Texas Tennis History

The story of tennis in Texas began sometime in the early 1880s as the upper and middle classes started playing the game. Since that time, tennis has become one of the most inclusive sports in existence, played by people of all ages, abilities and income levels.


The History of Tennis

The game of tennis can be traced back to the 11th or 12th century, when monks played a type of handball on their monastery walls or in their courtyards. By 1500, the use of wooden racquets replaced the use of the hand. A century later, the game had become so popular with nobility in Europe, it is said that just about every nobleman in England had a tennis court. A version of this game, court tennis, is still played.


In 1873, a man in England named Major Walter C. Wingfield designed a game similar to modern tennis called sphairistike, the Greek word for an ancient ball game. In 1874, he patented his game, packaging it in boxes, which contained racquets, net posts, balls and a booklet of rules. In his design, the court was shaped like an hourglass and was shorter than the modern court. The net was much higher on the sides. The court was laid on a lawn and was called lawn tennis. The name sphairistike fell out of use. By 1882, the court, net and rules had evolved almost entirely into their current form.

Lawn tennis quickly spread in the late 19th century after Major Walter C. Wingfield patented it in 1874 and began offering the equipment and instruction in a box set. Come see this extremely rare “Junior Army & Navy Lawn Tennis” pine equipment box (c. 1875-1885), currently on display at the Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame.

Tennis Comes to America

This new game quickly gained popularity around the world. People brought their box sets with them when travelling. This is how it made its way into the United States. Mary Outerbridge brought a box set with her to New York in early 1874 when she returned from Bermuda. She had seen the game played by British army officers who had been introduced to it by Major Wingfield. She convinced the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club to set up a court. The game soon caught on and spread across the country.


Tennis in the Late 19th Century

When tennis made its way to Texas, sometime in the early 1880s, the open frontier of Texas was disappearing. New technology was introduced that would change the lives of people forever. Improvements in communications and transportation spread ideas across the state. Seventy-nine new newspapers began publication between 1880 and 1890. The telephone was patented in 1876 and in 1886 Karl Benz received the first patent for a gas-fueled car. Train travel allowed people to get to different cities in much less time and helped expand commerce. Cotton, livestock and lumber added to the wealth in Texas as commercial enterprises and industry expanded. The population in cities tripled from 1880 to 1890. Galveston, San Antonio, Houston, Austin and Dallas were the largest cities in Texas in 1880. By 1890, Dallas was the largest city with San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth also growing rapidly.

J.B. Adoue


Within these cities were people in the middle and upper classes that had the wealth and the leisure time to participate in sports, including tennis. The earliest story of tennis competition in Texas comes out of Dallas. In the 1880s, the population of Dallas doubled and it became known as the wealthiest and most populated city in 1890. In her book Dallas Country Club: The First 100 Years, Diane Gallloway recounts how Richard E. Potter, an Englishman, was instrumental in introducing tennis to Dallas. Potter, who ran the Texas Land and Mortgage Company, was involved in the first competition in Dallas. It took place at the home of G. Arbuckle on Ross Avenue sometime in the early 1880s. Potter, along with H.L. Edwards, also founded the Dallas Golf and Country Club and introduced golf to Dallas.


By early 1890s, Dallas built tennis courts in City Park, which brought about the formation of the Surprise Tennis Club. Among the top players was J.B. "Tiste" Adoue. In 1908, Adoue founded the Dallas Lawn Tennis Club. The club became the focal point of tennis through the 1930s. Adoue served as mayor of Dallas from 1951 to 1953.


In 1887, the Austin American Statesman reported that the city's Cricket Club was discussing adding a lawn tennis club. By 1888, tennis had become popular in Austin. In an article from May 25, 1888 in the Austin Statesmen: "The game has obtained a strong foothold in the city and is becoming universally popular with a very large class of young people who have the means and the leisure to indulge in its healthful fascinations."


San Antonio

The first tennis club in San Antonio was organized in 1895. Prospering as a cattle, distribution, mercantile and military center, San Antonio was the largest city in Texas by 1900 with a population of 53,321. Paschal Walthall describes tennis in San Antonio:

As in many towns, the first tennis here was strictly "lawn tennis" played on private courts. Most of these were on the grounds of the finer residences and just as the name implies, many were simply nets stretched across smooth lawns. Surprising to some may be that fact that there were many such courts here. (Paschal Walthall, History of Tennis is Old San Antone, 1955)


A group of several young men, including members of the Walthall family, Charley Cresson, Henry Holden, Gus and Franz Groos, George and Grant Pancoast, and Semp Russ organized the first tennis club in San Antonio around 1895. The club was located two blocks south of the present site of the Bexar County Courthouse on Dwyer Avenue. They started with one mud court. Facilities also included a shower shack, wooden bleacher seats. They later added two more courts.


The San Antonio Country Club was founded around the turn of the century. Tennis activity moved to its three courts between San Pedro Avenue and North Flores Street around Summit Avenue, near where the McFarlin Tennis Center now stands in San Pedro Park. Tennis activity then moved to the San Antonio Country Club's present location on North New Braunfels Avenue.


In 1889 the Houston Tennis Club was organized. Matches were played at a home on Rusk Street. In 1891 the club moved to the corner or Pierce and Main Streets. 

Homemade Tennis Courts

In other cities around the state, people had to build their own courts. Travis Smith, born in Waco, Texas, described the development of such a tennis court in Waco, "About 1950, the neighborhood kids used to play baseball. Mr. Shead had a piece of land and a tennis book showing how to play tennis and he got us all interested in it. We constructed a court and it was rather homemade. We had a wire stretched between two posts and we tore up the bed sheet and draped the wire and that made the net."


Howard E. Butt, Sr., founder of the HEB grocery store chain, cleared off a vacant lot by using salt to kill the grass. As a young boy growing up in Kerrville there were no courts in town. Butt later helped fund tennis courts through donations and loans throughout Texas, believing that since tennis had contributed so much to his own well being, it should be extended to others.

The First State Tournament

Not long after tennis arrived in Texas, players competed in a state tournament. The earliest recorded state tournament was played in October 1888 in Dallas at the State Fair.

Tennis Spreads Through Texas

Dr. Daniel A. Penick was the major force in the spread and organization of tennis in Texas.  Penick arrived at the University of Texas in 1887 as an undergraduate. He played on the baseball team for three years while he also picked up tennis.


After earning a B.A. and an M.A. from Texas and a Ph.D. from John Hopkins, he returned to the university in 1899 to teach Latin and Greek. Penick immediately went to work to provide tennis equipment for students who had to pay for nets, racquets, balls and the use of courts. In 1908, Penick became the first tennis coach at the University of Texas, a position he held for 45 years. As coach at the university, tennis director of the University Interscholastic League, president of the Southwest Conference and president of the Texas Tennis Association was a key contributor to the development of tennis throughout Texas.

One of Texas’ great businessmen and philanthropists, Howard E. Butt, Sr. (1895-1991) recognized that life in Texas communities could be enriched through sport. His contributions toward public tennis facilities greatly contributed to the growth of tennis in Texas. Butt appreciated the need for youth to learn and have fun, especially during the Depression years. Remembering how much he himself enjoyed tennis as a child, he found a way to bring this joy into the lives of many Texas children. Through large land and monetary contributions, Mr. Butt supported construction of public tennis centers in Corpus Christi, Harlingen, Donna, Edinburgh, Mission, Mercedes, Laredo, Victoria, Kerrville, Fredericksburg and New Braunfels, several of which still operate today. These community tennis centers were accessible to everyone, a factor that was very important to Mr. Butt. In addition, he and his company have given abundant support to tennis collegiate programs, especially at the University of Corpus Christi (now Texas A&M University Corpus Christi). 

Dr. Daniel Penick and the 1899-1900 UT Men's Tennis Team

HEB Tennis Center opens in Corpus Christi. 

The Texas Tennis Association - Current Day USTA Texas 

It was during the 1895 tournament in Dallas that some of the players formed a state tennis association. On Sunday, May 11, 1895 at 1 p.m. there was a meeting to organize the association. It was thought that the time was "ripe for doing so" and it would help the sport give Texas a standing in the national association, the Dallas Morning News reported. The day following the meeting, the paper reported, J.D. Collett of Fort Worth and Henry S. Crawford of Dallas gave a dinner at the Oriental Hotel after the games at which time the organization of the Texas State Lawn Tennis Association was effected, and application to the National Lawn Tennis Association of America was ordered. The group elected Glen Walker of Fort Worth as president, R.G. Patton of Waco, vice president, J. Henry Meyers of Dallas, secretary and Leslie Waggener of Austin, treasurer. In 1907, the officers and executive committee of the Texas State Lawn Tennis Association completed the formation of a constitution and by-laws to govern the association. Individual dues were fifty cents a year.


In 1917, Dr. Daniel A. Penick began his 40+ year term as president of the TSLTA. The organization joined the USNLTA in 1911 as a regular organization. In 1921 Dr. Penick began requesting that we become a District, and in 1926, Texas became the 10th Association of the USLTA (the ‘N’ had been dropped). Under his leadership, tournaments and local tennis activities expanded in Texas.


The association continued to thrive as a 100% volunteer organization until the growth and management needed some paid staff. This began with the first paid executive director, Warren Zimmerman of Dallas in 1969-70 and Cleo James of Houston in 1970-71. Both were part time. The first full time executive director was Carolyn Moody of Austin from 1972-78. Ben Ball took over in late 1978 and after working from home for some years, led the section to lease an office in south Austin about 1985. The association grew to 25,000 members and had 10 full time staff at the end of his 12 years. Ken McAllister became the executive director in 1991. Twenty-four years later, USTA Texas had grown to 57,000 members and 26 full time staff.


The Texas Tennis Association briefly became the USTA Texas Section in 1998 until national policy dictated a change to the current USTA Texas in 2006.


The Texas Professional Tennis Association (TPTA) - Current Day USPTA Texas Division

The TPTA was conceived in 1965 when three men, namely Clarence Mabry, Bernard “Tut” Bartzen and George Richey, invited the teaching pros of Texas to a weekend in San Antonio for a doubles tournament, a clinic and a meeting of the pros minds.  The tournament was held at the San Antonio Country Club and was won by the host Mabry and John Newman, who defeated Warren McMillan and Ken Crawford of Fort Worth in the finals.  The clinic was held at San Pedro Tennis Center (now McFarlin Tennis Center) and the first formal meeting of Texas pros was held at the Tropicana Hotel.


Mabry was elected the TPTA's first president.  Bartzen was elected vice-president, and Harry Parten of Houston was elected secretary-treasurer. Others attending this first meeting were: Bill Bos, Fred Kester, Fred KniffenJimmy LanghamBob Mapes, Hector Salizar, and Ron Woods.

Pros attending the second meeting of the TPTA held at Lakeway in Austin, were considered charter members.  They included Bernard “Tut” Bartzen, Bill Bos, Ken Crawford, Sammy Giammalva, Fred  Kester, Fred Kniffen, Clarence Mabry, Bob Mapes, Charles McCleary, Warren McMillan, Bob Mooty, Harry Parten, Shelby Torrance, Jerry Walters and Ron Woods.


In 1969, the TPTA voted to affiliate with the USPLTA. The 1970 USPLTA convention was held at the T-Bar-M Tennis Ranch, New Braunfels, Texas. In 1979, the TPTA began having joint conventions with the Texas Tennis Association.

Texas Professional Tennis Association at the USPLTA convention at T-Bar-M Tennis Ranch, New Braunfels, Texas, 1970. Front Row: Barbara Reeves, Ron Woods, Bob Mapes, Jerry Geyman, Bob Mooty, Paul Como. Kneeling: Charles McCleary, Al Flack, Ron Fenasci, Dick King, Jason Morton, Don Fuller, William Faquear, Les Berkes, Warren McMillan, Tut Bartzen. Standing: Roger Young, John Newman, Neil Roush, Don Mordecai, Jerry Evert, Bill Bos, Al Driscole, Fred Kniffen, Dan O'Bryant, Henry Parten, Fects Shelton, Henry Clifton, Clarence Mabry

Tennis in Texas Since its Arrival

Since tennis first was played in Texas, the state has experienced a number of historic events in tennis history. The River Oaks International Tennis Tournament was founded by Jack Norton in the early spring of 1931 at the River Oaks Country Club in Houston.   In 1971 the tournament was part of the Grand Prix tennis circuit. From 1973 to 1977, it was part of the World Championship Tennis circuit. In 2008, the River Oaks International was merged with one of the oldest and last remaining clay court tournaments in the United States, the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships. The only ATP World Tour event in the U.S. played on clay, the tournament continues to be played at the tennis stadium at River Oaks.


Gladys Heldman began publishing World Tennis Magazine out of Houston.  In 1971, WCT, World Championship Tennis played its first of 19 finals in Dallas, where the tour was headquartered. That same year a group of woman, with the help of Gladys Heldman, formed the Virginia Slims Tournament in response to inequalities in prize money between men and women. It later merged into what became the WTA, the Women's Tennis Association. In 1973, in what may be one of the most famous and influential matches of all time, Billie Jean King defeated Bobbie Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes at the Houston Astrodome.

River Oaks Stadium 1940

Battle of the Sexes Scorecard on display at the museum

Texas has had two  Mylan World Team Tennis teams in recent years, Texas Wild our of Dallas in 2013 and 2014 and the Austin Aces in 2014 and 2015. 



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