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A three-person team (left to right) will be leading the Surf & Turf Tennis Club in Del Mar next month, with pro coach Matt Jones acting as director of tennis, JZ Keegan continuing as club manager, and Jesse Steinberg the new club operator. Photo by Laura Place
A three-person team (left to right) will be leading the Surf & Turf Tennis Club in Del Mar next month, with pro coach Matt Jones acting as director of tennis, JZ Keegan continuing as club manager, and Jesse Steinberg the new club operator. Photo by Laura Place
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New Surf & Turf Tennis Club operators step forward

DEL MAR — When the Del Mar Surf & Turf Tennis Club’s longtime operator announced that he would not attempt to renew his lease for the upcoming year, many wondered whether the beloved community tennis hub would undergo drastic changes under new leadership.

However, a two-person team composed of current local high school coach Jesse Steinberg and Surf & Turf pro coach Matt Jones have stepped forward to take the reins and intend to maintain the club’s existing character while facilitating needed improvements.

Steinberg’s bid to operate the club under the entity Racket Club One was selected by the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Sept. 26 out of five total proposals. Racket Club One will begin operation of the club on Nov. 1.

“Big picture, our goal is twofold — provide great tennis programming to the community and provide a great facility to Del Mar and the community,” Steinberg said. “We have a good pulse on the local tennis community around Del Mar. It’s a really robust tennis community, and it’s also very, very tight-knit.”

Alex Levie, who operated the club for around 30 years, initially planned to submit a bid before announcing that he would be stepping away in August.

Tennis has always been close to Steinberg’s heart, having played at Surf & Turf as a kid — Jones was even his coach back in the day —  and now serving as a volunteer coach at Canyon Crest Academy.

Following a Division I tennis career at Sacramento State, Jones has been a pro coach at Surf & Turf for 16 years, offering lessons through his Jones Crew Academy. Now, he is excited for this next step in the role of director of tennis.

“I get to mentor at a greater capacity, get to mentor my coaches, and do what I’ve always dreamt of — speak life and encouragement to all these people, and make it a fun family atmosphere,” Jones said

All club staff, including coaches, will have to be re-hired with the change in leadership come November. Steinberg said they plan to maintain as much of the current coaching staff as possible.

Local volunteer high school tennis coach Jesse Steinberg, right, was awarded a bid to take over operations of the Surf & Turf Tennis Club in Del Mar starting in November, with pro coach Matt Jones, left, to serve as director of tennis. Photo by Laura Place
Local volunteer high school tennis coach Jesse Steinberg was awarded a bid to take over operations of the Surf & Turf Tennis Club in Del Mar starting in November, with pro coach Matt Jones, left, to serve as director of tennis. Photo by Laura Place

“There’s been uncertainty among members, patrons and the community about what’s going to be the future of the club … part of our goal of providing transition is embracing player-coach relationships. Our goal is to retain the coaching staff; we are going to do what we can to make that happen,” he said.

As far as facility upgrades, Steinberg said he plans to resurface the courts within the next year, renovate the interior of the tennis pro shop on the property and add new furniture to encourage socializing among club patrons.

“We want Del Mar, the Fairgrounds and the community to be proud of the tennis center,” Steinberg said.

Potential closure averted

Amid the search for a new Surf & Turf operator, coaches and other staff at the club were also fighting to prevent a closure for October.

While the new club operator was initially scheduled to begin on October 1, this start date was delayed to November 1 when the Fairgrounds opted to issue a new request for proposals. Levie had already planned to shut down his operations by the end of September, spelling a potential shutdown of club activities during October between operators.

After making a plea to the Fairgrounds board at their September meeting, the club’s current onsite manager JZ Keegan was allowed to run the club herself for that month.

“The coaches and the community members are so grateful to the Fairgrounds for stepping in so quickly, allowing the coaches to continue to work, and allowing the community to use the facility, play tennis, exercise, and socialize,” Keegan said.

Last month, the Fairgrounds board discussed putting forward their own insurance to allow the club to remain open. Representatives did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Youth and adult clinics and leagues are continuing as usual at the club, but club memberships will be nonoperational until next month, Keegan said.

Come November, community members will still be able to find Keegan in the pro shop and on the courts as she continues her role as club manager with Steinberg and Jones.

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