Before pickleball became popular, tennis was the most popular court game in Fountain Hills.
The community got its first tennis facility.in late 1974.
It was built and owned by community developer McCulloch Properties, Inc., and was called The Fontana Racquet Club. It was located on Fountain Hills Boulevard, just north of the intersection with Saguaro Boulevard.
It actually opened with new pro Bill Price at the helm Nov. 1, 1974. Several open houses were held to attract new members.
However, the official grand opening in February 1975 was a major publicity promotion not only for the new club but for the new community of Fountain Hills.
McCulloch knew how to attract publicity and spent a lot of money with these promotions for its new city developments.
In 1974, former tennis great Bobby Riggs had just lost a match before a filled Astrodome crowd in Houston and a world-wide television audience to women’s tennis star Billie Jean King. Riggs had earlier boasted that the top women’s players of the day could not beat even an old male tennis player who was some 30 years past his prime.
During the late 1930s and ‘40s, Riggs was the top male player. He won the U.S. Amateur title in 1939 and 1941, was on the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1939 and 1940 and was the world pro singles champ in 1945, ’46 and ’47 But it was his match with King and the hype that preceded it that made him a household name all over again in the 1970s. He was dubbed the world’s number one male chauvinist.
Riggs alone would have probably filled the bleachers that were brought in for the opening of the club.
But he had a supporting cast of Hollywood names that were all tennis buffs. The celebrities included actors Robert Stack of “The Untouchables,” Doug McClure of “The Virginian,” Lloyd Bridges of “Sea Hunt” and McDonald Carey of “Days of our Lives” and actresses Claudine Longet (Mrs. Andy Williams) and Barbara Anderson of “Ironsides.”
Joining them on the marquee was another tennis great and former Davis Cup star Tony Trabert.
The main celebrity matches took place on Court Four with the bleachers filling the area of Court Five. Advanced publicity in Valley newspapers and on television brought out a huge crowd for the free event.
Prior to the celebrity matches, Riggs put on an exhibition and wowed the onlookers with his drop shots and curves. He then split a two-game exhibition with Trabert.
Reminiscent of the Billie Jean King match, he then challenged the top women’s player in the state, Chris Penn of Arizona State University. He took two of three games from her.
In all it was a fun afternoon, and the event indeed drew a lot of Valley attention to Fountain Hills.
The following weekend kicked off a series of popular Fountain Park concerts that would be held over the years in the late 1970s.
The first was the appearance of Les Brown and his Band of Renown.
Some of the others to appear at the park during those concerts included the Count Basie Band and the Phoenix Symphony with a variety of special guest conductors. A few of the special guests were Arthur Fiedler, Andre Kostelanatz, John Green and Henry Mancini.
Kostelanatz was joined in a 1976 park concert by nationally known newscaster Walter Cronkite, who narrated an Abraham Lincoln reading while the Phoenix Symphony provided patriotic background music. That night was most memorable. The symphony, under the direction of Kostelanatz, concluded the evening with a performance of the “1812 Overture” as it was originally scored, complete with fireworks and canon.
I still get that great tingling sensation down my spine just thinking about it.