Harvey Hines of Los Angeles plays tennis at such an advanced level that finding opponents at local courts often is impossible.
"The waiting burned me out," Hines said. "But even if I found someone to play tennis with, it would not be a quality match."
Hines, 25, does not have that problem anymore. Neither do hundreds of other Southern California players, members of the Southern California Tennis Club, founded by actor Ron McCabe.
"When I joined SCTC I found I could have as many as five competitive matches a week," Hines said.
McCabe, 39, started SCTC in 1980 because he was frustrated with "hit and giggle" club tennis. He was a serious player who had a strong desire to compete. So, he organized weekly tennis tournaments for half a dozen competitive players.
"This started out as a source of competition for me," McCabe said. "I was somewhat selfish in that regard. My intention was to create a network for the competitive player and the club grew from word of mouth."
Today, almost 3,000 people have played in SCTC events and the organization now has 600 active members. In its seven-year history, 8,000 official matches have been logged.
"I say we are the best-kept secret in tennis," McCabe said. "We are one of the most active group of competitive club players in the country.
"SCTC is for the player who wears T-shirts that have been washed about 100,000 times and goes through one pair of tennis shoes a month," McCabe said." It is for the person who walks out on the court with two to four racquets, who has to play a match and play for something. SCTC is for the person who needs to continuously compete."
But SCTC has grown into a monster for McCabe. It has almost become a full-time business leaving little room for his primary career, acting. He has appeared on television's "Rockford Files," "Perfect Strangers" and "Riptide" and has acted in commercials for fast-food restaurants, automobiles, beer and shampoo.
"I would not give up this club for my acting," he said, "and I would not give up my acting for this club," which has its home base at the Racquet Center in Studio City.
SCTC has eight co-ed challenge areas, called "ladders" because the players are seeded, according to ability. The playing areas are in the San Fernando Valley, Ventura, Valencia, Long Beach, Glendale-Burbank, San Diego, the Westside and the South Bay. This year, SCTC will expand to the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County. There is an additional challenge ladder for women only.
The club operates on a yearly $75 membership fee. This allows a player to unlimited challenge matches against other members. It also includes participation in one-day "lightning tournaments," during which a player will face up to six opponents. There is a $13 entry fee for these tournaments.
The tournaments and ladders are divided into men's singles, women's singles and mixed doubles, all staggered by levels of ability. An Open category is designed for world-class, intercollegiate and ranked Southern California players. The A and B divisions play host to highly skilled players, and the C division is suited for the average club player.
A tournament includes 32 singles players and 16 doubles teams. Four players or teams are assigned to one court and each plays eight games against the other court members. The court winner is determined by the entrant that wins the most games.
Court winners advance to a single-elimination phase, culminating in a one-set final. The champion can win up to $100 in prize money.
"I first came to California an average player," said member David West. "I didn't have a chance to play much, but from SCTC I get intense practice between challenge matches and lightning tournaments. Now I am No. 7 on the Open ladder."
"The club's strongest selling point is that it has allowed me to be as active or inactive as I want to be," said member Wayne Osher. "I can be pushed as far as I want to be pushed."
Gretchen Miller, the West Coast representative of Converse Inc., said she endorses SCTC's format and applauds McCabe's enthusiasm.
"Ron's approach to tennis is easy to go with, and I think the sky is the limit," Miller said. "He could reach at least 5,000 members when he expands to Orange County."
As membership has increased, so has outside support. K-Swiss, Penn, Prince, Kaypro and Converse advertise in the the Competitor, SCTC's monthly newsletter. These companies also donate equipment, clothing and prize money for the tournaments.
McCabe believes he has contributed something positive to the Southern California tennis community because SCTC unites competitive, improvement-minded people.
"You don't have to be a terrific player to play in this club," McCabe said, "but if you play in it, you may become a terrific player."