The Mysterious Case of Clay Courts at the USTA National Campus
The Curious Case of Mark McMahon and his relationship with the USPTA
By Rich Neher
The Mysterious Case of Clay Courts at the USTA National Campus
CONTEXT: The following types of tennis courts were installed at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida, in 2016: 20 hard courts, 12 Plexicushion courts, 6 European Terre Davis red clay courts, 30 Har-Tru HydroCourts, 6 indoor DecoTurf courts, and a cluster of 36-foot and 60-foot SportCourt Power game courts. The red clay courts were built with 450 tons of Italian Terre Davis clay. At least all clay courts were installed by Florida contractor Ritzman Courts, LLC.
Photo: Ritzman Courts
When a reader called me and alleged funny business with the USTA National Campus clay courts I had a good laugh. What else is new? Here is an organization where the hiring of executives seems like a crapshoot. And even if they are lucky to hire a really good one they'll find a way to scare them off if they turn out to think about the growth of tennis more than the growth of the organization.
So, it's a given that the executives handling the Lake Nona project had little to no experience in planning tennis centers and certainly not in designing 100-court mega centers.
The planning stages in 2014/2015 coincide with a period in the history of the USTA where money was growing on trees and the Big Spender tag team of Gordon Smith and Kurt Kamperman decided on million-dollar purchases with little oversight. (Sorry, but I cannot regard a Board of Directors that let their executives go on wild spending sprees as exercising real oversight.)
So, the USTA guys thought it would be a great idea to build some red clay courts to enable our players to get the feel for playing on those courts before going on the European Clay Court Swing. But not cost-effective U.S. red clay, noooo. Had to be Italian. And now it gets interesting. How much would you guess for 6 clay courts with Italian Terre Davis red clay from Cremona? They needed to buy the clay, ship 450 tons of that stuff to Orlando, transport it to the site, and have Ritzman install all of it. $50,000 per court? $60,000? $80,000? And how about the subsequent maintenance of those courts? I was told the maintenance of all 40 clay courts amounts to about $1M per year.
Then a new player submits a bid. Red Clay USA. Made from clay roof tiles in Germany. The real deal, nothing synthetic. European facilities and tournaments love it. The WTA Premium event Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany uses it for years. No maintenance required. See also our Red Clay write-up in Attention.
To build the 6 red clay courts, the bid was $26,000 per court. To build all 40 clay courts with RedClay, the bid was $16,000 per court. Unless Ritzman Court was offering to build those courts for free, the USTA could have saved tons of money going with RedClay. But you and I know that our tag team was not out to save money, they were spending like it was growing on trees.
Now, the red clay courts at the USTA National Campus make up only about 6% of all courts present. I'm thinking if the USTA executives were that reckless with 6% of the courts, how reckless were they with the rest? With the buildings and everything else? Did they pay fair prices? Were they overcharged? Were someone's pockets lined? Is that really far-fetched?
Similar to Deloitte, where inexperienced USTA people were dealing with an outside contractor that was not only incapable of delivering what was requested but was also a main sponsor of the US Open, one can see where funny money business could be very tempting for the people running our NGB. Deloitte stinks to high heaven and there should be an investigation in my opinion but there will never be any repercussions because of that unfortunate and unethical sponsor relationship.
The Curious Case of Mark McMahon and his relationship with the USPTA
CONTEXT: Our readers know me as a guy who is out there to always find the truth and never trust what any NGB or other tennis organization tries to tell us. I see the wool over our eyes and call them on it.
Looking at Mark McMahon's DirectorSearch pages on the USPTA website and reading his emails one of our readers forwarded to me, made me really curious because I found the presentation a little strange. It caused me to question some of the postings and the motives behind them.
Well, turns out I was wrong. Mark did something that no USTA executive (except for Mike Dowse) ever did: He called me on it when he saw the teaser headline in our Mid-February newsletter. Subsequently, we exchanged emails and even had a Zoom meeting. Mark is a stand up-guy with a good sense of humor. I learned much about the man I had actually interviewed previously for our March 2019 issue.
In 2019 I wrote, "Mark McMahon, USPTA Master Professional, is one of the tennis industry's most recognized private club consultants. In 2008, after almost 25 years as a Director of Tennis for two of America's most distinguished private-club tennis programs, (Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, FL and Dunwoody Country Club in Atlanta, GA), Mark founded McMahonTennisSearch to help private clubs hire the right professional as their new Tennis or Racquet Sports Director."
"Born in Melbourne, Australia, Mark also serves in a coaching role, one-to-one with Professionals to assess their career pathway to date and establish realistic and professional goals. He helps his client to identify potential opportunities and develop the skills needed to succeed."
The following is a Q+A that will help shed some light on what Mark is doing with the USPTA and its members.
TCB: Mark, what kind of relationship do you have with the USPTA?
MM: USPTA and McMahon Careers have an agreement for McMahon Careers to provide career coaching services for their members – some complimentary and some paid (by the professional). McMahon Careers also provides employers with complimentary consultation, in advance of hiring a Director, if they request such services. We don’t bill USPTA any fees for our work, and we provide complimentary services to USPTA members and employers as defined above. Clearly, the relationship is a positive one for our firm, which exists on paid services. Our complimentary work creates awareness of what we do.
TCB: On the USPTA website Career Development tab, www.uspta.com it lists USPTA DirectorSearch. If you click on the link it takes you to a site that mentions McMahon Careers. Who owns USPTA DirectorSearch – USPTA or McMahon Careers?
MM: USPTA DirectorSearch.com is the property of USPTA.
TCB: Who pays for USPTA DirectorSearch – the clubs, the pros, or does it come out of the USPTA budget, i.e. all members.
MM: We provide clubs with complimentary consultation services to employers that are designed to help create a more professional process for employers and a more transparent process for professionals. I don’t believe there are hard costs beyond what our firm incurs. We provide USPTA members with a complimentary career consultation upon request. Any paid services are by choice and engaged directly with a client.
TCB: On the website, there is a link where clubs can post other jobs on USPTA Post-a-Job. We hear about the shortage of tennis pros, yet when you go to the USPTA Post a Job, it only lists about 80 people seeking workers and most of those positions are for assistant pros. What is McMahon Careers doing to put pros on public courts? Fill high school and college positions? Fill positions for minorities? Find more jobs for women? These are all important roles that McMahon Careers can fill to help the industry grow. It seems like the website is underutilized, what is McMahon Careers metrics for proper usage?
MM: The focus of our firm in the job posting environment, is Director-level roles, not Assistant Professionals. We can only post Director level jobs when employers submit the jobs. We consider all applicants in a manner consistent with state and federal laws. In my career coaching, I work with minority and female professionals. When assisting an employer to fill a job, our obligation to the employer is help them to identify the very best person for their opening, regardless of status.
TCB: USPTA staff say that you are responsible for developing the USPTA FIND A PRO website. The information in the database is not credible and it does not reflect the professionalism of the USPTA. At the moment it is not even accessible from 3 different browsers. What are you going to do to change it?
MM: The USPTA FIND A PRO website, is NOT managed by McMahon Careers, it is actually managed by a separate 3rd party firm. Our firm manages only USPTADirectorSearch.com – which I believe is accessible from all browsers
TCB: How does the CRSE Program (Certified Racquet Sports Executive) fit in the overall program schedule of the USPTA?
MM: The CRSE program was started in March, 2020 – well before we established a relationship with the USPTA. The program is not designed to fit into any schedule other than our firm, and those who participate.
TCB: How does the CRSE fit into the USPTA, PTR, and ITA certification programs?
MM: It is not designed to fit into any other programs. It is designed to be relevant and responsive to evolving needs of those who manage and lead racquet sports programs.
TCB: Do participants get continuing education points?
MM: Graduates of the program receive USPTA CEU’s. PTR has not approached us to request a similar application, however, it would be a positive benefit for members, if PTR did request CEUs for members who graduate from the CRSE Program.
TCB: Is the CRSE accredited by the USTA?
TCB: What distinguishes the CRSE from training and leadership programs offered by other organizations?
MM: Without comparing, I can say that our program provides the following features and benefits.
The CRSE program is limited to (30) participants annually. The program runs for 10 months (March – December) each year. This year’s program is fully subscribed, for the third consecutive year.
The CRSE program is designed for certified tennis and racquet sports professionals who aspire to manage, administer, and direct a private club program more effectively, more professionally, and more confidently.
The program includes a variety of learning and professional development opportunities including:
Live, virtual classroom sessions
Private, personalized coaching
A CRSE Personal Project
Best practice sharing and small-group discussion sessions
Problem-based case study assignments
Executive resource library access during the program and ongoing upon graduation.
Final competency test & review
Module topics address a variety of relevant and executive skills including:
Developing A Business Plan
Budgeting and Payroll Management
Hiring Practices & Employee Performance Management
Front Desk Operations and Retail Management
Strategic Planning & Capital Budgeting
Building A Total Racquet Sports Program
Practicing Comprehensive Communications
Planning for Personal & Professional Growth
After an initial private coaching session in March, the live classroom sessions begin in April and continue each month until November. Classroom sessions and small group discussion sessions are recorded and made available to program participants for the duration of the program.
McMahon Careers also provides professional Career Coaching services to racquet sports professionals. Different from the CRSE Program which focuses on running a better operation, Career Coaching is designed to focus on the person, and how an individual can more successfully identify and advance in their own career pathway.
TCB: Is the CRSE certification recognized by any clubs, USTA, PTR, USPTA?
MM: Anecdotally, our graduates tell us that their General Managers are pleased with their professional growth as a result of the program. In fact, in addition to supporting their Directors' participation in the CRSE program, many clubs have continued to support their Director’s ongoing participation in other programs that we offer, that are available only to CRSE graduates. We have found that our cohorts develop a strong professional and personal bond as a result of participating.
TCB: Why did you decide to set up the CRSE outside the USPTA, PTR, and USTA instead of supporting the current infrastructure and running the program through them?
MM: As a small business, we determined that the market (the professionals, coaches, and employers of our industry), and our small business, would benefit specifically from this type of offering.
TCB: Should CRSE be offered as a specialty course for USPTA?
MM: No. The CRSE program runs over 10 months which is not consistent with the Specialty Course structure.
TCB: Is CRSE available to the PTR, ITA, and any type of coach?
MM: The program is available to any Director, or professional who is imminently positioned to move into a leadership role, regardless of their professional affiliation.
TCB: The CRSE program seems to serve a niche market – country club pros? What are you doing to make a CSRE program that is appropriate for parks and recreation, high schools, and college coaches?
MM: The target audience is somewhat niche – however, this niche is not based upon the channel of the industry where someone is employed (i.e., country club, park, commercial club, etc.) – The niche, is, however, in the CRSE Program’s relevance. The CRSE program is designed for professionals and coaches who currently direct, or desire to run/lead/administer a small business, or a club department.
TCB: Does McMahon Careers offer significant scholarships to minorities, women, assistant pros, U30 pros, rec coaches, school coaches who want to take the class?
MM: Yes. In our first year (2020), we provided one full scholarship. Last year, and again this year, we have provided (2) full scholarships. Scholarship recipients have been male and female (and minority) and have been awarded based upon demonstration of need, and a previous/ongoing commitment to their professional and career growth.
TCB: Are PTR members allowed to participate in CRSE? Have you had some?
MM: Yes… (you can refer to our website for a list of all our graduates).
TCB: Why is your executive search firm preferable to other tennis search firms?
MM: Without comparing, our firm’s search process is focused first on discovering and defining client needs and expectations; it is robust, thorough, and expedient; our work is highly regarded, and well-referenced by our previous clients. Most importantly, our firm is focused only on racquet sport searches, and we apply the perspective and reach of a team of four experienced and seasoned executives to every search.
TCB: Thank you, Mark.
There you have it, folks. Mark received the above note and hat from a happy client and decided to share that with me. Nice.
Hey, if you have more questions for the man, send them to me. From what I'm determining after interacting with him, he's one of the good guys. If I was looking for career advice in the tennis industry, I would definitely consult him.
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