I spent my early childhood at our local racquet club, but I ultimately took to the pool, not the courts: The performance anxiety of tennis lessons was too much. After constantly having to run out from a line of my peers, swing, miss, and then try not to cry as the coach yelled out his critique, I quit. I found my place perfecting technique face down in the water, swimming competitively through college.
I came back to tennis at age 36, just before the pandemic, and was surprised to discover the sport could be an antidote to overthinking. As I hopped around the court like a nervous butterfly, head spinning with both life stress and the anticipation of missing my next shot, I saw how, in comparison, my coach, Jeffrey Normile, remained calm and still. He’d call out a suggestion, and I learned to mentally zero in on a focus point. I’d shake out my shoulders and my neck, do a hop with both feet, racket in ready position. The ball bounced and slowed in mid-air. After months of practice, I could, without thinking, make a grip change and unit turn. I could lay my racket back and shuffle my feet toward the ball. My racket instinctively dropped down, brushed up, and connected, allowing time to rush back to full speed. I’d trained outside stressors all to wait, moments of zen achieved.
Normile directs one of the area’s oldest tennis clubs. Originally three clay courts on Oak Street in 1912, South Pasadena’s Live Oaks Tennis Association moved to Oak Meadow Lane with four cement courts and a clubhouse built in 1926. Through the 1920s, new courts were constructed across the city, from Altadena’s storied Mount Lowe Tavern to the great Los Angeles Tennis Club on Melrose and Vine. Altadena Town & Country Club opened its courts in the 1910s, and at the time, the Valley Hunt Club, as its tradition of hunting and fishing waned, pivoted to tennis as its chief sporting activity.
Through the pandemic, tennis remains a safe reason to get outdoors, work out, and stay social while socially distancing. But you can’t play alone. A sweet spot for those seeking more than a city-run recreational program and less than a costly country club membership are three tennis-focused programs touting excellent instruction:
Flint Canyon Tennis Club La Cañada
You’ll find Flint Canyon tucked among the sculptural live oak trees off the 210 at Berkshire. The club’s 13 lighted, recently resurfaced courts opened in 1977. Lessons with the club’s eight teaching professionals are available to non-members, and members enjoy unlimited court reservations. A popular match-making program pairs players of similar abilities to be hitting partners.
Membership: $500 one-time processing fee plus $175/month; lessons from $90/hour; flintcanyontennisclub.com
Live Oaks Tennis Association South Pasadena
Director of Tennis Jeffrey Normile runs instruction at this small club of 110 members who share use of four courts and a historic clubhouse built in 1926. Normile has coached for over three decades throughout the United States and Europe, including leading the Occidental College men’s team to a national top 20 season ranking. He coaches with a contagious calm and expertise well-suited for both new and experienced players.
Membership: Limited to 110 members, $1,250 one-time fee; lessons from $85/hour; liveoakstennis.com
Arroyo Seco Racquet Club South Pasadena
Owned by Stanford All-American ATP player and coach John Letts, Arroyo Seco is counted among 12 facilities across Los Angeles run by Letts’ company iTennis. The program has grown since 2016 into the largest tennis management company in Southern California. Players access nine lighted courts as well as two dedicated pickleball courts and four indoor squash courts. Non-members can book lessons with the club’s 14 professional instructors.
Membership: $250 initiation fee plus $90/month; lessons from $70/hour; astennis.com