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Where The Fun Lives!

Landings LTA History: A Remarkable Journey

By Jim Willis and Joan Davison

The birth of the LTA (Landings Tennis Association) and its remarkable impact on Landings tennis began in the late 1980s when Landings residents Karen and Craig Reitan began organizing the Landings Spring and Fall Classic tennis tournaments and recruited Landings residents to participate in running the events.

Coincidentally, at that same time USTA District Director Hank Jungle was seeking a community with adequate tennis facilities and volunteer capacity to host a national clay court junior tennis tournament. He observed the effective organizational skills of the Reitans in forming and leading these local tournaments and approached them with an extraordinary offer. The Landings was given the opportunity to host a mammoth tournament which came to be known as the Florida Open.

This happened at a time when the country was experiencing a substantial economic downturn. Sales of properties everywhere had collapsed, and the Landings developer was forced to suspend capital funding necessary to complete the improvements for tennis facilities. This meeting between Hank Jungle and the Reitans was before developers of the Landings sold the amenities (golf, tennis, and marina) to the community.

In consideration of the USTA offer, the Reitans pulled together a group of Landings residents for the purpose of managing the Florida Open, in concert with the USTA. This founding group approached the Landings Board, who gave their “full speed ahead” voice of support. They believed this to be an excellent opportunity to raise the funds needed to complete improvements for the Landings tennis complex. They were confident the dedicated and committed group of Landings volunteer leaders and workers were up to the task.

Craig and Karen Reitan

The first Florida Open at the Landings was hosted in the early 1990s, and each year the funds raised from this event were reinvested back into the tennis program. Twenty-five years later, over $800,000 of capital improvements had been generated by the Florida Open (in today’s dollars, $1.34 million). This funded the rebuilding of all courts to Har-Tru court surface technology, plus adding one new court (our current Court 4), replacing the two hard courts (courts 11 & 12) with Har-Tru, installing pavers throughout the entire tennis complex, and constructing shelters, benches, seating areas, and the canvas overhang on the tennis porch.

The birth of the LTA was the result of several key volunteer leaders seeing the opportunity to generate the funds necessary to complete our Landings tennis program. Along the way, the Florida Open established the Landings’ reputation as a national leader in tennis. Today, of the founding group of the LTA, only Karen and Craig Reitan of Riverside are still with us on campus. We still see Karen out there on the courts enjoying the game of tennis she dearly loves.

The Reitans shared: “All of the 12-member original group, including Tony Coker, who did so much and worked so hard for years on the tournament, and Roy Brown, remembered for his great burgers and hot dogs served over the years at the tournament, have died or are widowed and in assisted living.”

Says former LTA President and LTA Trust Officer, Jim Willis: “Consider the value generated by these founding leaders and efforts of hundreds of volunteers over the years who carried the project forward after the Reitans retired from chairing the event. If not for this tournament, the funds required to complete the courts would have needed to come from our residents in the form of assessments or increased fees. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Reitans and the many leaders of the Florida Open, such as Larry and Linda Harvey, Joe and Pat Campbell, Mike and Elaine Gadaleta, Lyn Bruner, Doug and Mary Ann Slaggert, Beth and Lee Behrhorst, Steve and Ann Drennan, and dozens more whose efforts yielded the necessary funding to build the tennis community we continue to enjoy today.”

At its peak, the Florida Open hosted junior players from every state in the nation, with nearly 600 players competing each year in mid-July. Six additional facilities in Lee County were recruited by the Reitans and the USTA to provide additional court capacity needed to satisfy the number of players.

Volunteers would work weeks in advance for the 10-day tournament period and weeks afterward to complete and close out the paperwork. In later years the Florida Open became the Bush Florida Open, named for the Bush Furniture Company, who became the anchor sponsor of the tournament. At one time the USTA Bush Florida Open, held at the Landings, was the second largest junior tournament held in North America.

When asked what the key to success was in achieving the vision of the tournament and goal to complete the Landings tennis facility, Karen Reitan shared: “The Board at that time was very supportive, they could see the opportunity and knew no one had the funds to complete the complex. It proved to be a labor of love.” It was also a huge undertaking to recruit up to 150 volunteers, with many snowbird volunteers from the Landings traveling back to campus to give weeks of volunteer work and time in July. Craig Reitan added: “The Board could see the opportunity. Unless we pursued this opportunity, either our tennis facility and our courts were not going to be completed as planned, or major assessments would have to be made.”

Karen concluded: “We could not have done this without the support and encouragement of the Board and all the Tennis Directors and staff over the years. And of course, we could not have made this happen without the hundreds of volunteers.” These Landings resident volunteers handled the details, managing registration processing, daily tennis flows, court preparation and maintenance, player issues, scoring, umpire management, first aid, and even hotel and ground transportation arrangements. Just managing the supply of tennis balls was beyond the scale and scope of what can be imagined.”

By 2011, the tournament had run its course at the Landings and the Florida Open LTA leadership team had completed its mission and were ready to enjoy their time on courts. Our tennis facilities were in great shape because of the investments generated by the LTA through the tournament. The USTA had many communities throughout Florida seeking to host the prestigious event.

At the end of the final tournament in 2011, a new LTA was formed as a not-for-profit social organization. The post-Bush Florida Open LTA team directed its support to the programming and activities of the Tennis Director and began a season-long plan of social events, parties, dinner-dances, round-robin tennis play, and weekend spectacles. These included the memorable “Battle of the Booty" and "Royal Games” events, and the sold-out Liars Club fun nights.

Of the remaining $151,000 funds in the LTA account in 2011, $125,000 was placed into a newly formed LTA Trust, where funds were accounted for and dedicated to future Landings tennis facility capital improvements. The original Trust officers were Jim Willis, Alan Woodford, Merle Henry, and Steve Maillard. The remaining $25,000 became the operational funding for the new LTA social organization. In later years, when Pickleball arrived on campus, the LTA became the LTPA to bring fellowship and spirit to all our court activities.

Beginning in 2013, with the initial $125,000, a number of projects were recommended for funding by members and endorsed by the Tennis Director and GM. Those included additional bleachers to Courts 9 and 10, the popular custom fabricated bench tables throughout the courts, court clocks, tennis porch fans, ice machines, ball machines, adding paths at Court 10, and most notably the extensive drainage grate systems surrounding the courts for safety and ball protection. Even hand sanitizers were funded by the LTPA during and after COVID.

By early 2023, after the many projects noted above were undertaken, the Trust amount was $50,000. The costs to maintain the Trust (legal, tax filing and accounting) were having a declining impact on the Trust balance. Because of these increasing costs, the LTA Trust Board (Jim Willis, Alan Woodford, and Sandy Mohlman) began the initiative to close the Trust and dedicate the funds to the original charter for “funds to be used for capital improvement to tennis.” Discussion with the LYGTC GM and Board led to a late 2023 agreement and process by which the remaining $50,000 funds were transferred to LYGTC but contractually earmarked to be consistent with the directives on the Trust. Closing the Trust ended its oversight and costs, while still leaving capital funds for our future tennis needs. $50,000 now rests with the LYGTC Board, and as needs and opportunities arise, these funds can provide additional value and impact for our tennis future.

Landings main tennis complex (photo by John DeMarco)
Courts 11&12, nicknamed “The Hydros” (photo by John DeMarco)

The Landings continues to be a leader in Florida tennis. Our heritage has been positively impacted by the efforts of the Reitans, the founding members, and all who have led and served the LTA and LTPA. The founders of the LTA in 1988 put the Landings on the national tennis map of awareness and respect.

We now have over 700 active players on our courts. The LTA, now the  LTPA with pickleball, is one of the largest racquet sports social organizations in the United States with nearly 500 members.

Thanks to a casual meeting and a love of tennis, Karen and Craig Reitan's vision, and the hundreds of people who continue to share their passion, the Landings has an impressive legacy and a bright future for our LTPA.

The Landings Tennis Association (LTA) is a 501c7 Social Club Entity located in the Landings Yacht, Golf and Tennis Club at 4420 Flagship Dr, Fort Myers, FL 33919.

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