Almost every day of the year the courts at Bitsy Grant Tennis Center on Northside Drive are buzzing with activity. Players of all ages can be seen playing on the new hard courts near the road, offering glimpses of games from sunrise to sunset. This center has been a popular spot for Buckhead residents to play this sport for nearly 70 years.
Built in 1952, the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center located at the southwestern tip of Atlanta Memorial Park is a historic tennis facility named after legendary tennis champion Bryan Grant. Coming in at only 5’4” tall, Bryan earned the nickname “Bitsy” and was known for his skills on the court and his ability to beat heavy-hitting greats on any surface. He was known for a “retriever” style of play, chasing down each ball and relied on his exceptional ball control and conditioning which made him incredibly difficult to beat. Notably, he was almost unbeatable on Georgia clay courts, of which there are 13 at the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center.
An Atlanta native, Bitsy made a name for himself in sports from an early age by winning the Georgia state tennis title (GIAA) at only 20 years old followed by a litany of titles in his lifetime, including the US Open (at the time known as the US Championships) three times. Grant was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and later the the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1972.
When the city of Atlanta built the tennis center on Northside Drive and opted to name it after Bitsy he indicated that he was rather uncomfortable with the notion. “I would imagine it would be a little odd having a place named after you while you’re still playing with your friends out here at your tennis center, but that’s how good he was. He was one of the best,” explained Universal Tennis Academy’s (UTA) cofounder Tim Noonan. Despite Bitsy’s discomfort he continued to play at the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center for the rest of his life, continuing on to win numerous titles as a senior player.
The Center has a total of 10 hard courts and 13 clay courts, and is the only facility in the city where the public can pay to play on clay courts. According to Tim, caring for these clay courts is quite different from standard hard courts that you might find at other public facilities. They require additional care and daily maintenance, which is why clay courts are mainly found at country clubs and private tennis centers.
The Bitsy Grant Tennis Center was once the headquarters for the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) which drew many of the greatest players from all around the country during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Considered the “showplace” for tennis in the Southeast, Bitsy Grant was the site of ALTA’s Atlanta Invitational tournament, the 1955 U.S. Clay Court Championships, the USTA National 40 Clay Championships from 1982 to 1988, USTA Father & Son Clay Court Championships, and the 2012 ATA Nationals.
Many noteworthy players have graced the courts at Bitsy Grant Tennis Center throughout the years, including Arthur Ashe, the first black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team, Bobby Riggs, Bobby Dodd, and Tony Traebert. Celebrated Atlanta players John Skogstad, Joe Becknell, Bailey Brown, and Hugh Thompson are also considered a part of the Bitsy Grant legacy.
“It’s like a garden,” said Tim of maintaining clay courts. “Playing on it is a slower game, it’s a little easier on the legs because it is kind of a natural surface.” Tim is uniquely suited to manage the mix of clay and hard courts at Bitsy Grant because of his previous experience as the Director of Tennis at several country clubs in St. Louis that had clay courts.
It is due to the dedication and knowledge of experts like Tim that these courts have been such a mainstay in Buckhead for nearly 70 years. Tim was drawn to Atlanta because of its reputation as the #1 tennis city in the world, due in part to the fact that one can play outside year-round in this climate. When he encountered Bitsy Grant Tennis Center he fell in love with the history, the reputation, and the community that calls it home.
Tim has also volunteered to teach tennis lessons for more than a decade through a program called DreamMakers Youth Foundation. All of the kids in the program have special needs, and Tim enlists a team of volunteer coaches and higher level academy players to hold these classes at Bitsy Grant and Brookhaven’s Blackburn Tennis Center on three Saturdays each month.
“Anybody can come out with a friend and pay an hourly rate to play,” Tim said, though he admitted that the Center’s popularity might mean all the courts are full from time to time. Bitsy Grant Tennis Center offers a popular senior round-robin, the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) league play and team practices, adult clinics, a junior academy, and summer camps for kids.
The fees at Bitsy Grant start at just $3 per hour for hard courts and $6 per hour for clay courts, and players ranging from 3 to mid-90s frequent the center on a daily basis. The youngest players focus on learning coordination, basic stroke fundamentals, and athleticism, while players of all ages hone their skills and learn important life lessons in playing what Tim considers to be a ‘gentleman’s game.’ A memorial wall on site has plaques dedicated to lifelong players, among them Bitsy himself, who called Bitsy Grant Tennis Center their home court. Visit the Bitsy Grant website to learn more, book lessons, and plan your visit.