibly other locations. It is a fact that the British in Georgia, as well as in New Orleans, were here to learn the cotton business. They also supervised the building of the first courts, which were grass, and introduced the game to Georgia. By the late 1880’s and 90’s, there were many courts in Atlanta and in other areas of Georgia. The Atlanta Athletic Club was organized in 1898 and built two courts in downtown Atlanta, where the first official tournaments in Georgia were held. Many of the early Georgia players were developed here.

The first Southern Championships held in Georgia were on the courts of the Atlanta Athletic Club in July 1906, and were held there for several years. In 1907, the Georgia State Championships were held at the Log Cabin Club in Macon, and South Atlantic States Championships in Augusta. Another Georgia tournament site listed in these years were the Cascade Tennis Club of Atlanta, and, by 1916, tournaments were listed at the Piedmont Driving Club, the West End Club of Atlanta, East Lake Country Club, and the Savannah Golf Club. It is interesting to note that in 1917, during World War I, no Sectional tournaments were held, but the Georgia State Patriotic Championships at the Cascade Tennis Club in Atlanta.

Among prominent players listed in those early years were Bryan M. Grant, father of “Bitsy” Grant, and Nat Thornton, whose pictures still hang on the wall of Bitsy Grant Tennis Center in Atlanta. In addition, in these early years, players L.D. Scott, Carleton Y. Smith, Frank C. Owens, and Malon Courts were listed as officers of the STA. Malon Courts was instrumental in donating and raising additional money for the building of the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center in Atlanta in 1955, the first large tennis center in the state. Bryan M. “Bitsy” Grant, Jr. remains to this day, the greatest champion to come out of Georgia. He was first listed as #1 in the South in 1927 before obtaining his outstanding National and International record.

It is interesting to note the official Georgia member clubs in 1936, however many others had been built by this time in cities and towns throughout Georgia:


Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association
Augusta Country Club 
Atlanta Tennis Club
Biltmore Tennis Club
Fort Benning Officers Club
Capitol City Country Club
Piedmont Driving Club
Atlanta Athletic Club

The Northside Tennis Club of Atlanta, home club of many Georgia players, hosted the State Championships as early as 1939, which were sponsored by ALTA. Georgia produced many highly ranked players during these years. But most interesting of all is the popularity and development of the game throughout the state during those early years.

In his book, “An Hour Before Daylight- Memories of a Rural Boyhood,” by former President Jimmy Carter, he writes of his boyhood in the 1930’s and that his father was “an outstanding tennis player who had good control of the ball and a wicked slice that was effective on the dirt courts around the Plains.” He also stated that, “ One of the first things he built when we moved out from Plains to our Archery home was a dirt tennis court built between our house and the commissary store where men would drive out on Sundays to play. It was a large group with the player who first lost a set dropping out if others were waiting. The winner stayed on the court as long as he wished, and usually that was Daddy. Daddy was impatient for me to grow up, and began giving me tennis lessons as soon as I was old enough to hold a racket. Although I eventually became the top player in high school, I could never beat him and he certainly never gave me a point.” 

Tennis has always produced great leaders, as it continues to do today. Another interesting example that should be recorded involves former Georgia Governor George Busbee, who grew up in Vienna, Ga. and played on the red clay courts built by his father in the 1930’s in a city park known by local children as the “Playground.” He was given the challenge of rebuilding the park and those courts if elected governor and he kept the promise. The courts were refinished and modernized, and several years later a ceremony was held and the courts named in honor of a tennis volunteer and player, also a native of Vienna, as the “Ruth Ryner Lay” tennis courts in George Busby Park.

Other tennis centers built in the state have honored some of Georgia’s great volunteers, including the John Drew Tennis Center in Macon, the Carole Floyd Tennis Center in Bainbridge, and the Rome Tennis Center, dedicated to George Wallis.  Recently, the Cooper Creek Tennis Center in Columbus has honored Judy & Roger Pearce for their dedication to local tennis. 

By the early 1940’s not only were many private courts built, courts were also built adjacent to schools in many city and county parks. High school tennis was a well-organized sport in Georgia and Local and District competition held in many areas, and State Championships held at Mercer University in Macon, and later at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Seeking to reach the stated goals at the time of its official incorporation in 1977, “to create, develop, maintain, and promote the game of tennis,” under the laws of the state of Georgia, this effort has culminated in the year 2003 in a USTA membership in Georgia of 56,000+ of tournament and league players, both adult and juniors. The Georgia Tennis Association in 2015 is still the largest organized membership group in the Southern Section of the USTA.

The Atlanta Community Tennis Association (ACTA)/ League Atlanta (aka USTA Atlanta) organizes and administers, under the auspices of GTA/USTA the largest USA League Tennis in the country. It has also initiated High School League competition and many Adult and Junior programs.

The Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, founded in the early 1900’s, is now the world’s largest local tennis association with over 80,000 members. It administers and sponsors Junior Leagues in all age groups, plus Adult and Senior programs. It has founded and organized the ALTA Tennis Foundation. 

The Macon Tennis Association organizes and runs several State & Sectional Championships at the John Drew Smith Tennis Center, as does the Peachtree City Tennis Center in Peachtree City and the Rome-Floyd Tennis Center in Rome. Other major Championships are also held at the Augusta-Newman tennis Center in Augusta, the Cooper Creek Tennis Center, and the Columbus Country Club, Hudlow Tennis Center in Norcross, Harrison Tennis Center in Marietta and Valdosta State University, just to name a few. 

Savannah Area Tennis Association was named the USTA National Community Tennis Association of the Year in 2013.  Not to be outdone, that was followed by the Columbus Regional Tennis Association receiving the same honor in 2017.  This makes Georgia the only state in the country with 3 CTA's winning this year (USTA Atlanta won in 2004).

The work of the Georgia Tennis Association, coordinated by its staff, now includes over 200 volunteers on Committees at the State, Sectional, and USTA levels and hundreds of volunteers throughout the state. Our special thanks also go to all the Tournament Directors throughout the state, and to the hundreds of certified teaching professionals in the Georgia Professional Tennis Association (GPTA), the USPTA in Georgia, and PTR.

The GTA has come along way since the first official office was opened in 1984 with a staff of two, a typewriter provided by the STA, and a growing membership of approximately 11,000. Through the GTA office, a large and effective group of volunteers were organized throughout the state to administer GTA and USTA programs through Community Tennis Associations, Parks and Recreation Departments, private clubs and tennis organizations, private facilities, public/private schools, and other local organizations. The state is now divided and organized into eight regions or districts, each with a Representative serving on the GTA Advisory Council, elected Officers, ten Past Presidents, and a Representative-At-Large. The Board of Directors is the governing body of the Georgia Tennis Association overseeing all activities administered by an Executive Director and a staff of thirteen. 

Many of our volunteers and top players have been recognized and inducted into the Sessions Georgia Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and honored by other organizations, and many more will be honored in the future. In addition, at this time, it seems appropriate to give special thanks to several volunteers and staff who have contributed so much through the years to the development and growth of the Georgia Tennis Association:

Julie Wrege, twice President during our greatest years of growth, who continues to lead and provide guidance when needed; Lee Sessions, Past President of GTA and leader in re-organizing the Georgia Tennis foundation; Harriette Lynch, a Past President of ALTA and GTA who continues to volunteer her time in many needed areas; Randy Stephens, GTA and Southern Past President; Bernard Neal, GTA Past President and a true Rome, Georgia tennis legend; Mary Hatfield, GTA Past President and former Southern staff; Robert Sasseville, tournament Referee; Dick Hatfield in Augusta; Manuel Guillen, who has given many years of service as a GTA officer; Martha Buttorff, a founder of League Atlanta; Sheila Cronkright, who served so many important years in our greatest time of growth as our GTA Executive Director; the late Janet Louer, former GTA Director of Junior Tennis; Elaine Hamilton, former Executive Director and Community Development Director of GTA; Barbara Berman, who faithfully served the GTA as a member of the staff for 31 years; Donna Bailey, simply put the "face of tennis" in Macon; and so many more that we whole heartedly thank.

In this new century, and the second 100 years of the Georgia Tennis Association, may our success continue and our future shine more brightly than ever.

Original History provided by Ruth Ryner Lay on November 1, 2001

Updated August 2017

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