Not many people in this world have the chops to be voted into a Hall of Fame. It’s a rarefied group of people who garner that level of respect from peers and professionals. In San Francisco we have a handful of legendary tennis players whose achievements are regarded as worthy of such an honor. Among them is Larry Dodge.
Dodge is being inducted into the USTA NorCal Hall of Fame on July 21 at Stanford University during the Bank of the West tournament. This marks the third time for him – in 2013 he was inducted into the USTA Northern Hall of Fame, which encompasses his home state of North Dakota, as well as South Dakota and Minnesota. And in 2014 he was inducted into the North Dakota Tennis Hall of Fame.
Fellow inductees to the 2016 USTA NorCal class are John Frank, Cici Martinez, Martin Mulligan, and Steve Stefanki.
Dodge, 77, is being recognized for his achievements on and off the court. He has been a nationally ranked senior player beginning with the 35s age division and more recently ranked #1 in the US in the 60 singles division and #6 in world ITF rankings. He represented the United States in international play on US cup teams and as a member of the US International Club in Europe, Central America, Africa, Australia and the US.
He is also an architect and has worked on several public and private tennis facilities in California including The Taube Family Tennis Stadium at Stanford University and the Hellman Tennis Center at the University of California at Berkeley. He is currently a tennis consultant working with the Tennis Coalition of San Francisco and SF Recreation & Parks Department on plans for the upgrade of the Golden Gate Park Tennis Center (GGPTC).
Never took a lesson
Larry began his tennis life at 14 in Fargo, ND, “kind of late by today’s standards,” he says. Without ever taking a lesson, he learned the game from watching the best players from the “big city” of Minneapolis. He went on to attend North Dakota State where he won the North Central Conference men’s singles title in 1961. He won six consecutive North Dakota Closed singles and doubles titles from 1957-62 and won the Red River Valley Open five times in his career. He was ranked as high as #2 in the USTA Northern Section for men’s singles.
After finishing college and working for three years as an architect in Minnesota, he moved to San Francisco in 1966 to advance his career. He immediately began playing tennis at Golden Gate Park.
“It was magic. It was kind of a pivotal thing in my whole life going there,” he says. “There were all these people who were wonderful players and characters and the place was full and it was social. Golden Gate Park was where the best players played. Period. So out of that I became a better player pretty fast. Turns out I was there in this peak time.”
He played with the likes of Tom Brown, Gene Ward, Marcie and Peanut Louie, Rosie Casals, Bob Murio, Greg Shephard, and CiCi Martinez (a fellow 2016 inductee). Among the most memorable players, he says, was Whitney Reed (pictured with Dodge in the photo above).
“I ended up playing doubles with Whitney Reed who formerly had been #1 in the country,” says Dodge. “He was an artist. He showed me all these new values. I was competitive and from a Lutheran background, and would die trying, and here’s this guy who doesn’t seem to care if he wins or loses. He stayed out all night. He liked to gamble. He didn’t live anywhere for a while but he played all over the world. He’s just a legend.”
Reed passed away at age 82 in 2015 (see Bruce Jenkins’ tribute to him on SF Gate).
Dodge continued to play at GGPTC for many years, and then in 1992 moved to Berkeley “for true love”. A big fan of public parks, he often plays at San Pablo Park, and in his lifetime has only been involved with one private tennis club – as managing partner of La Madrona Swim & Racquet Club in Santa Cruz from 1978 to 2012.
“Underneath it all, I think tennis is a catalyst for community, and is about healthy, recreational, social activity first and foremost. That’s the reason why I think public tennis courts are preferable,” says Dodge. “There are wonderful and more exclusive places to play tennis but it’s more interesting, for me at least, to play where anyone can play.”
Although he doesn’t play much at GGPTC these days, especially after knee replacement surgery six months ago, he is still very much involved. For ten years he has been active in developing architectural plans for the proposed renovation of GGPTC. “My whole experience decades ago at Golden Gate Park showed me what a public tennis center can offer and is the reason I have worked on the present upgrade,” says Dodge.
Dodge looks forward to recovering from knee surgery, improving his backhand, and competing in the next age group with friends who have been playing together for 40 years.
“I’ve learned through tennis that there are always things to learn in this sport, which has been fun personally,” he says. “It’s also like an elementary lesson in living. It teaches you basic values of who you are and what’s important. Everything is simplified on a tennis court. I found great value in that.”
Bio of Larry Dodge on USTA NorCal Hall of Fame website: http://www.norcal.usta.com/hof2016/dodge/