Cary Tennis Park | 2727 Louis Stephens Drive, Cary
Known to locals as CTP, Cary Tennis Park has undergone an impressive series of renovations over the past few years. Its sprawling layout now includes a monster-like indoor facility and a sprawling layout that includes scoreboards and freshly refurbished courts that branch out, like arteries, in three directions.
The latest of these public investments literally raises the bar. Adjacent to the park’s main walkway, a newly constructed raised metal platform, filled with bright blue benches à la Yves Klein, overlooks six of the facility’s courts. Located near the northern entrance to the park, the benches provide spectators with an unobstructed view of the main CTP match grounds.
Construction of the bleachers began in October 2021 following an allocation of $900,000 by Wake County and the Town of Cary. While the renovation is modest compared to the recently built $5 million seven-court indoor facility, it is the latest initiative by Cary’s rising star as a tennis destination. Over the past five years, CTP has seen the addition of permanent Stadium Court seating, newly refurbished pickleball courts, a refurbished clubhouse and electronic scoreboards on each of the 25 outdoor courts. Initial construction of the park was carried out in two phases, with a 30-court venue completed in 2002.
“We were concerned that we were going to open and the courts would remain empty,” said Doug McRainey, director of community projects for the Town of Cary. “Of course, we were completely wrong.”
Now entering its 20th year of operation, the CTP has firmly established itself as a mainstay of the Triangle’s tennis scene, which is said to be the fourth most active tennis community in the country – thanks, in large part, to a flow constant tournaments.
CTP hosts all levels of tournaments throughout the year: junior, college, adult and professional. The junior and adult leagues are managed by the US Tennis Association (USTA), the governing body of American tennis; adult league play takes place during the week and junior tournaments take place on weekends, attracting highly ranked players from across the country.
CTP’s proximity to four major Division I tennis programs (Duke, NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest) has also allowed it to play a pivotal role in the collegiate tennis sphere. In recent years, the facility has hosted major tournaments, including the ACC Tennis Championships and the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Championships. In 2016, that came to a halt — just as a more permanent relationship was being cemented between college tennis and the city of Cary — when North Carolina passed the controversial House Bill 2, otherwise known as the “bathroom.” bill”. The bill, which barred transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity, sparked a mass exodus of sports organizations from the state, including the ACC.
“We had hosted the ACC for a long time, like 11 consecutive years, when [the bill] happened,” recalls Sean Ferreira, tennis services coordinator for the town of Cary.
“I remember writing letters, calling people to try to recover these events,” Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. Weinbrecht, who has been mayor since 2007 – and is an avid tennis player himself – has long advocated for the expansion of tennis in the city and was an influential figure during the construction of the park in the early 2000s.
After the complete repeal of HB 2 in 2017 and further hiatus due to COVID, CTP will once again see top female college players grace the courts with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Women’s U.S. Championships in October of this year, which Ferreira calls a of the “College Tennis Grand Slams”. And after considerable lobbying, the CTP will once again host the ACC Championships in 2023 and 2024.
“We want to be the permanent home of the ACC tournament,” Weinbrecht says.
College tennis may form a central core of CTP’s tournament offerings, but, once a year, tennis fans of all ages head to the park for its only professional tournament — and the Triangle.
College tennis forms a central core of CTP’s tournament offerings. Once a year, however, tennis fans of all ages head to CTP for the park and Triangle’s only professional tournament.
First held in 2015, the Atlantic Tire Championships regularly attract top talent from the ATP Tour, the men’s professional tennis circuit, for a week-long event in September. Held immediately after the US Open, this tournament offers promising athletes in the sport a geographically accessible and financially feasible opportunity to move up the rankings.
“Having a place to attract players who are among the best in the world, and will be the best in the world, is pretty amazing,” Weinbrecht said.
Ferreira calls the Atlantic Tire Championships “the tennis week in the triangle.” Attracting thousands of Southeast fans, it represents the park’s primary mission to provide comprehensive programming for the town of Cary, according to Ferreira.
Running the event requires an annual budget of around $250,000, but the tournament is largely self-sustaining thanks to the USTA and corporate sponsors. As the primary advocate for American tennis, the USTA continually competes with other national tennis federations for tournaments on American soil, including Cary’s.
After more than 10 years on a waiting list, CTP has joined the USTA Professional Circuit, making it eligible to receive financial assistance, grants and additional resources to host a professional tournament.
A significant portion of the cost of the tournament is borne by the title sponsor and namesake of the tournament, Atlantic Tire & Services. Speaking of Anthony Blackman, President of Atlantic Tire & Services, Ferreira said “his decision to become the title sponsor is why we have this tournament.”
Yet while tournaments like Atlantic Tire are the crown jewels of the park, its long-term success hinges on what happens between them.
“We wanted [CTP] to be a place where the best players in the region came to train,” says Ferreira. Almost every week of the calendar year, the park’s coaching staff set out to train tennis players of all skill levels. The Cary Tennis Park Academy, a four-level player development program, hosts over 200 competitive junior athletes.
“We work really hard to put on great events, but we also make sure that we balance the usage with the community,” says Ferreira.
The CTP Academy has sent 35 players to college graduate programs, and that only counts athletes who were part of the academy at the time of their high school graduation. CTP players have won a combined total of 14 Golden Balls, awarded to the winners of the National Junior Championships, the most prestigious national tournament for an American tennis athlete.
For any tennis academy, this feat is admirable. Among public facilities, this is a rarity.
“If you were to ask how many purely public tennis facilities have such advanced player development,” Ferreira says, “we would definitely be in the top five in the country.”
High-ranked players are often concentrated in private country clubs and academies, with most public tennis facilities unable to keep up with the investment and appeal of elite training facilities. But the CTP is a clear exception.
And following a surge in the popularity of tennis and other racquet sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility is well positioned for continued growth.
Meanwhile, McRainey says, officials are wrapping up the concept plan for a new clubhouse.
It is a total of 18,280 square feet, more than three times the size of the current one. The three-level building will have more space for the public, employees and, most importantly, college and professional tournament players. By renovating the clubhouse and increasing facilities for players, the CTP will increase its chances of hosting larger tennis tournaments. These high-profile tournaments require a much greater financial commitment from sponsors and the city, but a successful bid would bring more fans, higher-ranked athletes, and far more publicity to Cary.
Further into the future, Cary officials are looking to expand the land south of the park, where the city purchased more than eight acres in 2014. Additional courts will be central to this expansion, including those with different surface areas like red clay and grass, says Weinbrecht. And with the growing popularity of pickleball, the city also hopes to incorporate it into this plan by building a space to host pickleball tournaments.
“Each year, Cary’s sports venues, including Cary Tennis Park, attract nationally recognized events and millions in economic impact,” says Allison Hutchins, Acting Director of Parks, Recreation and Resources. culture of the town of Cary.
Other nearby sports venues like WakeMed Soccer Park and the USA Baseball National Training Complex round out the trio of nationally recognized facilities. Beyond the direct revenue streams that these public amenities provide, they provide much more indirect growth for the city.
“As families search for where they want to live… [they ask,] ‘Where’s the recess?’ Where are the parks? remarks Ferreira.
In Cary, the answers are many.
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