Diamond Head courts need extreme makeover
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By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
There is no argument that many of the courts at Diamond Head Tennis Center are in awful condition. One look is all it takes to see massive cracks and healthy cross-court weeds in the courts along Paki Avenue.
There is no argument that the DHTC setting — on the edge of Kapi'olani Park, below one of the world's most well-known sites and steps from a beach that stirs millions of imaginations — is astonishingly beautiful.
Finding common ground to salvage a Hawai'i tennis legacy is something else again.
Those that play regularly at Diamond Head, or used to, are appalled at the state of the public courts and frustrated that their efforts to help are not always appreciated. They mourn the move of longtime City & County tennis specialist Don Andrews to the relatively new Patsy T. Mink CORP Tennis Complex and feel as abandoned as Andrews' empty, locked little office.
The city, mired in economic problems that promise to get worse, is searching for new ways to bring the courts back that don't involve the $100,000-plus commitment — per court — it would take to reconstruct Nos. 1 to 4 at the 10-court complex. They are too far gone to be resurfaced, and Nos. 8 and 9 probably are, too. Only the stadium court, redone in a USTA push in 2006, is in good shape.
Parks and Recreation director Lester Chang is researching new overlay surfaces that are not hardcourt, but can be put in for less money and guaranteed up to 25 years. The Oahu Club and Kona Village have put in Premier courts, a composite combined with acrylic coating often used for Davis Cup.
"I'm looking at trying a couple methods as a test," Chang said. "The other thing tennis players talk to me about is the consistency of the bounce, so I'm trying to keep all that in mind. I'm looking at trying to get these courts done pretty quickly, those first four for sure."
COMPLAINTS ROLL IN
Chang is talking about a matter of months. The DHTC regulars — mostly retirees in the morning and workers in the afternoon — have been complaining more than a year. They have a range of gripes that begin with the condition of the courts and include the sad state of the bathrooms, lack of maintenance and staff (since last year) and access to locked areas and equipment.
A few have tried to keep the area up with paint and other work, and new windscreens were donated, but an organized effort like Adopt-A-Park, which has worked well at CORP and Ala Moana, and for Little League fields, has not come to fruition.
It is a dramatic departure from DHTC's storied history. Diamond Head is where Hawai'i's finest players used to flock, and some of the best in the world.
"I played Jack Kramer there, Maureen Connolly, Maria Bueno when she was No. 1 in the world," recalled retired University of Hawai'i tennis coach Jim Schwitters, a member of the Hawai'i Tennis Hall of Fame. "Movie stars played there. It was a fantastic place. I played with Bobby Riggs. One day somebody called me up and said there's a guy here who wants to beat you. I came down on my lunch hour. It was Pancho Gonzalez."
But it is the center's magical location and diversity that set it apart from pretty much any tennis complex in the world. It used to be known as the place where any tennis player could play Hawai'i's best and worst players in the same day.
It is centrally located, close for kama'aina and closer still for most tourists. Tour groups planned trips around DHTC and visitors came back year after year to pick up games on free courts in an idyllic setting. From October to April, the place was often packed with snowbird tennis players more interested in DHTC than Waikiki.
"Whenever somebody moves the headquarters of recreational tennis to Central O'ahu the focus is going to come off Diamond Head Tennis Center," said John Tullius, who has played there since 1972 and wrote a glowing article about it for Tennis Magazine years ago. "I think that's what happened. I don't think they realize what's going on and the historical significance of Diamond Head. What a wonderful place to play. Over the years many, many people played here ... Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe, Agassi, I've seen them all here. Now it's impossible. It's not a world-class facility anymore.
"Also, it was a gathering place. CORP is not a gathering place. You go to tournaments there."
Back in the 1960s, the four-court DHTC site was a private club. Schwitters remembers paying $14 a month to play and "all the good players were there." The city took it over in 1972 and opened it, free to the public, adding six courts.
Andrews kept it busy with tournaments and most of Hawai'i's best juniors, open and senior players came often. DHTC "adopted" UH players, Schwitters said. He also recalled playing Elston Wyatt in a state final with fans sitting on top of the women's restroom. Stanford, with Roscoe Tanner, played the 'Bows there before 800 people.
Schwitters has "never seen it in worse condition," and he is not alone. The city, which oversees more than 200 courts, is trying to change that. The USTA's Hawai'i Pacific Section wants to help, and mediate a situation that has grown difficult, according to executive director Ron Romano, himself a former DHTC regular.
"My thing is, we're here to help," Romano said. "We want to do whatever we can to bridge the gap and keep dialog going with the Parks and Recreation, and come up with a win-win solution."
Romano believes the city is now "trying to do whatever it can very quickly" to bring back the courts, which will foster good will. Beyond that, he sees the DHTC "volunteers" having a "real sense of ownership" and their willingness to work on maintaining DHTC is ideal for Adopt-A-Park.
Any step forward at this point is better than all the steps backward that have been taken the past year. Tullius, who has traveled, lived and written all over the world, believes only a few places can match DHTC's unique charms, with tennis players "hanging around" and watching good players, and older players hitting with kids.
"That spot can't be duplicated," Tullius said. "It is so beautiful, right across the street from the beach, the trees and tradewinds all right there. If the powers that be knew what was going on and the historical and social importance to the makeup of Waikiki ... it's an important element to attract tennis players. They go there and want to play tennis at Diamond Head. If it was buffed up again, hundreds and hundreds of people would be there."
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.