CAYCE, SC — If Columbia area restaurants seem unusually crowded this weekend in what’s usually the summer doldrums, blame the USTA Southern Adult Sectional Championships.
The event, which began Friday, brought 547 tennis players on 55 teams from nine states to the Lexington County Tennis Complex near Lexington and the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center.
This is the latest in a series of national events Jorge Andrew, director of tennis operations for the Lexington County Recreation Commission, has lured to the area. But unlike the other recent youth events, which brought in mostly families, this one is adults only.
Families flocked to Lizard’s Thicket for breakfasts last year. The adults spend big bucks for dinner at Travinia’s Italian Kitchen, Motor Supply Company Bistro and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
“There are so many nice restaurants people are telling us about that we won’t get a chance to go to them all,” said Stacy DeJarnette, who flew in with a women’s team from Little Rock, Ark., and was waiting in the shade at the Cayce facility for their second match Friday. “So far everything has been great, except we didn’t win this morning.”
The consolation prize for losing: If they get knocked out early, several members of the team plan to drive down to Charleston for a day before heading home.
All of the teams have won local leagues and state tournaments to make it to the sectional event. The winners here move on to national championships in Arizona or California.
Ten of the 12 players on an Arkansas men’s team made the two-day drive from Little Rock, while the other two opted to fly. The fliers missed the team’s morning match because of flight delays. But at least that meant the team had some fresh players for their afternoon match, said Jeff Holiman.
Holiman and his teammates were impressed with the Lexington County facilities, which were built in part to host these sorts of events. They had played at several large regional events in Mobile, Ala., and Lexington’s facilities sparkled compared to those in Alabama ... or back home. “These courts are awesome,” Holiman said. “I wish we had some public facilities like this in Little Rock.”
Venessa Seivers, with a women’s team from Nashville, Tenn., agreed. “These are so much better than anything we play on in Tennessee.”
Her team had lost a tough match early in the morning, but several players stuck around to try the grilled chicken lunch (free for registered players) and watch other teams play.
“About half the team went to Charleston, the rest of us are here scouting the opposition,” said team captain Jean Kibler.
The tournament organizers put on a reception for the players Thursday night as well as providing lunch on-site Friday. But the players are on their own for most of their meals, much to the delight of local restaurateurs.
Travinia’s booked a table for 18 tennis players Saturday night, according to managing partner Anderson Chambers.
“These sort of things are great for us,” Chambers said.