Big-Time tennis in the United States comes out of hibernation each spring in the River Oaks Invitation Tournament at Houston, Texas. This is the first major gathering of the amateur clan—Davis Cup hopefuls and top-ranking stars aiming at the grass-court campaign three months away.
No tournament, not even Wimbledon or Forest Hills, is held in a more opulent atmosphere. This is a Texas show and Texans give it Texas treatment, which means it is king-size and first-class.
The setting is the multimillion-dollar River Oaks Country Club in the heart of the Houston suburb bearing the same name. The vast, sprawling club is fringed with the mansions of men who' made their millions in oil and other enterprises, such as cotton, shipping and ranching, in and around this thriving metropolis. Initiation fee in the club is $10,000, and there's a waiting list from here to San Antonio.
The tournament itself, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has seen the passing parade of the tennis elite, from Ellsworth Vines right down through Don Budge, Bitsy Grant, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Gardnar Mulloy, Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert.
The elevated box seats in the picturesque stadium are sold years in advance. The air of wealth is everywhere, but there also is the simple warmth of southern hospitality. Ladies are fashionably dressed in the latest from New York and Paris shops. The men are a curious mixture. Some look as if they had stepped out of a Brooks Brothers show window and others are Texans from their ten-gallon hats down. Giant moss-covered trees and the unusual orange limestone courts paint a colorful backdrop.
The city of Houston has grown remarkably in the past 25 years, and so has this great tournament. It has matured into a highly desirable stop on the tennis circuit. Players beg for invitations. Last Monday Co-chairmen Browne Baker Jr. and Hal Childers and Club Pro Andrew Jitkoff blew the starting whistle to set off this week of the best in amateur tennis.
Moss-Draped trees around wooden stadium form soft, luxuriant background for tennis-loving Texans at River Oaks
Old-World elegance of sheltered, tree-shaded boxes contrasts with hotly contested matches on orange-colored limestone court. Here Barry MacKay serves to Luis Ayala of Chile.
Courtside boxes line the four sides of the center court. Tennis-hungry fans eagerly book them in advance for once-a-year appearance of leading amateurs from all parts of the world.
Smartly clad Houston socialites make River Oaks Club a center for community social life during tournament week. Husbands join wives late in the afternoon and on. weekend. Here Mrs. Gizette Foxhall (left) and Mrs. Natasha Raw-son chat during lull in matches.
Sun-Drenched players Barry MacKay (foreground) and Luis Ayala, last year's finalists, change courts on odd game. Heat, humidity are rough on players.