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Founders, Westward Ho Racquet Club

The founders of what originally was called the Sioux Falls Racquet Club are being recognized with the 2003 South Dakota Tennis Achievement Award. Now part of Westward Ho Country Club, the two-court indoor facility opened in December, 1960, and was believed to be the first official indoor tennis facility between Chicago and San Francisco.

The early leaders of the initial club are all deceased, but their legacy paved the way for many tennis players first chance at indoor tennis and a safe haven from harsh South Dakota winters. That was the dream when the group, inspired by Gordon H. Bell, conceived the grand idea of indoor tennis for Sioux Falls.

In 1959, according to Ted Thie, current Westward Ho Country Club manager, the dream began. Don Douthit, then the owner of Westward Ho Country club, owned the land on which the tennis facility was to be built. Club minutes indicate that Douthit provided the property and the rest of the group, lead by Bell, John B. Schultz, John Foster and others, raised the funds for the initial building of two courts.

A 1965 Winter Invitational tennis tournament brochure reads: "It was, and still is, the intent of the businessmen organizing our Club that these courts be available to the public as well as to our members. ‘Let’s develop Tennis’ was most fundamental in their thoughts. Consequently the public, resident and non-resident, our local high schools and colleges avail themselves of our splendid facilities at a very reasonable court fee."

"For the past three years during Christmas holidays, the Racquet Club has imported an excellent tennis professional to give helpful instruction to all that desired it—and it was available to all ages."

Thie said the Club’s minutes go on: "the group was granted the land free from Mr. Douthit. In exchange, Douthit would own the building and be responsible as the operator for a term of five to seven years. The Racquet Club was an independent operation from Westward Ho Country Club until that time. Douthit helped manage the facility. Family membership for the first year was $75, while single yearly memberships were $50. No initiation fees were charged and the facility was open to the public for hourly fees of $1.50 for adults and $1.00 for juniors 18 and under."

The Sioux Falls Racquet Club officially became part of Westward Ho Country Club when Douthit sold the Westward Ho Country Club to the members in July, 1969.

The first instructor hired was Don Grebin, a top player and career local school teacher and coach. Grebin was a leader in starting the very popular "Tennis Winter Invitational" in February, 1961, at the new facility. Grebin, with the assistance of the Northwestern Tennis Association #1 player, Wendell Ottum of Minneapolis, recruited top college players from Big Ten schools, Minnesota and Iowa, to compete at the new Sioux Falls facility until 1974, the event’s final year.

Some college players competing over the years included Tom Boice, Neil Covin, Dennis Chez, Jerry Krause, Ron Keith, Jerry Noyce, John Wancus and Bucky Zimmerman, all of the University of Minnesota. Iowa players included Mike Schrier, Arden Stockstad, John Svarups, Tom Benson, Dave Collison and former Hawkeye, Steve Wilkinson. Others included George Tesar, Connie Custodio, Warren Swanson, Jim Werner, Jim Deloye, Ken Croissant and Dick Martinson. And those with local and South Dakota connections included Fred Fischer, Dave and Tom Weber, Bill Clayton, Lefty Johnson, Don Juneman and Warren Opheim, plus most committee members in the age-rated draws.

In the late 60s, Dave Weber was hired as full-time manager and professional. Dave said with the help of Tom Reardon and Western Bank, they put together a package to add three outdoor tennis courts at no cost to WHCC. Dave said about thirty people pledged money each summer for five years that paid for construction of the outdoor courts in return for playing time for their families.

"The package came in slightly under budget, " said Dave, "and was done first class. I was told it was the only project under budget up to that time at Westward Ho. It was mainly Tom Reardon and the bank’s loan that made the outdoor addition possible. Several times we held the finals of the SD Open there because they were the nicest courts at that time."

With indoor tennis came the inspiration to form a corporation called "Youth for Tennis, Inc." Ross Fenn was an early leader in that non-profit venture, which handled contributions that gave youngsters their first taste of indoor tennis and exposed many to professional instruction.

Grebin has the fondest memories for the "Winter Invite." "What a thrill to have both Big Ten coaches, Ken Klotz of Iowa and Don Lewis of Minnesota, bring their top players here in the mid 60s."

Early records of the tourney show Ottum winning the singles titles in 1961 and 1963 and Wilkinson gaining singles honors in 1962 and 1964. Longtime doubles partners Grebin and John Simko won doubles titles in both ’61 and ’63, beating Hawkeye and Gopher players along the way.

The tourney often attracted crowds of over 200 (as one of the courts was used exclusively for viewing for the finals.) The 1965 tournament brochure was dedicated to longtime tennis contributor Les Dravis of Sioux Falls…for his "never-ending help for tennis." The tourney was very well organized with the following chairpersons listed: Douthit, general chairman; Chuck Howlin, asst. general chairman; Ross Fenn, official umpire and draw; Herman (Dutch) Schultz, housing; Rex Bahnson, publicity; John B. Schultz, hospitality; Dr. Harry Farrell, linesman; Chuck Howlin, match scheduling; Dr. Robert Ogborn, ball boys; Wally Steele, spectators; and Gordon H. Bell, trophies.

That year, the affairs of the Sioux Falls Racquet Club were guided by a nine-member steering committee: Bell, Douthit, Fenn, Ogborn, Schultz, Bahnson, Frank Boyce, Dr. M.S. Grove and Tex Hoy.

By the 1970’s, Omaha, Des Moines, and the Twin Cities all had their own indoor facilities with their own winter tennis tournaments. But it is likely that the early years of indoor tennis at the Sioux Falls Racquet Club’s "Winter Invitational" in Sioux Falls spurred them on to tennis success.