Passion Project

SF Improves Its Tennis Game

By Julissa James

Golden Gate Park’s deteriorating tennis courts are poised for a renaissance thanks to generous local enthusiasts.

Lois Salisbury co-chairs the San Francisco Tennis Coalition, which has helped raise nearly $23 million to rehabilitate the Golden Gate Park courts. Photo by Spencer Brown.

Tennis legends have thrived at Golden Gate Park since 1894. Think Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals and Peanut Louie Harper. While King aced Wimbledon and the French and U.S. opens, the park’s public courts remain home base to a diverse community of dedicated amateurs like Rita Wong, who practices her serve there at least twice a week. 

Over time, the space fell into deep disrepair. “I tripped over one of the cracks on the court several years ago, split my lip and had to go to the ER to get stitches,” Wong says. “The bill was $3,000, but fortunately, it was paid by my insurance.” 

Now, thanks to countless supporters in San Francisco and down the Peninsula, the Golden Gate Park Tennis Center is set to receive a spate of long-overdue renovations. The San Francisco Tennis Coalition, a partner to the Parks Alliance, has joined forces with the SF Recreation and Park Department to unveil a state-of-the-art upgrade in 2020, complete with 17 new courts, a 7,800-square-foot clubhouse and lighting that allows folks to play at night. (All the better to relaunch the San Francisco Open for community and championship tournaments.) It’ll be renamed the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Tennis Center after the celebrated philanthropist couple. 

For benefactors such as Todd Traina, the remodel is a passion project. “I played most of my high school tennis matches at Golden Gate Park,” reminisces Traina. “I’ve always dreamt that we would have a first-class facility out there. Our city needs something like this.” 

Currently, the venue is not only outdated — it poses serious safety concerns. The surfaces are cracked. The base is eroding. The inadequate lighting and poor drainage limit playing time after dark and when it rains. Not to mention, it is also inaccessible to a number of disabled players. In order to come to fruition, the endeavor — which has raised $22.5 million — needs to collect another $4.5 million to reach its fundraising goal. If everything goes according to plan, it will break ground next year.

Philanthropist Tad Taube donated $6.5 million challenge grant to the cause. “Tennis has been a lifelong passion of mine,” says Taube. “I began playing regularly while a student at Stanford, and it is a sport for all ages to play throughout their entire lives — one of the reasons it is so special.” 

Lois Salisbury, co-chair of the Tennis Coalition, is an instrumental part of the effort to transform a long-gestating dream into reality. Salisbury frequents Golden Gate Park almost every day, lured by the opportunity to make new friends, see old ones and work alongside a top-notch coach. She also swoons over “the beauty of the trees, the air and the sky, even when I double fault.” 

One of Salisbury’s goals is to introduce the game to younger practitioners. In 2014, the Recreation and Park Department kicked off its Tennis and Learning Center after-school program, which will continue to thrive at the newly renovated center. It intends to provide tennis lessons and academic tutoring to youngsters from Portola, Chinatown, Western Addition and Bayview Hunters Point.  

Meanwhile, Salisbury hopes the courts will continue to be a sanctuary for older players such as Rita Wong. Even though Wong suffered that nasty injury, it didn’t stop her from coming back to play. 

“I believe the social interaction as well as the focus on improving my tennis skills has contributed to my mental and physical health,” muses Wong. “My non-tennis-playing friends are astonished that I am still playing tennis in my ‘golden years.’”

Donor Spotlight 

Tad Taube was recently inducted into the United States Tennis Association Hall of Fame for his tireless support of Bay Area tennis. His foundation, Taube Philanthropies, has made major contributions to the tennis program at Stanford (Taube’s alma mater), raising him to legend status there. 

“My passion for tennis ties closely to my work through Taube Philanthropies, where we have spent the last 30 years identifying giving opportunities that are critical to Bay Area civic and cultural life,” Taube says. “This has extended to the support of strong educational opportunities. We believe a critical part of the educational process includes athletics, because true learning must address the whole person — both mental and physical.”

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