COSTA MESA — It all started in 1999, when friends Clay Peterson and Johnny McCray bought neighboring homes on East 20th Street.
While unpacking, Peterson came upon a wooden tennis racquet and they started to hit balls in Peterson's tennis court.
Then they had an idea.
"Why don't we have a tournament and have people dress up?" Peterson thought.
Peterson has a court, and McCray has a lush, garden-like backyard, so they decided to tear down the fence separating their properties for the one-day event and to celebrate their new-found hobby.
The Wood Racquet Classic was born. On Sunday, it will mark the 12th year of the tennis tournament at the McCray-Peterson estates.
No graphite allowed. Wooden racquets definitely change the nature of the game.
"We have a couple other pros that have entered the tournament," he said. "It's funny, having these pros that are used to a graphite racquet, and then you put a wood racquet in their hands ... the wood racquet kind of slows the game down and allows for longer rallies."
Originally, the event was an excuse for friends and locals to come together in vintage tennis attire. In 2005, Peterson's mother died of cancer and McCray's close family friend, Grant Baldwin, the former Wood Racquet Classic referee, died of the same disease. It was then the event took a new direction. The next year, they created the Wood Racquet Foundation, which donates proceeds to nonprofits fighting for cancer.
This year, the classic adds a new nonprofit as their benefactor — the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, which will receive 100% of the proceeds from the event.
For the last four years, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian's Cancer Center has served as the benefactor; the tournament raised more than $30,000 for the center.
"It's not so much about the tennis; it's more social and about the charity," Peterson said. "But some of the tennis is serious when it comes down to the final rounds."
Even though the tennis isn't so serious, the event's attire is no laughing matter.
On the invitation guests are asked to arrive in "traditional tennis attire inspired by all-time favorites, such as Fred Perry, John McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis and Bjorn Borg.
"Social guests would please 'the society' by wearing outfits resembling a Wimbledon audience circa 1952."
Who knew tennis preppy could be so defined?
In fact, it's so well-defined that they award a best-dressed team and best-dressed spectator award.
Society, playfully put in quotes, brings up the fact that the backyard party has quickly turned into a high-profile social event.
Film director McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol), a Newport Beach native, is the defending champion. He will be hitting the courts with Balboa pro Kevin Forbes. McG directed "Terminator: Salvation" and was the executive producer of the "The O.C." Not only playing, McG will be lending a hand in the party as well. A Restaurant, owned by McG, will be donating food to the VIP section. T.K. Burgers, the legendary burger joint in Huntington Beach and Newport, will also cater.
Other Orange County guests include surfwear pioneer Bob Hurley, surf champ Rob Machado and tennis pro Mark Philippoussis. The Wood Racquet Foundation announced on Friday that Machado and Philippoussis will play head to head. Machado will have to watch out for his opponent's 142-mph serve.
Baumvision's new eyewear line, Leisure Society, is co-sponsoring the event. Baum is known as the makers of Penguin, Paul Frank and Modern Amusement sunglasses. Shaun Baum, a close friend of the organizers, is showcasing a sunglasses table where guests can rock a pair of shades for the day. Other sponsors include Rolls-Royce, which is auctioning off a chauffeured day in one of its cars.
Guests are asked to make a donation of $20 to enter. To rally with a wood racquet, players must donate $125. Visit http://www.woodracquetclassic.com for more information.