NEWBERRY — Less than one year after they broke ground, the City of Newberry cut the ribbon to officially open the Oakland Tennis Center on Wednesday.
“We want people to view tennis as a lifelong sport,” said Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Scott Sawyer. “We wanted to not only create a tennis center, but a tennis program.”
Mayor Foster Senn greeted the community by saying he saluted the many people and groups involved in enabling the tennis center to come to fruition.
“I want to salute the Oakland Mill textile workers because when most mills in small towns had closed and been torn down, Newberry’s was still going,” Senn said. “By the time it quit operating, there was another use for it.”
Following the mill’s closing, the West family, Senn said, wanted to see it saved and purchased/renovated it into what is now the home of Newberry College dormitories and apartment space.
Moving forward, the city received a multicounty business park designation which provided a fee-in-lieu of tax revenue to pay for blight clearance, streetscaping and water/sewer improvements to support the textile mill and the neighborhood.
Because this money was generated in the Oakland Mill village, the city wanted to make sure that it benefited that community.
“We are excited for this partnership,” Senn said between the city and the college. “The tennis center will be a great asset for the Newberry community.”
The Oakland Tennis Center has six hard courts and three clay courts as well as a small pro shop and tennis pro office. It is located at 1448 First Street across from Oakland Mill apartments and is the new home for Newberry College tennis and City of Newberry recreational tennis programs.
All hard courts are open for play as available, at no cost on a first-come first-serve basis. All clay court play requires a daily court fee of an All-Court Play Pass which can now be purchased at the Parks, Recreation and Tourism office at 1323 College Street.
While courts do not require reservations, they can be made to ensure court availability. Reservations can be made by calling 803-321-1015 or online at oaklandtenniscenter.com.
Sawyer said tennis enthusiasts would be excited that the tennis center has Musco LED lighting, which will provide superior athletic lighting.
“It will be the brightest you’ve ever played under,” Sawyer said.
The lighting can also be dimmed when needed. The Oakland Tennis Center Pro Shop offers racquet stringing services as well as tennis balls, grips, string dampeners and other tennis related items.
Joe and Mary McDonald were the first to reveal to the community Wednesday, a plaque naming the clay courts at the center after her father, Bryan “Bitsy” Grant. The McDonald’s are Grand Slam donors at the Oakland Tennis Center.
Grant was ranked in the top 10 of American tennis players throughout the 1930s and number six in the world in 1937. Known as a clay court master, Grant won the U.S. Clay Court Championship three times and on grass courts reached the semi-finals of the U.S. Open twice and the quarter-finals at Wimbledon twice as well.
Grant was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1972.
Also as part of the opening and ribbon cutting Wednesday, Steve and Teala Armfield went through the Brad Armfield Youth Scholarship Fund in memory of their son who died in April of 2017.
“When we envisioned this,” Sawyer said of the tennis center, “I envisioned this as a lifelong sport for the community to enjoy from the time they can walk until they get much older. I wanted to create a scholarship program, but didn’t know what to name it. That’s when I was approached by the Armfield’s.”
Teala Armfield said they wanted to do something to honor their son’s memory, who was an avid tennis player from the young age of eight. Brad was head tennis pro and personal trainer at the Country Club of Spartanburg. Armfield said he was not just a coach, but a mentor to the tennis players he worked with.
The scholarship, she hoped, was a way that underprivileged youth could have the opportunity to enjoy a sport their son loved so much.
Mark Gardiner, Newberry College tennis coach will be handling the programming for the tennis center and said a tournament will be held every spring for the foundation in memory of Armfield. The first tournament will be this spring, date not yet determined.
The Brad Armfield Youth Scholarship Fund currently has $2,500 in it. The fund will be distributed to qualifying youth with a desire to play tennis by the Oakland Tennis Center Scholarship Committee.
More information on the scholarship is available in the pro shop of the tennis center, by calling the Parks, Recreation and Tourism office at 803-321-1015 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations to the scholarship fund are tax deductible.
Ralph Patterson, athletic director for Newberry College, said the city and college had a real “town and gown” relationship and the opening of the tennis center would be a real game-changer for the school when it came to recruitment.
“This is awesome. We could not be happier,” Patterson said.
Gardiner announced that an official grand opening for the Oakland Tennis Center would be held on Saturday, Jan. 27 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. to include food, free tennis clinics, as well as a few tennis equipment representatives will be present.
“Kind of like a live jamboree,” Gardiner said.
City Manager Matt DeWitt said the tennis center would provide an outlet for residents to have “something to do,” but would also promote an active and healthy lifestyle which the city hopes will have a ripple effect throughout the community.
“The Oakland Tennis Center will not only serve as a centerpiece to the Oakland Mill Village Community for years to come, but will also provide a world class opportunity for citizens to be exposed to a lifelong sport with lots of benefits to those who participate,” DeWitt said.