The Swing's Schwing Is Back! Tennis Is Rallying Again in Hollywood

8:00 AM 12/10/2015

by Sharon Swart

THR's round-up of L.A.'s top tennis courts that are attracting A-listers including Justin Timberlake, Larry Ellison and Matt Bomer.

Tennis Clubs Main - H 2015
Ramona Rosales

Tennis is enjoying a slamming resurgence of late. September's U.S. Open on ESPN was its most viewed in four years. Tennis Channel ratings are up 24 percent this year, and there are three planned projects about the "Battle of the Sexes" match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (Emma Stone and Steve Carell will play the duo in one version). And more and more Hollywood athletic types are being lured by the sport's physical, mental and social aspects.

"There are two things I am crazy about: tennis and Spanish," says Chelsea Handler. She plays three to four times a week on private courts or at the Riviera Country Club — plus at her house in Majorca, where she plays on clay. She also is scheduled to play celebrity doubles at her pal Maria Sharapova's inaugural Los Angeles tournament, Maria Sharapova + Friends, on Dec. 12-13 at UCLA's L.A. Tennis Center. The event brings together former tennis champs and members of the local entertainment community.

"Today everyone is time-starved and information overloaded, but tennis is a sport you can play in a short period of time," says Tennis Channel chairman and CEO Ken Solomon. "It's just a different way of having lunch." On the court, "business organically intrudes," says Brillstein Entertainment Partners CEO Jon Liebman. "It's a good way to knock a guy off in the middle of a match."

But you have to be preternaturally fit to play often and well. "I train hard; I've been at it for 12 years," says actress Elisabeth Shue, who sometimes plays with other biz folks, such as director Fredrik Bond. "I played bad tennis with my brothers growing up. It's the performance sport for someone who has regressed childhood issues. And it keeps me in shape and sane."

Tennis in L.A. has a long Hollywood legacy. Charlie Chaplin had private courts and played with fellow enthusiasts such as Groucho Marx and Trainwreck actor Norman Lloyd, who still picks up a racquet at the age of 101. "The ground coverage is a problem, but my net game is still good," he says. In the late 1920s, Hollywood also would migrate to Palm Springs to the Racquet Club built by actors Charles Farrell and Ralph Bellamy.

And while the lore of tennis matches on the private courts of industry players (Skip Brittenham, Robert Evans and Mike Medavoy) abounds, many are getting back out to the clubs and public courts thanks to innovative tennis programs and "addictive" coaches. Here's a roundup of the L.A.-area clubs most frequented by today's era of entertainment industry players.

  1. 1

    Beverly Hills Tennis Club


    FOUNDED: 1929

    FEES: $20,000 initiation; families: $400 per month

    COURTS: 5 hard courts

    WHO PLAYS: Justin Timberlake, ICM Partners' Ted Chervin and Chris Silbermann, producers Tucker Tooley and Bill Block, CAA's Brian Kend, agent David Gersh

    THE SCORE: The members-owned downtown B.H. club consists of just five courts and a pool hidden behind a nondescript bricks-and-shrubs facade on Maple Drive. "I walked by the club 50 times before I realized it existed," says Tooley, who usually plays once a week. "It's low profile and very quiet."

    While the demographic is "ancient," according to some, the club's restaurant (breakfast and lunch only) is a popular meeting place because it's convenient to nearby offices, including UTA, yet it is never a scene. The courts recently were resurfaced, and the gym was refurbished in 2014.

  2. 2

    Brentwood Country Club


    FOUNDED: 1941

    FEES: $200,000 initiation (for the adjoining golf club), $1,000 per month

    COURTS: 6 hard courts

    WHO PLAYS: Reese Witherspoon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Woody Harrelson, Denis Leary, Garry Shandling, Pam Shriver, Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, producer Martin Shafer, Original Film's Neal Moritz and Ori Marmur, Echo Lake CEO Doug Mankoff

    THE SCORE: To play tennis at Brentwood, you either have to fork over the hefty initiation to join the golf club or have benevolent friends who are members. Described as "very private" and "a strict, rules-oriented club," Brentwood is smaller than most L.A. clubs but has a "well-run tennis program," according to members.

    Director Jay Roach plays here often with industry friends, while manager Steve Lovett says his focus is more on his son's game lately, but he will play with his brother Richard monthly. WME's Cliff Roberts, who is a regular golfer, says, "There are periods where I take lessons here because I like to hit." Slotted into a residential area just south of San Vicente, the club's six courts are stacked 3 by 3 in between the driving range and the clubhouse.

  3. 3

    Los Angeles Tennis Club


    FOUNDED: 1920

    FEES: $25,000 initiation; families: $350 per month

    COURTS: 14 hard and 2 Har-Tru courts

    WHO PLAYS: Matt Bomer and Simon Halls, Anne Heche, FX original programming president Nick Grad, writer Jeff Rake, producers Cathy Schulman and Chris Bender, attorney Carlos Goodman

    THE SCORE: The first private-equity tennis club in the city, LATC has "an old-school Hollywood vibe," says Gotham Group manager Lindsay Williams. There's a relaxing upstairs bar, and the gym and pool recently have been upgraded. Goodman, like many of the members who live in the club's Hancock Park neighborhood, digs the club's proximity to home and "the number and quality of the courts — you can always play."

    The club's annual Independence Day party is a big draw, too. Halls (who used to play competitive tennis in his native Canada) and husband Bomer and their kids "spend every Fourth here," says Halls. "L.A. has a tendency to be very industry focused, and this place is not. It's a throwback to an old club in the Northeast." But LATC actually has a rich SoCal tennis history: "For years the club was a mecca for major tournaments, with players like Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase and Jack Kramer," says Solomon. More infamously, Billie Jean King played here as a youngster and was asked not to appear in a group photo because she was wear­ing shorts.

  4. 4

    Malibu Racquet Club


    FOUNDED: 1974

    FEES: individual initiation: $3,000, $240 per month; family initiation: $5,000, $310 per month

    COURTS: 8 hard and 4 Har-Tru clay courts are being added on an adjacent 3-acre lot

    WHO PLAYS: Pierce Brosnan, Elisabeth Shue, John McEnroe, Tommy Haas, Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport, Victoria Azarenka, Timothy Olyphant

    THE SCORE: Purchased in 2007 by Oracle billionaire and Indian Wells Masters owner Larry Ellison, MRC's Pacific views, Nobu-esque decor and dedicated espresso bar almost distract from the club's eight championship courts that Shue dubs "perfect, just perfect." Perched in the hills just above Malibu's Country Mart, the courts are staggered and individually fenced (no pesky stray balls!).

    Beware of booking MRC's bird's nest court, though: "When someone says they want go up to Court 8, there are snickers," laughs club GM and Ellison's Malibu hitting partner, Trey Waltke. "A lot of affairs have started up there, because you cannot be seen by anyone." Ellison, Waltke and Oracle CEO Mark Hurd (a former college player) are active in shining a spotlight on U.S. college tennis talent, hosting collegiate tournaments and pro-am events at the club. Austin, Davenport, Olyphant and Haas showed off their prowess at the club's recent Oracle/ITA Masters.

  5. 5

    Mulholland Tennis Club


    FOUNDED: 1966

    FEES: $17,000 initiation; $275 per month

    COURTS: 7 hard courts

    WHO PLAYS: Will Ferrell, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Kevin McKidd, Julie Bowen, Selma Blair, showrunner Matt Tarses

    THE SCORE: Hidden in a residential enclave atop the Hollywood Hills, Mulholland has near 360-degree vistas of the city. The midcentury-modern clubhouse's dining room overlooks the entire valley, and newly installed glass around the pool deck reveals a bird's eye view of downtown Los Angeles. Composer Adam Gorgoni, who sits on the members-owned club's board, warns it "can get breezy on the courts — you need to learn how to handle the ball in the wind."

    Membership is "TV heavy," says one member, with an unpretentious Canyon vibe. A vegetable garden behind the courts supplies the kitchen. Music attorney Jay Cooper, who plays there every weekend, remembers when the club opened, it had strict rules that called for tennis whites, plus a dinner jacket and tie in the dining room: "There was a revolt about that, and we threw out the club's first president." Bonus: Members are able to recover 60 percent of the current initiation fee when they leave the club.

  6. 6

    Riviera Tennis Club


    FOUNDED: 1963

    FEES: $24,500 initiation; approx. $450 per month

    COURTS: 22 hard, 2 clay and 22 ball-machine courts

    WHO PLAYS: Adam Sandler, Tracey Ullman, Pete Sampras, Brillstein Entertainment Partners CEO Jon Liebman, writer Stephen Gaghan, WME's David Wirtschafter

    THE SCORE: For an adjunction to a golf club, the Riv's tennis footprint is massive. There are two levels of courts, and its some 1,000 members, prodigiously repped by industry agents and lawyers, are known for being competitive. "You'd think they're playing at Wimbledon," says one member. That's what Brillstein's Liebman likes about the Riv: "There's a critical mass of people who are at a similar level and like the game to be both competitive and social."

    Back in the day, Katharine Hepburn played here on the two secluded courts hidden in the canyon off the club's driveway. "In the '80s we'd play there with our shirts off," says producer Ron Booth, who has played with Dabney Coleman and Armie Hammer. Between 40 and 60 members can show up for a night of Riv Ball — the Japanese-owned club's version of Live Ball (invented by Tennis Channel founder Steve Bellamy), a fast-paced drill that rotates sets of players on a court. "You're working on your reactions hitting tons of balls," says Booth. "It's your chance to be on court with very good players."

    Former pros such as Sampras play, and Pam Austin (Tracy's sister) is Riviera's director of tennis programming. Bonus: Tennis members pay a fraction of the golf club fees, but are allowed to use the main club's facilities.