Butch Buchholz had an idea. He had an idea as to what professional tennis should look like. He had a dream and he played and toured the world with a vision. And in August of 1967 he played in front of a packed Centre Court at Wimbledon and guaranteed the presence of paid professional players returning to Wimbledon in June of 1968 and the beginning of the Open Era.
Wimbledon, in 1967, had invited 8 of the touring pros – back before pros were allowed to play at all the Grand Slams. The pros were a group of “vagabonds” and the chairman of the club Herman David, said if you fill Centre Court, I don’t care what the ITF says, you’re invited to come play as pros at Wimbledon. They filled Centre Court.
Buchholz is the man behind what we know as today’s ATP and WTA Tours. In his own words he admits he turned pro too early – but he got what he wanted in the end. A tour, a tournament and a tennis life.
As Executive Director of the ATP Tour, Buchholz has always worked hard on behalf of the players. He founded, almost singlehandedly, the Lipton Championships, first held in Delray Beach and now known as The Miami Open. “Golf has The Players, and we always wanted something like that for our tennis professionals.” The Lipton, which began as the professionals’ tournament, was the first tournament stop that had both the men and the women playing together. Butch fought the tour and demanded that the paying spectators really wanted to see the men and women compete at the same venue. And, basically, that’s what we have today at Indian Wells, The Miami Open and all the Grand Slams. Butch was, and still is, ahead of his time.
He fought the neighbors of Crandon Park at the zoning board and battled the powers of Miami-Dade County to build what many players have called the best arena in the sport.
His love and passion for the game and his fellow players led Buchholz to establish a fund which acted as a pension for all the professional players, which exists to this day.
When journalists would rank the players long before the points system, Buchholz was ranked as high as number five in the world and was continually named the best American player. Holding the career Grand Slam as a junior long before the pros were allowed in the main draws, Buchholz travelled the world and tried to time his entry to the pro level. He looks with great fondness back on his years traveling the world as one of the Handsome Eight, and laughs when he tries to compare today’s tour with the tour back in the last 60s.
Junior, Be Aware Of Your Surroundings.
Butch takes us through how he built his first 10-court club, Town and Tennis in St. Louis, and how he quickly realized there was so much more to the tennis industry than chasing yellow fuzzy tennis balls around a court. He had no idea the meaning of “cashflow” He met a businessman in the St Louis area, Solon Gerhman, who went on to lead one of the leading real estate firms in the country. Solon took a tennis lesson three times a week with Butch. But, as Butch states, “I got the real lesson and training and in reality received an MBA from my student.” The lesson learned? “It’s all about knowing your surroundings and who you are meeting and speaking with.”
The last time Butch hit a tennis ball was at Centre Court three years ago and Wimbledon, for Butch, is still the greatest arena holding his best-loved memories. He’ll be happy if that will be the last tennis ball he hits as he sets out to keep his score on the golf links under his age!