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Club pro Hartley named boss of new Bear Mountain Tennis Centre

Posted on February 1, 2017

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist

JANUARY 31, 2017 10:32 PM

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Russ Hartley, then tennis pro at the Racquet Club of Victoria for five years, left after it went into receivership. His journey back to the Island now comes full circle as he takes over today as tennis director of the fledgling Bear Mountain Tennis Centre.

And with the sport riding the kind of boom across Canada that Harley couldn’t possibly have imagined back in the 1980s when he was at the Racquet Club.

“It’s amazing to get a top-five player in the world like Milos [Raonic]. When you also get a player on the women’s side like Eugenie [Bouchard] at the same time, it makes a huge impact in the country,” said Hartley.

He said more than 100 people have so far signed up as founding members at Bear Mountain.

“That’s with only marketing a dream and an open patch of dirt,” said Hartley, 59, who graduated from Mount Douglas Secondary.

Construction on the red-clay, eight-court facility begins in March and it is scheduled to open in late April or early May. There will also be a clubhouse/pavilion. The courts will be fully enclosed during winter months, with removable bubbles, allowing for year-round play. It will be the only such facility in Western Canada.

Hartley has been head pro at the Vancouver Lawn Tennis and Badminton Club since 1986 and three years before that at the Arbutus Club.

“I thought I would probably go the distance there [Vancouver Lawn and Tennis Club,] but this opportunity came up,” he said.

With the bonus of being on a surface that is the most democratic in tennis.

“Clay is the most common surface in the world, outside the west coast of North America [neither Seattle nor Portland have clay courts],” added Hartley, adding it is a boon for North American baby boomers.

“Clay is very forgiving on the body and has a longevity effect on the joints. It is slower ball play than hardcourt, and makes for more extended rallies, and that makes you actually think about your game and not just about banging the ball. It rounds out your game. And it is a great surface on which to teach juniors.”

That latter point is key, said Hartley. Many of Canada’s best young mountain bikers and likely future Olympians are centralized at the national team training centre on Bear Mountain. Hartley hopes to also produce many of the next generation of Canadian tennis internationals out of Bear Mountain.

“We are definitely going to have a big push at the performance level,” he said.

“The facility is being designed to add bleachers when needed to host tournaments and we hope to start out with $25,000 to $50,000 ITF tournaments.”

By comparison, the current annual women’s ITF tournament at Panorama Rec Centre is at the $10,000 level.

The Hartley family name is well-ingrained in Island sports. Russ’s dad, the late Gordon Hartley, was city tennis champion and a track and cross-country coach whose athletes dominated in meets throughout Western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

“It’s great to come home again,” said Russ Hartley.

Landing Hartley is coup, according to Robert Bettauer, CEO of the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence: “Russ left Vancouver Lawn Tennis, which is one of the top-three club jobs in the country.”

Bettauer, the country’s TV colour man for tennis on Sportsnet, will again provide the analysis for Sportsnet’s coverage beginning Friday of the Canada-Britain World Group (top-16) first-round Davis Cup tie in Ottawa.

He said having clay courts at Bear Mountain provides a unique opportunity: “You have to construct points on clay and not just slap them down. Almost all the top-ranked players in the world learned their game on clay.”