Tennis, Anyone? Anyone?

The LA Times’ Dave McKinnen chronicled the change that has put private tennis clubs on the extinction list.

“Lindborg’s story is a familiar one. During the sport’s peak in the mid-1970s, developers couldn’t build private clubs fast enough to satisfy the public’s urge to whack a fuzzy yellow ball. The building boom continued through the 1980s, even as the number of recreational tennis players fell by more than half and cheap-to-build suburban public courts flooded the landscape.

Faced with these pressures, owners of private clubs nationwide have found salvation in the real estate boom and cashed out, selling their acres of courts to the highest bidders — usually developers looking to build homes or shopping centers.

The demise of the private tennis club has touched nearly every region of the country, from San Francisco to Kansas City to New York, where four Manhattan facilities recently closed. Hardest hit is Southern California, where private clubs, once only for the rich, proliferated after World War II to serve a growing upper-middle class.

“Southern California was for a long time the vineyard of tennis,” said Bud Collins, the Hall of Fame tennis writer, who noted that the region has produced some of the game’s greatest stars, including Jack Kramer, Bill Tilden, Pancho Gonzalez, Billie Jean King, Pete Sampras and Tracy Austin.

The L.A. Tennis Club was a place where hoi polloi could rub elbows with Hollywood stars such as William Powell, Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, who were regulars.

The club is still thriving, with about 400 members and a waiting list. So is the Jack Kramer Club in Rolling Hills Estates.

“It’s a hard business to make a profit,” said Kramer, who won Wimbledon and U.S. Open singles titles in the 1940s. “Paying for the maintenance of the courts, the clubhouse, the parking area — that’s expensive…. We couldn’t make any money.”

Kramer, 84, remembers the glory days of tennis, when a galaxy of stars prompted fans to join clubs, where they would wear pressed white skirts and hip-hugging white shorts, swing wooden rackets and adjourn for cocktails at courtside. It was a civilized venue for a regal sport.

“It’s a sad thing when a club closes,” Kramer said. “It’s like a ship going down.”