Love counts for nothing; at least, so goes the saying in accordance with the rules of tennis.
But for Chris Bartlett, independently contracted tennis instructor at the prestigious community of Brunswick Forest, that edict hardly applies beyond the scoreboard.
“Tennis is a one-person sport, yes,” he says. “But everyone here comes out and we have a great time together: instructors, loyal members, and the kids.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Michael Cline
Though the facilities at the comprehensive community, located in Leland, are in fact reserved for its residents, Bartlett has had the opportunity to try his paces in a variety of arenas since he began instructing others in the sport in 1998 and joined the Brunswick Forest pros officially in 2014. But he says his passion for tennis was inspired at the tender age of six, when he first picked up the racquet.
Splitting his time between working the golf shop on site and teaching roughly eight hours out of each week, Bartlett partners with Jeff Kohl, another tennis pro hired by Brunswick Forest in 2012, and others involved with the community’s program to balance the task of instructing residents in all age groups. Today, he estimates that active tennis-playing membership fluctuates between 100 and 250 participants, depending on the time of year.
“Back in 2013, the junior league only met once a week all year,” Bartlett says. “Now, though, we have separate age divisions, we started talking about a summer camp a couple of years back that may still happen one day: the program has grown even just in the amount of time I’ve been with Brunswick Forest.”
Bartlett explains that the divided age groups for the junior league are much the same as the United States Tennis Association (USTA). The youngest players belong in what the pro good-naturedly calls his “ankle-biters” group; these pupils are at youngest four years old and play by the USTA’s standards for quick start tennis. This means that they play on a 36-foot court with a lowered net and low compression balls to start.
“The idea is to build up to regular standards so that the kids get used to the game at a steady pace,” he says. “Kind of like riding a bike.”
The next level for the community’s junior players begins around the age of six and extends to ten to twelve-year-olds. According to Bartlett, this category of youth participants remains the most neglected amongst Brunswick Forest’s members, even given a slight influx of interest in the summer months sans educational obligations.
“We really don’t get that many of the older kids, so it doesn’t make sense right now to have a separate age group for them like the USTA does,” Bartlett says. “But we hope that growth is on the horizon, that one day we’ll bring in an offer for kids ten and older; we’re just not quite ready yet.”
Regardless of the mismatched ages, Bartlett says that the kids in this division graduate to a 48-foot court and a more sturdy tennis ball, bringing them that much closer to the standards of adult players. Participants are placed in match scenarios – during which both they and the coach keep score so that they better understand the point system of the game – when they aren’t running live ball drills for dexterity and endurance.
In comparison to his days teaching at the collegiate level for Lees-McRae College and then at King University, Bartlett says that these students create new challenges and rewards, both for himself and for them.
“At that upper level I still had to look out for my students, keep them on track,” he explains. “But here, with different ages to take into consideration, the key is to identify and then use as many different learning styles as possible. It’s not just to keep the kids interested, but to make sure they enjoy a sport they can keep on playing later on in life.”
The pro sees this on a regular basis with the ongoing adult clinics that Brunswick Forest offers its members, the busiest being the USTA specified intermediate levels for both ladies and gentlemen interested in playing. Bartlett says that any community member wanting to sign up need only contact himself or Kohl at any time of the year.
Given the popularity of the sport among adults, Bartlett remains hopeful that summers to come will yield more young students eager to hit the court and learn to play a game that the pro has loved since childhood.
“It’s a great game,” he says. “And it’s worth sharing, whether you’re a kid or an adult that wants a new hobby.”