top of page
  • Writer's pictureEric Moreno

River Oaks Country Club – U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship



Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

River Oaks Country Club 1600 River Oaks Blvd Houston, TX 77019

Year Opened: 1923 Capacity: 3,000

 

U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship

The U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship has been a tournament on the ATP schedule since its founding in 1910. Throughout its history, the tournament has been won by a litany of all-time men’s tennis greats, including Arthur Ashe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, and Andre Agassi. It is now the only ATP tour-level event in the United States to be played on a clay surface.


Houston, the largest city in the Lone Star State, has been home to the tournament since 2001 when it moved from Orlando. In 2007 the exclusive River Oaks Country Club became host for the tourney – the club was founded in 1923 and resides in the eponymous River Oaks neighborhood near the center of Space City.


Since coming to H-Town the tournament has been both popular with its patrons and successful for the tour and the club. I had never experienced professional tennis before and was unsure of what to expect on my visit; read on to learn more about what I experienced during this unique event.


Food & Beverage 3

First things first – the food selection, variety, and costs at the tournament all range from great to very good. The food service company behind the event is one of the most revered in all of Houston, The Goode Company. This brand behind a chain of area barbecue joints and Tex-Mex restaurants offers up a variety of eats, including chips and queso or guacamole, brisket sandwiches, barbecue chicken sandwiches, burgers, and salads. Bottled water, sports drinks, and sodas are also on the menu.


A full-service bar is on-site as well, offering up made-to-order cocktails, wine, champagne, and beer. Again, the drinks are all good and are reasonably well-priced. My sole complaint, if we can call it that, is that there is only one tent that offers up these concessions. While completely understand that the lush grounds of River Oaks don’t lend themselves to many more options, it is still an inconvenience.



Atmosphere 4

I would be hard-pressed to imagine an event like a men’s professional tennis tournament taking place at a place more beautiful than River Oaks Country Club – when it comes to atmosphere, the location itself is the major selling point.


Everything is immaculate, from the lush green grass to the classically styled clubhouse, to the gleaming luxury cars parked throughout the grounds on behalf of one of the tourney’s sponsors. Frankly speaking, the setting is gorgeous.


The venue for the tournament, while a little outdated on the surface, still seems perfect for this type of event. Green wooden bleachers and member’s boxes look like they could easily be found at Wimbledon or Roland Garros; the facility has an old-school, luxurious charm, which I’ll discuss more in the Extras section.


Neighborhood 4

The country club, as mentioned, is located smack dab in the middle of an upscale neighborhood. Once you turn on River Oaks Drive you’ll leave the rest of the city behind, and on the drive to the club, you’ll see nothing but street after street of houses and apartments.


In other words, the usual dining, lodging, and entertainment options are not going to be near the immediate vicinity. However, the benefit of it being set in Houston is that tournament patrons are privy to everything that Space City has to offer.


When it comes to places to eat, the immediate River Oaks neighborhood doesn’t have anything to offer. However, if you venture not too far from the venue, a wealth of options opens up to visitors. In keeping with the idea of not straying too far from the venue, dining options within a 10 to 15-minute drive include the State of Grace, chic seafood and Texas fare restaurant in the Lamar-River Oaks Shopping Center; dishes here range from freshly caught seafood, from the nearby Texas Gulf Coast to gumbo and enchiladas. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Barnaby’s Café, a neighborhood joint that is, as a bonus, pet friendly. Baby back ribs, burgers, and Barnaby’s signature French dip sandwich are just some of the highlights.


In terms of entertainment, visitors might be surprised to know how many green spaces are located right here in the heart of Space City. Very close to River Oaks are both Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou Park – millions of people visit Memorial Park each year, and for good reason. It has miles of hiking and cycling trails; food trucks; an award-winning municipal golf course; baseball, softball, and soccer fields; and volleyball and tennis courts. Buffalo Bayou, on the other hand, is a sprawling 160-acre park that very much keeps the terrain as close to natural as possible, and offers bike and kayak rentals, picnic areas, playgrounds, public art, and food trucks for visitors.


For lodging, if you venture a short way from the club, your options run the gamut from five-star boutiques to affordable motels. Examples of this include St. Regis Houston and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Houston - Greenway Plaza – you’re sure to find something that fits your budget and is fairly close to the tournament.


Fans 4

I wasn’t sure what to expect on my visit to this year’s tournament. I’ve admittedly only ever watched tennis in the past when it was time for one of the major tourneys, and those events are hugely popular and highly attended, but I just wasn’t sure about a regular tour stop.


To say I was impressed would be a bit of an understatement. The final weekend of the tournament saw the venue completely sold out. The grandstands were full and the grounds – as there were passes sold just to be on the grounds during the event – were crowded the whole day that I was there.


In the stands, these were proper tennis fans, engaged and vocal at the right moments. There were, however, also quite a few folks who arrived late – though that might have to do with what’s discussed in the Access section below – and that’s the only reason I’m not giving the Fans section a 5.



Access 3

Access is always a thorny issue for me when reviewing a venue in Houston. It is a great city with a tremendous number of places to visit, things to do, food to eat, games to watch, etc., and we can easily count the Clay Court Championship as one of these things to do. However, it becomes tricky for one reason: traffic.


To get to River Oaks Country Club, you are going to have to drive or ride in some form of motorized vehicle. In all fairness, Houston has great public transportation, but you won’t be able to take that to get close to River Oaks. So again, you’ll need to drive or ride in a car most likely to get here, and Houston traffic is notorious. You will get stuck in it at least once; it is inevitable. You will need to consider that as you make your way to the tournament.


Once at the club parking is very limited, and things bottleneck as you make your way up the main drive. Valet parking is an option, and you can get it right at the entrance if that’s a route you want to go. There is also a shuttle service running hourly for those who want/need to park outside the grounds. In addition, another nice perk is that free bicycle cabs are also provided.


Return on Investment 4

Tickets to this event are a little on the higher end, especially for the grandstands on championship weekend. General admission tickets to just get onto the grounds run anywhere from $15 to $35, depending on which day of the week you want to attend.


While you won’t be able to get to the court beyond walking through, there is quite a nice area, complete with tables, umbrellas, and benches, where the matches are broadcast to a large television. Tickets to sit in the stands will run you several hundred dollars or more, again depending on the day you attend.


I preface this by saying I’ve never been to a professional tennis tournament before, but this seems commensurate with what you should expect for an event like this – you are getting high-level, competitive, professional tennis at prices that are about average for this sport.


Extras 2

There isn’t much in the way of Extras at the tournament; the event is treated very much with reverence and class, which shows up in every detail of it. There are plenty of spots on the grounds perfect for photo ops, however, the giant tournament bracket is one of them.



Fans can also shop for souvenirs at the tournament store, or for fine goods at a pop-up jewelry store. Plus, attendees get to stroll the grounds of this historic and regularly closed-off club.


Final Thoughts

I enjoyed my first exposure to professional tennis. The action on the courts was thrilling, and the athletes were even more impressive to watch in person. A venue like River Oaks Country Club is not one I get the chance to experience regularly, so I enjoyed the opportunity to take it in. Sports fans, especially those in this area of Texas, should make an effort to take in the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.


Follow Eric Moreno's Stadium Journey on Twitter at @EricMoreno6477.


74 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page