Cary Tennis Park |  2727 Louis Stephens Drive, Cary 

Known by locals as CTP, Cary Tennis Park has seen an impressive string of renovations over the past few years. Its sprawling layout now boasts a behemoth-like covered facility and a sprawling layout that includes score billboards and freshly resurfaced courts that branch out, artery-like, in three directions.

The latest of these public investments raises the bar, quite literally. Adjacent to the park’s main walkway, a newly constructed raised metal platform, replete with bright, Yves Klein–like blue benches, overlooks six of the facility’s courts. Located near the park’s north entrance, the benches provide spectators with an unobstructed view of CTP’s prime match courts.

Construction of the bleachers began in October 2021 following the allocation of $900,000 by Wake County and the Town of Cary. While the renovation is modest in comparison to the recently built $5 million seven-court covered facility, it’s the latest initiative in Cary’s rising star as a tennis destination. In the past five years, CTP has seen the addition of permanent seating on Stadium Court, newly renovated pickleball courts, a refurbished clubhouse, and electronic scoreboards on each of the 25 outdoor courts. The initial construction of the park was carried out in two phases, with a 30-court venue completed in 2002.

“There was fear that we would open and the courts would remain empty,” says Doug McRainey, director of community projects for the Town of Cary. “Of course, we were completely wrong.”

Now entering its 20th year in operation, CTP has firmly established itself as a mainstay in the Triangle’s tennis scene, which is reported to be the fourth-most-active tennis community in the country—thanks, in large part, to a steady stream of tournaments.

CTP plays host to every tournament level throughout the year: junior, collegiate, adult, and professional. Junior and adult leagues are run by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), the governing body of American tennis; adult league play occurs during the week, and junior tournaments take place on weekends, attracting highly ranked players from around the nation.

CTP’s close proximity to four major Division I tennis programs (Duke, NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest) has also enabled it to play a central role in the collegiate tennis sphere. In past years, the facility has hosted major tournaments including the ACC Tennis Championships and the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Championships. In 2016, this came to a halt—just as a more permanent relationship was being cemented between collegiate tennis and the Town of Cary—when North Carolina passed the controversial House Bill 2, otherwise known as the “bathroom bill.” The bill, which prevented transgender people from using public restrooms that aligned with their gender identity, triggered a mass exodus of sports organizations from the state, including the ACC.

“We had hosted the ACCs for a long time, like 11 straight years, when [the bill] happened,” recalls Sean Ferreira, tennis services coordinator for the Town of Cary.

“I remember writing letters, calling people to try and get these events back,” says Cary mayor Harold Weinbrecht. Weinbrecht, who has been mayor since 2007—and who is himself an avid tennis player—has long advocated for expanding tennis within the town and was an influential figure during the park’s construction in the early 2000s.

Following the complete repeal of HB 2 in 2017 and an additional COVID-driven hiatus, CTP will once again see top college players grace the courts with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Women’s All-American Championships in October of this year, which Ferreira refers to as one of the “college tennis Grand Slams.” And after considerable lobbying, CTP will once again host the ACC Championships in 2023 and 2024.

“We want to be the permanent home of the ACC tournament,” Weinbrecht says.

College tennis may comprise a central core of CTP’s tournament offerings but, once a year, tennis enthusiasts of all ages descend upon the park for its—and the Triangle’s—only professional tournament.

First hosted in 2015, the Atlantic Tire Championships consistently draw top talent from the ATP Tour, the men’s professional tennis circuit, for a weeklong event in September. Held right after the U.S. Open, this tournament provides up-and-coming athletes in the sport with a geographically accessible and financially feasible opportunity to advance up the rankings.

“Having a venue to attract players that are some of the best in the world, and who will be the best in the world, is pretty amazing,” says Weinbrecht.

Ferreira calls the Atlantic Tire Championships “Tennis Week in the Triangle.” Drawing thousands of fans from around the Southeast, it represents the park’s core mission of providing comprehensive programming for the Town of Cary, according to Ferreira.

Running the event calls for an annual budget of around $250,000, but the tournament is largely self-sustaining thanks to the USTA and corporate sponsors. As the main advocate for American tennis, the USTA continuously competes with other national tennis federations for tournaments on American soil, including the one in Cary.

After over 10 years on a waitlist, CTP joined the USTA Pro Circuit, making it eligible for receiving financial aid, grants, and additional resources to run a professional tournament.

A significant chunk of the tournament cost is taken on by the title sponsor and tournament namesake, Atlantic Tire & Services. Speaking about Anthony Blackman, the president of Atlantic Tire & Services, Ferreira says that “his decision to come on as the title sponsor is the reason we have this tournament.”

Still, while tournaments such as Atlantic Tire are the park’s crown jewels, its long-term success rests on what happens between them.

“We wanted [CTP] to be a place where the best players in the area came to train,” Ferreira says. Nearly every week of the calendar year, the park’s group of coaches set about training all levels of tennis players. The Cary Tennis Park Academy, a four-tiered player development program, enrolls over 200 competitive junior athletes.

“We really work hard to bring in big events, but we also make sure that we’re balancing use with the community,” Ferreira says.

CTP Academy has sent 35 players to varsity collegiate programs, and that only counts the athletes who were part of the academy at the time of their high school graduation. CTP players have won a combined total of 14 gold balls, awarded to winners of the Junior National Championships, the most prestigious domestic tournament for an American tennis athlete.

For any tennis academy, this feat is admirable. Among public facilities, it’s a rarity.

“If you were to ask how many purely public tennis facilities have such advanced player development,” Ferreira says, “we would definitely be in the top five in the country.”

Highly ranked players often are concentrated in private country clubs and academies, with most public tennis facilities unable to keep up with the investment and draw of elite training centers. But CTP is a clear exception.

And following a surge of popularity in tennis and other racquet sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility is well-positioned to carry the growth forward.

Meanwhile, McRainey says, officials are wrapping up the concept plan for a new clubhouse.

It comes in at a total of 18,280 square feet, over three times the size of the current one. The three-level building will have more space for the public, employees, and crucially, collegiate and professional tournament players. By renovating the clubhouse and increasing player amenities, CTP will increase its chances to host bigger tennis tournaments. These higher-level tournaments require a much larger financial commitment from sponsors and from the town, but a successful bid would bring more fans, higher-ranked athletes, and far more publicity to Cary.

Further into the future, Cary officials are seeking to develop the land south of the park, where the town purchased over eight acres in 2014. Additional courts will be central to this expansion, including those with different surfaces like red clay and grass, Weinbrecht says. And with the growing popularity of pickleball, the town also hopes to integrate it into this plan by constructing space to host pickleball tournaments.

“Every year, Cary’s sports venues, including the Cary Tennis Park, attract nationally recognized events and millions in economic impact,” says Allison Hutchins, interim director of parks, recreation, and cultural resources for the Town of Cary.

Other nearby sports venues, like WakeMed Soccer Park and USA Baseball National Training Complex, complete Cary’s trifecta of nationally recognized facilities. Beyond the direct revenue streams these public facilities provide, they offer far more indirect growth to the town.

“As families are looking for where they want to live … [they ask,] ‘Where is the recreation?’ Where are the parks?’” remarks Ferreira.

In Cary, the answers are plentiful.

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