Tennis Clubs of Canada has opened the Marilyn Redvers Tennis Centre in Aurora. This will be a year round bubbled indoor facility. There are four partners who have built the club. Terry Redvers’ son, Trevor, Terry’s business manager, Adam Seigel, and Kyle Mathieson, a nephew of Marilyn Redvers and Terry. All four are principal partners and are all playing an integral role in the operating, managing and programming of the club.Terry explained the naming of the club. “The club that we are building in Aurora is special to me for many reasons but foremost is the fact that Marilyn and I and our four children spent over 20 years in this great town. When the kids were little, Marilyn stayed at home but was so very active in the kid’s schools and she also loved to play tennis, first at the Highlands, then as a member of Timberlane for all those years. When Marilyn became so incredibly successful in real estate she also displayed tremendous benevolence in donating thousands upon thousands of dollars to her church, a multitude of local charities, sponsoring local sporting teams and last, but not least, Southlake Hospital. She was honoured by the Town as Citizen of the Year and also by the Chamber of Commerce as Business Person of the Year. She was certainly an Aurora icon and my kids and I believe that naming this new tennis facility after her is an honour she richly deserves.”
Interview with Terry Redvers.
Q.Terry, you started developing bubble based winter tennis facilities more than 30 years ago. What led you to see the potential in building a public private partnership to do this?
A.Back in 1976, I became the Head Tennis Pro at the Aurora Highlands Golf and Country Club. The club had two outdoor tennis courts but also had a bubble installed each fall in order to provide winter tennis. Back in the 70’s, tennis in Ontario was booming and the club was extremely busy and booking a court was almost impossible. I guess, being blessed with entrepreneurial genes from my father, I realized that there was a huge need for indoor courts and I contacted the bubble manufacturer, Ralph Farley, to see what could be done. Ralph and I approached the Town of Aurora in 1978 to investigate the possibility of erecting a dome over four courts in a local park. Due to lack of parking and site servicing problems, that deal never happened. We then headed north to Newmarket, where we negotiated with Town staff, a deal to erect a seasonal dome on three courts at the Newmarket Community Tennis Club. Back then, private/public partnerships (PPP’s) did not even exist, but we shook hands with town staff and in the fall of 1979, we opened the Newmarket Winter Tennis Club. We built a grade beam around three of the six courts and also built a small clubhouse, complete with two change rooms, a small office area and a member lounge. Although we were an instant success, that was not always the case as tennis popularity went through peaks and valleys in the ensuing years. But we persevered and are about to erect our dome in Newmarket for our 39th year of operation.
Q.Blackmore must have been one of the first if not the first such partnership developed in tennis in the area? What challenges did you face getting and keeping it going?
A.Ten years after founding the Newmarket Club, I was offered a deal by Mr. Farley, whereby, if I bought him out of Newmarket (he was a silent partner there), he would give me the right to own and operate a new dome that he had negotiated with the Town of Richmond Hill. This deal was definitely a PPP between myself as a private businessman, and the Town. The initial challenge there was to forge a good relationship with Town staff because the Director of Parks and Recreation had just assumed his role as Director when we completed the project and he was not a proponent of PPP’s. However, when we were negotiating the deal with the Town, I offered the Town the opportunity to advertise and promote group lessons at our facility for anyone in the community, without them having to join. For over 25 years, we have given the Town over 25 court hours a week for community lessons. These group lessons have been extremely popular every year we have operated them. The Director was highly impressed with the success of these public lessons and we have always maintained a great relationship with town staff.
Q.Blackmore, Newmarket and Barrie clubs have been running successfully for a long time. What do you think have been the most important things you have done to make sure they kept running successfully.
A.Our success has always revolved around keeping things simple and adhering to our Mission that we provide something for everyone. Our lesson programmes are incredibly diverse in that we offer private, semi-private, small group and large group lessons to all ages and all levels of play. The round robins are well organized and offer consistent play…. If a participant is not good enough for a particular level of play, he or she is asked to play in the appropriate level. We run house leagues for all levels of play and have a number of teams competing in inter club play. I encourage members to give us any suggestions that they feel will make our clubs better… and I listen to my staff. I use the term ‘I’ but I stand corrected, as I have a wonderful supporting cast. Trevor Redvers, our Facilities Manager, does a tremendous job ensuring our facilities are safe, secure and well maintained. He’s a master at what he does! Several years ago, I hired Adam Seigel to be my General Manager, it is by far the best move I have ever made, as Adam is like a ship’s captain that always steers the course. We work extremely well together and no decisions are made without conferring with one another.
Q.The goal of your clubs is to provide something for everyone. Can you tell me a little about how you have gone about achieving this? Have you had to change your approach over time significantly?
A.As you stated, our Mission is to offer something for everyone. This facilitates the process of meeting our Vision of creating players for life. Well, not quite, because we don’t have swimming pools, we don’t have fitness equipment and we don’t have saunas. In other words, we offer tennis… we offer the best overall tennis programming in the business. We have learned that our type of club caters to a certain type of client, and we give our clients our undivided attention. I think that the only change in our approach was to embrace new technology (the internet) that helps us deliver our products faster and easier. A number of years ago, we contracted a company to take our bookings and accounting online and it made a huge impact. Our round robins could start right on time because no one had to line up at the front desk to give us their money or to sign up for next week. But in dealing with this company, whenever we asked them to make changes in their system to make it better, they did, but we had to pay them each time. I was thinking that we are making their product better and they should be paying us. Consequently, we approached one of our members who was a computer programming genius, and presto, we have our own online program that is truly phenomenal. He listens to all of our staff and member suggestions and is constantly improving the program, “Just Book It”.
Q.Your clubs don’t advertise having an academy and yet you have had players (eg Milos Raonic) who started playing in your clubs and gone on to successful professional careers. Have you avoided the academy label and the temptation to emphasise the high performance development aspect of tennis intentionally?
A.Although we don’t have ‘academies’ at our clubs, we do have high performance programmes that are growing in numbers each and every year. Our high performance groups at MRTC begin the fall session next week and numbers have doubled in just one year.
Q.You have said that you think a person’s experience as a beginner player is important to them becoming a lifetime player. How do you make sure that new members of your clubs get a positive initial experience?
A.When kids come out for their first lessons, I am mainly concerned if they had fun, because if they had fun, they are coming back. And if they have fun in their first series of lessons, then they will be telling their parents to sign them up again. Every time a kid walks by me I ask him or her if they had fun…and when their eyes light up, I know that they have a good instructor. Although we pride ourselves on using certified instructors, I really care about what retention numbers they have. Adam is diligent in keeping track of these numbers and because we are fortunate to have such great pros, the numbers don’t drop. What really pleases me the most is the fact that a high percentage of our pros are kids that grew up at our clubs, and who developed a passion for the game from their predecessors who taught them how to play and enjoy the game. We are also quite passionate about creating play based programmes for all ages and levels. Without an emphasis on play, it will be challenging to meet our Vision of creating players for life. With that in mind, we have developed our Progressive House League for Juniors which is a team based format for ages 4 – 14, from beginner to advanced. When we converted to this new format at Blackmore, we had over 100 kids lined up out the door to join.
In regards to new adult members, we encourage them to come in for an assessment by one of our pros and we then try to get them in a lesson programme that is commensurate with their level of play. The toughest situation to deal with occurs when the new member is trying tennis for the first time and will not be good enough to join any of our programmes except lessons. Because winter tennis can be somewhat expensive, I have often advised new adult beginners not to join the club but to take a non-member group lesson programme where they meet people who they can learn with. We are also in the process of developing a beginner adult house league as we focus our efforts towards more play and not just lessons
Q.You are clearly very passionate about tennis and you continue to play and compete regularly. Do you think it is important to get out on the court in order to maintain this passion?
A.Tough question because I think the passion for playing the game does indeed make me more passionate about helping others to improve their games. But for a number of teaching pros, their passion is the passion to teach and they spend an incredible amount of energy teaching, that they just don’t have time to play. Looking back at my career in tennis, I did take the time to play for my club’s intercounty team but I could never play tournaments because a tournament could take a whole weekend and sometimes a whole week. When I became an owner of clubs, my income was not dependent on teaching so I entered the world of senior tennis and I love it. One could say that I am a customer of my own business!
Q.The Marilyn Redvers Tennis Centre will be operating as an indoor facility year round. What were the factors that led you and your partners to decide to do this? Would you have liked to have done the same thing with your other clubs had the courts not already been committed to community clubs in the summer months?
A.Quite frankly, I had always wanted to have an indoor facility as part of the plan, probably because I hate spending an hour to squeegee a rain drenched, outdoor court, only to have it rain again five minutes into the lesson. At MRTC, we actually had no choice because the RFP called for a six court year round facility. As much as there is, indeed, a need for summer indoor courts, my real wish list would include both indoor and outdoor courts. I think the ideal situation would be a club with eight to ten courts, all the courts bubbled in the winter and keeping a dome up in the summer over three or four of them. An advantage that we do have at MRTC is that our summer camps are never rained out. We also have members that prefer to stay out of the sun and we do have air conditioning in the summer.
Q.Statistics indicate that the popularity of tennis in Canada is increasing rapidly especially among kids between 7 and 13. Yet many community clubs and commercial clubs are having difficulty recruiting and retaining members. Do you think clubs need to adapt their programming to bring these young players and develop them into lifetime tennis players? And how do you think they should do this?
A.With the GTA having become so incredibly diverse, I find it difficult to believe that any club, commercial or community, would have any trouble at all in recruiting new members. Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard have had a huge impact on the popularity of tennis. In Richmond Hill alone, the Leisure Services Department offers a comprehensive lesson programme both in winter and summer. The classes have enjoyed unprecedented numbers and Milos and Eugenie have carried the torch. And now we have Denis Shapovalov creating a bandwagon for tennis in Ontario! Believe me, the kids are lining up.
Now, in terms of retention, if clubs are losing their members, they aren’t listening. We constantly ask our members to voice their concerns, we also ask them to tell us what we are doing right. We listen. We create new programmes. We also ask our staff what they think or what they have heard and we make changes in response to their answers.
Q.Canadian tennis players have recently started to achieve exceptional results on the international stage. What kind of an impact do you think this will have on tennis at the community level?
A.It is said that history repeats itself. What is happening in Canada now is exactly what happened 40 years ago in Sweden when Bjorn Borg burst onto the international tennis scene. At that time, no one would ever have thought that tennis would become so incredibly popular in Sweden but Borg changed all that. Not long after Borg reigned supreme, several more Swedes like Wilander, Nystrom, Norman and Edberg rose to the top ranks of professional tennis. These players prospered because Borg had everyone in Sweden wanting to get their kids in the game. The same is already happening in Canada. Shapovalov is hugely popular in Canada but there are several Canadian teenage sensations that are making headlines in the tennis world. A large grassroots programme has been firmly entrenched all across Canada, and it is only going to get bigger.
An interesting side note:
Ten years ago, I was teaching an adult group in Newmarket when a senior man on the next court collapsed with a heart attack. I actually had him talking as we were doing CPR, but even with the help of the ambulance personnel, he passed away. We were told later that day that he had suffered a massive heart attack and we had no chance to save him. Shortly after this sad experience, I purchased heart defibrillators for both my tennis clubs and soccer domes. Two days ago, we saved another tennis player’s life by utilizing the defibrillator. Since installing these devices at all the domes, we have now saved three lives. So, if you own or manage a tennis club, please invest in a defibrillator!