Golden Gate Park

Renovated Golden Gate Park Tennis Center Receives Rave Reviews

By Noma Faingold

No one seemed to care that there was no splashy ceremony with speeches and VIP guests on opening day at the massively renovated Golden Gate Park Tennis Center (GGPTC) on March 3. The muted event at the center – renamed the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Tennis Center – was simplified due to San Francisco’s large-crowd restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Instead, the new facility, a $27 million project, largely funded by private donors, looked like it had been up-and-running for more than just a literal minute. The brightly lit, modern clubhouse (triple the size of the previous not-so-cheerful building) was bustling with players checking in at the front desk. There was a staff member stringing a racket in the pro shop and middle-school students were lounging on colorful oversized floor pillows, while watching a movie on a large flat screen in the ample classroom space reserved for the Rec. and Park youth program called the Tennis and Learning Center (TLC).

A new sign and landscaping welcome tennis enthusiasts to the newly renovated Tennis Center in Golden Gate Park. Photos by Noma Faingold.

For the players who booked one of the 16 courts that day, the celebration was getting to play on the new courts and to see the reveal of the upgrade of the 125-year-old tennis complex. It was a project long desired but didn’t break ground until June 2019. 

Longtime player at the GGPTC, Marnie Nordquist, was treated to playing on the sunken show court No. 6, with her husband, Steve Schirle. 

“I am so excited to see the changes and improvements,” she said. “It’s beyond my expectations. It’s spectacular.” 

Angela Dorsey of Martinez grew up on the Golden Gate Park courts and was a three-time All-City champion at Presentation High School in the early 1980s.

A San Francisco resident, Nordquist, who was a member of the GGPTC-based 2015 USTA National Championship 4.0 team, added, “I’ve never seen any public courts like this, and I’ve played on courts across the United States. This rivals private clubs.” 

Nordquist gave high marks to other features of the new tennis center, such as improved viewing of matches from both inside and on the outside patio of the clubhouse, the installation of lights for night matches and the overall natural aesthetic. 

“What I love is that it blends so well with the park,” she said.

Steve Schirle (left) with his wife Marnie Nordquist. They live in the Forest Hills area and are regulars at the courts. They are pictured here right after playing on show court No. 6.

Lois Salisbury, co-chair of Tennis Coalition SF, the nonprofit organization that helped shepherd the project, played on opening day and was excited to see people return. 

“I’m kind of in a daze,” she said. “It’s so amazing that this day has arrived. People are really playing. Wow. It’s like a movie.”

Salisbury is also looking forward to spending time in the clubhouse, designed by the San Francisco firm EHDD. 

“I love the spaciousness,” she said.  “We can socialize here. I like seeing the kids here. Tennis is community. This place works for everybody.”

Salisbury’s favorite spot in the clubhouse is a large piece of lenticular wall art. On one side it reads, “Love” and the other side reads “All,” a tennis scoring reference before a game begins, but with a dual, more powerful meaning. 

“That is very San Francisco,” said Salisbury. “Very Haight-Ashbury.”

She said one silver lining to the pandemic has been a rise in interest in tennis, one of the safest sports to play because it involves almost no physical contact, and participants are able to socially distance.

“I’m so happy to see people out here, but I’m also excited for the future,” Salisbury said. She is a former San Francisco resident who currently lives in Sausalito, but has played at the GGPTC for several years. 

“The complete revival of this historical location was needed,” she said. “Now that we’re here, this place will be a magnet that draws people to tennis in San Francisco.”

It’s striking how the new facility was built to be more cohesive with the mature, natural beauty of the park. 

“These trees are like a crown around us,” Salisbury said. “The location is in the heart of the City and in the heart of Golden Gate Park. You look out at the sunken court, it’s like an infinity pool. You can see all the way to the trees. There’s such a sense of openness.”

Julio Martinez, 50, booked an early afternoon court time with his friend, Peter Dale, 49, on opening day. They play in an informal league together with other parents who live in Cole Valley. 

“The redesign is such that I can still recognize it,” Martinez said. “It’s a San Francisco-type of style. It’s so nice. I can see a lot more tournaments being staged here. Maybe even a pro tournament. That would be the ultimate.”

Julio Martinez (left) and Peter Dale with sunken show court No. 6 in background. The two Cole Valley residents play in an informal parents’ league and are regulars at the Golden Gate Park courts.

Former All-City champion at Presentation High School, Angela Dorsey, 55, who grew up on the GGPTC courts with top junior players (and former pros), including Peanut Louie and Brad Gilbert, came out with her husband on opening day, even though they live in Martinez. 

“It’s for sure an upgrade. It’s beautiful,” Dorsey said. “It looks like an actual club where tournaments are played. It’s kind of nice that there’s a little more privacy. I will be back.”

Lifetime Activities, which oversees five other public tennis facilities in the Bay Area, is managing the Goldman Tennis Center. General Manager Isabella Feinberg said the challenge so far has been to keep up with the demand of those who want to book the moderately priced court time. In the first week, more than 3,000 accounts were created online and youth classes have filled up. 

“I knew it was going to be popular, but I didn’t expect it to be this popular,” Feinberg said. “It’s so heartwarming to see the community welcome tennis so readily. This is definitely the centerpiece in the Bay Area of municipal tennis facilities. I’m really grateful to be part of it.”

For more information and to book a court, go to www.goldmantenniscenter.com or call (415) 581-2540. Fees vary for prime time, San Francisco residents, seniors and youth. 

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