Palisades celebrates turning 40

When the Palisades Tennis Club opened in 1974, a young American named Jimmy Connors had recently ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the world for the first time.

Four decades is a long time, and four decades have passed since the private club on Jamboree Road, originally known as the John Wayne Tennis Club after the late movie star who developed it with Ken Willig, opened its doors. And Palisades has plenty of events in store this week for its 40th birthday.

Those events kicked off Wednesday night, as Palisades members Dick Leach and Dr. Ron Schmeltzer held a free sports injury prevention seminar as part of the club's "Palisades Podium" series.

Leach, the longtime USC men's tennis coach, and Schmeltzer, a chiropractic doctor, had plenty of advice for the audience of about 20. Schmeltzer, who is based in Mission Viejo, answered questions about specific injuries.

Many of the events later in the week promise to offer more dancing. And in some ways they are also a celebration of Ken Stuart, the current Palisades owner who designed the club and was its first general manager.

"He's not afraid to try new things," Leach said. "One of the hardest things in tennis is to have to call people and to create a match. You just call the call the club, and you're in a good match [thanks to the club's MatchMaker proprietary software] ... And the club is in a great area, and it's kept up. He spends money on it. I mean, look how nice this place is. It's a fun place to come."

There will certainly be fun Thursday night at 7:30, when the club is holding a disco ball party upstairs in the Palisades Pub for members and their friends. The theme? "Party Like It is 1974."

On Friday night Palisades members are invited to attend a Rick Springfield concert next door at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, a sister property. But the highlight may be Saturday night, when there will be a black-tie dinner on center court for members.

The dinner starts at 5 p.m. and there will be dancing to the jazz orchestra group "Adrianna Marie & Her Groovecutters," said Palisades membership director Christopher Burkhardt. He added that 30 of the club's charter and original members will be in attendance, part of 170 reservations overall for the big dinner.

"Ken is kind of shy about it," Burkhardt said. "He wouldn't have put on this big of a shindig, except that the staff was urging him to do it. He said, 'Well if you want to put it on, go ahead,' so we took the football and ran with it."

There also will be a high-level tournament at Palisades on Sunday beginning at noon, and that's open to the public. Burkhardt said that 12 top Orange County players are scheduled to compete.

Leach, who led USC to three national titles in his 23 years as head coach, likes to joke around. He won't be at the events this weekend. He said he's going to Big Bear for an annual bridge tournament, and to see family.

"Otherwise, I would have been at the formal [Saturday]," he said. "Even though I don't like to put a tuxedo on, I would have done it."

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