Pickleball Takes Center Court

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Mar 22, 2019 at 1:00 AM

It’s the fastest growing sport in the country, and McConnell Golf members have home-court advantage.

Pickleball is a paddle sport, similar to tennis or badminton, but with fewer rules and, some would say, even more fun.

“This year is our test year for pickleball,” says Kyle Thortsen, McConnell corporate director of tennis. “We’re educating our tennis pros on how to play and running demos at clubs, so be on the lookout for more details from your pro shop on upcoming pickleball socials this year.”

Holston Hills Country Club and Country Club of Asheville have seen a big interest in the sport; both clubs have a regular group of players who meet weekly.

“The biggest fans of pickleball are usually those who are aging out of tennis,” says Thorsten. “It’s a slower-paced game with an underhand serve, played on a smaller court. It’s great for tennis players who may have had injuries or can’t take the wear and tear of covering a full tennis court.”

At CCA, Director of Tennis Bill Barber says pickleball is bringing new people to his indoor courts.

“I’m seeing new people out here, which I love. It gets people active, and that’s a great thing. I’ve been shocked at the interest. There’s a very quick learning curve and it’s an incredibly social game. People are watching and laughing at the good, the bad, the ugly shots. It’s almost like adult ping-pong. I love when I hear members say ‘I haven’t laughed this much in years.’” 

CCA member Wayne DiCastri recently moved to Asheville from Minnesota, where he and his wife, Ingrid, played the sport regularly. They didn’t miss a beat when they joined CCA last fall.

“We have a great core group that plays regularly,” he says.

“It was a great way for us to meet new people and get some exercise. There’s less area to cover on the court and all the equipment is here. You just show up and start playing.”  

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Field Trip

by Laura Burkehart

 Nov 10, 2016 at 6:53 PM

McConnell Golf’s tennis program brings all the clubs together.

Each August since 2011, tennis fans have gathered at Wake Forest University for the Winston-Salem Open. The last men’s tournament on the Emirates Airline US Open Series circuit before the US Open, this event draws top pros and a large, enthusiastic crowd.

For the past couple of years, McConnell Golf members have joined in the fun. “It’s a good event,” says Kyle Thortsen, McConnell Golf director of tennis. “We start out with a tailgate in the parking lot. We have a tent, and cornhole, and food, and everyone hangs out until the gates open.”

Member Jill Uttridge agrees. “I attended the WSO with my husband and sons, who are 13 and 9. While the boys enjoyed cornhole in the parking lot, we mixed with friends from our club, Wakefield Plantation, and met members from other McConnell clubs. It was fun to hang with the pros in a non-instructional capacity.” The highlights for the kids? “My 9-year-old loved watching the players practice a few feet away and getting autographs on his big tennis ball. We love the small tournaments because you can really get up close to the players.”

Once inside, the group gathered at center court for a photo. “That was really cool,” smiles Thortsen. “Last year, we had 25 members, and this year we had 50. We hope it will continue to grow and grow.”

The Country Club of Asheville trip took place in the spring, with members from the Raleigh area heading to the mountains. Member Mary Beth Corbin recalls, “We brought a lot of energy and were greeted with sincere enthusiasm. Everyone was so welcoming, and the clinic with the pros was well-designed to meet the levels of the different participants.”

These excursions also involve entertainment and local college players coming out for some sets. An event at Old North State Club in New London, North Carolina happened in November, and it was anticipated from more than just a skill standpoint. Corbin says, “Our group was discussing what our outfits would be — and we asked our coach to have us McConnell-clinic-ready!”


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Courtside Chat

by Jessie Ammons

 Jun 01, 2016 at 8:54 PM

A peek at the action from the director of tennis

Kyle Thortsen played his first tennis match in middle school and nev­er looked back. He played through high school, earned a scholarship to college, and then became a tennis pro. His life is on the court and his passion is get­ting others out there with him. Here, Thortsen discusses his favorite topic with McConnell Golf The Magazine.

Tell me about you. What’s your tennis background?

I’m from Charlotte, North Carolina — born and raised. I started playing tennis when I was in middle school. I played all four years of high school and got a scholarship to Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina.

After school, I went back to Charlotte and worked in the tennis industry. In the spring of 2011, I got the opportu­nity to go to Durham, North Carolina to join McConnell Golf at Treyburn as the assistant pro. I helped the current staff build that program and regrow it. In March 2015 I moved to Wakefield Plantation, and now I’m the director of tennis for the entire company.

What characterizes McConnell tennis programs?

In the past, all of the clubs have oper­ated with their own fingerprint. One of the great things about McConnell Golf is that we have these other properties that our members can go to and enjoy. On the tennis side, we haven’t done a very good job of promoting that. As we go into the future, our goal is to show off how great the company is and how great our properties are by taking groups to other clubs and traveling around. We don’t want clubs to stop operating as their own entities, but we do want to help each other out. We want to show members how much they have at their fingertips. You just have to travel a little bit, which can be a lot of fun.

What sorts of trips do you have planned?

This year, we have two ladies’ week­ends. [One weekend trip happened in late April to The Country Club of Asheville.] In October a group will go to Old North State for a little tennis boot-camp. We’ll rent out the lodges for the ladies to stay in for the weekend, and we’ve also lined up a college tennis match as an added entertainment feature. Those weekends are a way to experience something different from just an everyday tennis program.

We’re also going to take a group trip to the Winston-Salem Open in August. We had the first McConnell Day at the tournament last year and it was a lot of fun. We had about 25 members gather in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — we tailgated in the parking lot and then watched the matches all day. I can’t wait for that this year.

Are there any other standout programs you’re excited about?

We’re hosting tournaments at our facilities all year. They’ll be city tournaments, where both members and non-members can qualify. It’s a great way to show off how fantastic McConnell Golf clubs are. Tournaments provide a competitive atmosphere for a weekend, which is a fun and different format for our members to take part in, whether they’re playing or watching. All of our clubs will host several tourna­ments this year.

Where do the junior players fit into all of this?

Junior golfers have a McConnell Golf scholarship opportunity, and we’re introducing that on the tennis side, as well. This is an awesome opportunity for our younger players. We’re going to start with Wakefield Plantation, The Country Club of Asheville, Sedgefield Country Club, and Providence Country Club. Ask your club’s tennis pro for the details.

What keeps you going and inspired when managing tennis programs at a dozen different clubs?

The access our members have to go to these other clubs any time they want is so unique. That ability to use other facilities allows them to pursue their passion for the sport in different set­tings and meet great people across the clubs. That’s a community that I’m very excited to help foster.

Instruction Insight: A tip from Kyle about doubles play

“For the average club doubles player, constancy and placement are the keys to success. Many players become impatient while playing and compensate by using power to end a point. Instead, stay calm. The baseline player should look to keep the ball cross-court — aim to have the ball travel four feet above the net. This will result in a deep shot that will back your opponent off the court and allow your partner to move to the center for an easy put-away volley.”

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