By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports
It was just over two years ago when Chris Dudley and his wife, Amy, were overlooking the tennis courts at Querbes Tennis Center. “This place is going to be unbelievable,” said Amy.
She had to really use her imagination to make such a statement. What the Dudleys actually saw and what they saw could be were two different things.
“It was bare bones,” Chris says as he thinks back on their visit to Shreveport. “The courts were laid out but there were no lines, no nets.”
In other words, what they saw was a vision under construction.
Amy Dudley was being hopeful that day in January 2020 – not only for the future of Querbes Tennis Center but for the future of their lives. The couple had come from Atlanta for Chris’ interview for the position of Head Teaching Professional at the historic Shreveport tennis facility.
In the fall of 2019, the tennis center was closed for the remainder of the year for a complete renovation. Led by the Querbes Park Foundation with help from the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the Northwest Louisiana Community Tennis Association (NWLACTA), donors and the City of Shreveport, the plan originally included a total renovation of both the clubhouse and courts. It was decided, however, to give the clubhouse a cosmetics remodel and put the majority of the money into the tennis courts.
That turned out to be a smart move. With cracks in the hardcourts, rubico courts in disrepair, poor lighting, and rusty fencing, it had gotten so bad that the USTA would not sanction events at the facility.
That’s not how Jimbo West remembered Querbes.
Man on a Mission
When Jimbo West returned to his hometown, he was surprised at what he saw at Querbes Tennis Center, where he and his family had learned the game and spent countless days playing on the courts that were first opened in 1965. His fond memories of living in Shreveport also included days spent right on the other side of the fence on Querbes Park Golf Course.
West knew he had to do something, so in May of 2016 he created the Querbes Park Foundation. A project of Shreveport Green, the Foundation’s intention was to “build our organization with private donations that will allow us to continually improve all aspects of Querbes Park and its bordering streets and communities.”
“When I moved back to town about seven years ago I took a look at this place and said, ‘This can’t be,’” West says while sitting on the patio of the clubhouse at Querbes on a recent afternoon. “It (the golf course) was choking itself.”
West knew that meant something must be done about the trees.
“There were 45 standing dead and 12 were on the ground dead,” he explains. Of all the trees on the 162-acre property, only four were pines. So, in addition to pruning more than 420 trees over a four-month period, the Foundation also planted about 30 trees – mostly pine. The new trees include 20 Loblolly Pines, six Shumard Oaks, one Live Oak, two Cypress, and one large Natchez Crepe Myrtle.
Other improvements included the remodel of all the on-course bathrooms and a new concrete pad, new turf, and new signs on the driving range. West says there is more to come as the golf course will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2024.
In addition to improvements on the golf course and tennis center, the Foundation’s initial projects include the surrounding community. The Querbes Park Foundation partnered with the Historic South Highlands Neighborhood Association to prune and trim the west side of the Ockley Bayou from Madison Park to the Monrovia Bridge. With some grant money from the NGO program of Caddo Parish, funds were earmarked for a tree project in the park and a clean-up of sidewalks and right-of-way areas on Gregg Street, which borders the north side of the golf course.
Dudley Does Right
Chris Dudley had only heard about the history of the Querbes Park facilities by the time he arrived in Shreveport for his interview. While he didn’t share Jimbo West’s past with Querbes Park Tennis Center, he knew there was something special on Beverly Place.
After 60 tons of new clay were brought in for the rubico courts, a new irrigation system was installed, concrete slabs were put on top of the existing hard courts, and – oh yeah – the hiring of Dudley, the tennis center received a new lease on life. It wasn’t easy, however. Just 16 days after the grand opening on Feb. 27, 2020, COVID-19 shut everything down.
As it turns out, both tennis and golf underwent significant booms during the pandemic as recreational athletes flocked to accessible and safely-distanced sports. That was true at Querbes, which saw an influx of new players when it reopened in June 2020. During their research for a story wondering if tennis could sustain the sudden boom, The New York Times visited Querbes and highlighted the tennis center in its March 11, 2021 edition.
Recent studies estimate that tennis has had an increase of three million new players in 2020. “One of the highlights of our two years here is the fact that more than 500 brand new tennis players have started playing at Querbes,” says Chris Dudley. “We’re almost 50/50 with adults and kids.”
Seems Amy Dudley could see into the future.
Photo by HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD