North Shore tennis buffs are getting ready to don their sun visors and favorite spectator outfits in anticipation of a very special July. With tennis pros such as Martina Navratilova and Venus Williams scheduled to play at the Ferncroft Country Club in Danvers, even die-hard golf and baseball fans may be looking forward to attending the event.
The Ferncroft Country Club sealed a deal in March with the Boston Lobsters professional tennis team to make the North Shore country club the team’s permanent home. The Lobsters were purchased in 2003 by Bahar Uttam, a former engineer who is now the CEO of the team. For four years the team was based at Harvard in Cambridge, and though the matches were well-attended, Bahar said, it was a costly location. “The team played at the Harvard hockey rink, and because it was very hot there in summer, I had air conditioning installed, and that was very expensive. They also played at Harvard Stadium, but it just isn’t designed for tennis. And of course parking in the city is never easy. I think the team will be able to grow and gain popularity at the Ferncroft,” Uttam said.
Before Uttam decided it was time to get his team out of the city, he did his homework. A demographic study showed that Boston’s North Shore would be the best place to go.
“The North Shore is the perfect place for us. Many of its communities are tennis-friendly, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm there for the game,” Bahar said.
A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
After months of negotiating, both parties decided they’d found the right “match” and on July 3 the much-anticipated official opening will take place.
The once underutilized country club needed some TLC when it was purchased in 2006 by Affinity Management of Virginia. Under new management, the club has been renovated, improved, and updated. But that’s not all. Affinity Management brought a family-friendly element to the club by offering a calendar of events for kids. The club is fast becoming a favorite destination where the whole family can spend the day. While the freshly spiffed up 18-hole championship golf course is still a big draw for locals, Damon Devito, managing director of Affinity Management, said the addition of the Boston Lobsters will dovetail nicely with the club’s family orientation.
“I think the tennis team will add another dimension to the club. Professional tennis players like Venus Williams typically play in front of a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 spectators, but at the Ferncroft we can accommodate only about 2,000 people, so it will be an excellent opportunity for fans to see the best players in more of an intimate setting,” DeVito said.
REBIRTH OF A TEAM
The Boston Lobsters were owned by Robert Kraft in the 1970s and ’80s, but Uttam is responsible for reinventing the team. He has raised awareness and generated excitement for the New England league and feels the move to Danvers will be advantageous for both the team and the club. Jerry Solomon of Star Games in Lynnfield has been hired to market and manage the team. He agrees that choosing the Ferncroft was the way to go.
“There is a robust tennis market on the North Shore and the Ferncroft is a quality location. My wife, Nancy Kerrigan, has participated in golf tournaments there in the past so I’m very familiar with the facility. Drafting Martina Navratilova was a good move and many other well-known players will participate in matches there in July,” Solomon said.
Solomon, whose clients include Ivan Lendl and Vania King, is convinced that the partnership will be successful. He feels the only possible obstacle could be the weather. “July is usually a good month and I think every match will be sold out,” he said.
In addition to the matches the Ferncroft will add tennis clinics and classes taught by the club’s tennis pros. “We plan to provide entertainment by bringing in up-and-coming Boston bands, and there will be fun things for kids to do. It will be a great family outing, and far less expensive than attending a baseball game. A family of four should be able to attend a match for about $100,” Uttam said. And best of all, tickets sales are not limited to club members.
The group is still working to finalize plans for refreshments with DeVito saying he expects most food and drink will be provided by New England companies. “We also want to make the players available to sign autographs after every match – in an orderly fashion. We’re not about volume at the Ferncroft; in fact people will be surprised at how much more up-close and personal the games will be here than at a larger facility,” DeVito said.
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM UTTAM’S FRIENDS
The team’s first home match is scheduled to take place July 7, with the Boston Lobsters playing the Delaware Smash. Uttam said the planning transition has been like spending weeks rehearsing for a play and, although he may have opening night jitters, he’s convinced the season will go off without a hitch. “We still have quite a few details to sort out. The team moving to another location is just part of it. I’ve worked hard to find sponsors since I bought the team, and they deserve a lot of credit for making it work,” said Uttam.
One such sponsor came on board early on and continues to contribute to what she feels is a tennis comeback. “Tennis was the big thing in the ’70s and ’80s, and lately there’s a growing interest again. Bahar Uttam is very passionate about the game and the Boston Lobsters,” said Joan Norton of Joan Norton Financial Advisor in Woburn. She likes to play and watch the game and will sponsor Venus Williams’s visit to Ferncroft this summer. In addition, Norton will provide a free tennis racquet, with cover and balls, to every child under the age of 12 that attends a match.
“The rackets are endorsed by Billie Jean King and will be handed out to kids at every match,” Norton said. Norton said she grew up with very little, and though she’s become successful, that she has never forgotten how hard it can be for inner-city kids and loves being able to give something back. “If a tennis racquet and ball can bring a smile to an otherwise angry child’s face, it could actually make a difference in his or her life,” said Norton.
Other sponsors include Herald Media Inc., Polar Beverages, and Northshore Magazine as the sole magazine sponsor.
DeVito said he’s particularly excited about kids receiving tennis rackets. “Where else can kids get to see professional players and come away with a free tennis racket for $10?” he asked.
Avis Murray, president of the United States Professional Tennis Association New England Division (USPTA/New England), just happens to be a Gloucester resident and said that not only is there a lot of enthusiasm for tennis on the North Shore but that the Ferncroft is easily accessible off Route 1, making it easy for fans from Boston, southern Maine, and New Hampshire to attend.
“I intend to be at some of the matches and also plan on bringing a lot of my junior and adult members from the club I work at in summer months. I intend to spread the word to all the clubs in the area, encouraging them to promote the Boston Lobsters and their matches,” Murray said.
The 2008 Boston Lobsters players will include Martina Navratilova, the winningest woman in tennis history, who will play two matches at Ferncroft this summer. And if 2008 is anything like 2007, the rest of the team will be a high-powered mix of American and international talent. Venus Williams will be at Ferncroft too as part of the Philadelphia Freedoms and the Lobsters will be coached this year by former Wimbledon semi-finalist and local favorite Tim Mayotte.
Tickets can be bought online and cost $25-$30 (depending on the marquee) and $50-$60 for box seats. Tickets for kids under 12 are $10-$15. Seasons passes are available for $125-$250. Tickets can be purchased by calling 800 514 ETIX or visiting the team website at www.bostonlobsters.net. Team hats, T-shirts and visors are also available online.
2008 SEASON SCHEDULE
July 3 Thu-Away
Boston Lobsters at New York Sportimes
July 6 Sun-Away
Boston Lobsters at
New York Buzz
July 7 Mon-Home
Boston Lobsters vs. Delaware Smash
July 8 Tue-Away
Boston Lobsters at Washington Kastles Starring Serena Williams
July 10 Thur-Home
Boston Lobsters vs. Philadelphia Freedoms Starring Venus Williams
July 12 Sat-Home
Boston Lobsters vs. New York Buzz
July 13 Sun-Home
Boston Lobsters vs. New York Sportimes
July 14 Mon-Away
Boston Lobsters at Kansas City Explorers
July 16 Wed-Home
Boston Lobsters vs. Springfield Lasers
July 17 Thu-Away
Boston Lobsters at Philadelphia Freedoms
July 18 Fri-Home
Boston Lobsters vs. Washington Kastles
July 19 Sat-Home
Boston Lobsters vs. Newport Beach Breakers Starring Martina Navratilova
July 21 Mon-Away
Boston Lobsters at Newport Beach Breakers
July 22 Tue-Away
Boston Lobsters at Sacramento Capitals