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Preview: A New Era Of Tennis In San Francisco

by Jennifer Blot

Former tennis pro Erik van Dillen and philanthropist Tad Taube forged a friendship nearly 50 years ago when they were paired in a doubles tennis tournament.

It’s been nearly five decades since Tad Taube and Erik van Dillen were paired as doubles in an American Airlines Classic tennis tournament in Tucson, Arizona, but the Bay Area businessman and pro tennis player would go on to team up off the court. They had impressive, divergent paths: Taube kept adding to what would become a 14-career CV (including ownership of the Oakland Invaders football team), plus major philanthropic reach, while van Dillen’s playing career evolved into consulting for the sports and event marketing firm IMG, then his own van Dillen Partners. But when van Dillen was tapped to help bring the Bank of the West Classic to Stanford University in the 1990s, he soon realized that the “mysterious” philanthropist with ties to the project was none other than his onetime tennis partner.

Now, the duo is collaborating again to launch a series of tournaments — including the SF Open this month and a weekend of events with the Bryan Brothers next month — at the new Lisa & Douglas Goldman Tennis Center in Golden Gate Park, which opened in March.

Of Taube’s zeal for the game, van Dillen notes, “He has a great love of the etiquette and the ethics of the sport, the rules you play under and the people you meet. Tad would always tell you: ‘Tennis is a passport to the world.’” For Taube, who was inducted into the United States Tennis Association Northern California Hall of Fame in 2018, tennis has been a part of his life for 75 of his 90 years on the planet. A rough tally of the number of games he’s likely played, thanks to a robust weekly schedule of multiple doubles matches, is in the ballpark of 75,000.

For the initial Golden Gate Park Tennis Center fundraising campaign a few years ago, Taube Philanthropies joined the Goldmans as a lead donor, earmarking a $8.6 million challenge grant for construction of the park’s tennis facility, which includes the Taube Family Clubhouse and the Tennis and Learning Center, which ended up serving a critical dual role as a remote learning hub for public school kids.

Taube also ended up combining education with his innate entrepreneurial spirit and made a 1-to-1 matching gift of $300,000 to revive the park’s long-paused pro tennis tournaments, which kick off with the SF Open September 3 through September 6, and will be run by the Tennis Coalition SF in a partnership with the San Francisco Parks Alliance and San Francisco Recreation & Parks. While a for-profit venture, the events will help generate more funds for the TLC.

Prior to being hired by the Tennis Coalition to help plan the tournaments, van Dillen was approached by Taube, recalling, “One day I got a call from him and he said, ‘You might know I’ve pledged a lot of money to redo the Golden Gate Park tennis center. It’s an incredible private-public [project] and, again, I want to showcase top tennis because we’re losing top tennis in the area. As part of my commitment, will you help me?’”

 

The City continues its rich tennis legacy at the beautiful new Lisa & Douglas Goldman Tennis Center in Golden Gate Park.

“My interest was beyond philanthropic,” explains Taube, who also backed the successful East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring program at the Taube Tennis Center at Stanford. “I wanted to help give the facility to the city and citizens of San Francisco, but I also wanted it to have a very specific purpose, not only in terms of providing a venue for local citizens to enjoy and the children to learn to play tennis, but also restore some of the greatness of San Francisco as a major tennis center. We had some really wonderful people graduate from the ranks of San Francisco: We had Rosie Casals. We had Billie Jean King, Serena Williams; the list is endless. We have a great tennis legacy, but we didn’t have anything to further the legacy — the old facility had kind of turned to ashes.”

That’s one way of describing the clubhouse and courts that were already in decline back when van Dillen, a San Mateo native, played in junior tournaments at Golden Gate Park as a kid in the early 1960s. The era provided him with some pretty colorful memories, though, including playing while a Jefferson Airplane concert blared in the background and stepping onto the court and finding someone wrapped up asleep in the steel net.

Today, the 16 new USTA-regulation courts (plus one for pickleball) provide a safe, well-lit and affordable place for youth to play. Van Dillen calls the center “the shining star of the park.” As for Taube’s contributions, van Dillen says, “He is engaged in the results and how it works and available for ideas and introductions. I’ve been around a lot of people who give, and you can learn a lot of lessons from how he does it: intelligently and graciously generous. He’s wonderful to work with — as is Shana Penn, head of Taube Philanthropies.”

When speaking with Taube, one gets the sense that he’s pleased with the project — but there’s more work to be done. “Golden Gate Park is a work in progress like any other public facility. The process of raising money is continuous, and I’m hopeful we can get other people to join that process.”

While mapping out the center’s future, the park’s successful past was at the forefront. “The Golden Gate Park Tennis Center has a history of really exciting tournaments. Over time, the tennis center was loved to death. This project really enables us to rejuvenate tournament play,” says San Francisco Recreation & Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “We needed a galvanizing principle, and this was one of the things that was important to Tad Taube.”

Martha Ehrenfeld, co-chair of the board of directors of the Tennis Coalition, also notes, “The Taube family wanted to make sure our facility could host some kind of high-level event, not just regular tournaments. … I’m sure they get many, many requests — we’re so grateful they chose the tennis center as one of their projects.”


Upcoming Events

SF Open:

September 3–6

KPSF Open:

September 22–26

Bryan Brothers Showdown Weekend:

October 2–3

For more details, go to tenniscoalitionsf.org.

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