f you are in Palm Beach at the end of October, we know you will want to check out the big tennis charity event hosted and run by Chris Evert each year. Held the last weekend in October, Chris brings celebs to the area to play in her Chris Evert Pro-Celeb Tennis Tournament. Held in Boca Raton, it attracts crowds from all the surrounding areas.
As the photographers for Chris, we have often been asked to report on some of the details that do not show up in the local newspapers or in the advertisements. For starters, the weekend begins with an early press conference, usually held at Saks in Boca. Anyone present in the store at the time can watch the press conference as it progresses.
At this meeting Chris announces the draw for the event. Chris invites her guests, professional tennis players and other celebrities and she is the one who makes up the pairings for the matches. All matches played are doubles. It takes a lot of thinking for these pairings as she is looking for comfortable tennis playing partners, fun on the court, and clever comments.
There is no tournament, as such. Each group of four plays one set of 6 games. They all gloat when they win the match but there is no total at the end to declare an overall winner.
When the two days matches have been announced the Media folks on deadline take off. We went out to the courts to photograph the lucky sponsors who got to play in the Pro-Am. The special donation includes the chance to play with Chris and also 4 tickets to the gala Black Tie dinner, so the cost for playing is not quite that high. There is a limited number that can be scheduled so you have to get your request in early.
In the Pro-Am, each player is put into a group of four for each round. The first in each match to win 4 games, wins that one. When all the participants finish that round, all the players are reshuffled for the next match. During the afternoon, every sponsor will get to play on the court with Chris at least for one match. Scores are kept for each player and prizes are awarded to the top scores at the end of the day. Many of the professional and celebrity players are also playing in the afternoon. This past year, Andrea Jaeger, Wendy Turnbull, Kristy McNichol were a few of the afternoon players. It is really a fun day. A big buffet lunch is provided and coolers with all sorts of drinks is available on each court.
That evening there is a cocktail party at the Boca Hotel & Resort. All sponsors and box holders are invited. There may be others invited also. We are not sure of the categories, but it is a nice sized group that attends. The outfits range from comfortable to slightly dressy, no tennis shorts. There is lots of fabulous food and drink and most of the professionals and celebs who will be playing do show up.
Saturday morning at eleven, the matches begin. This is a relaxed, fun situation so no one is asked to rise and shine early, except those who are working! A new stadium court was put up at the hotel specially for this event. The decorations all around are delightful. There are the usual tents selling their wares and lots of vendors there to demonstrate and show what they have. Food and drink can be purchased.
Singing of the national anthem opens the festivities, and this past year, it had a very special twist. A contest was held prior to the event to select two people to sing the anthem at the Saturday and Sunday matches. On Saturday, the winner was a 12 year old girl, and she was terrific. On Sunday there was another youngster, this time 14 yrs. old. They both did a fabulous job, magnificent voices, with a great deal of emotion and feeling put into the rendition. It was one of the few times we have ever seen the crowd so involved and intent on listening to the anthem at the beginning of a sporting event. We think this was a super idea!
Announcing the beginning of each match is a local TV personality with the ability to give the big hype to each player as he or she is heralded onto the court. The four players and the umpire are all wired for sound so that each and every comment they make on the court can be heard throughout the stadium. This provides for some high-spirited moments and insight into the goings on the court. The umpires do a great job of carrying on the pleasantries. Lee Jackson, one of the top WTA gals, Pam Shriver and Bud Collins were there last year and the year before that Burt Reynolds joined the group. They are all quite hilarious in their "controlling" of the matches.
Once the players are on the court, the merriment begins. Big name players this year included: Gabriela Sabatini, Coach Don Shula, baseball star, Jim Palmer, TV personality Kristy McNichol, Gary Carter, Danny Sullivan, Regis & Joy Philbin, Lonnie Shoff, Bud Collins, Mary Carillo, Pam Shriver, Andrea Jaeger, Carling Bassett Seguso and Robert Seguso, Tom Gullikson and Wendy Turnbull.
The professionals do not play "their game", but certainly make enough big points to keep it interesting. Occasionally you get Gabby serving to Chris and you can see the difference in the power put on the ball.
The on court comments ... whispering to their team-mate what the game plan will be for the next point .. except in this case, everyone in the stadium can hear their plans. The patter when Bud Collins is on court or Regis Philbin, Pam Shriver or comedian Lonnie Shorr keeps everyone in stitches, and when Chris and her husband Andy Mill are on opposite sides of the net, they really keep things going. Incidentally, though Andy is noted for his skiing, he is quite a good tennis player .. maybe not up to Chrissie's level but certainly strong. One of the matches each day is only the professional tennis players so you do see one strong match during the afternoon.
On the court, this past year, was the famous "green couch. " The couch was right on the side of the court. Before each match, balls were hit into the stands and those who caught them got to sit on the couch during the match. They had the best seats in the house and afterwards, the professionals and celebs joined them for a few minutes of relaxation, and to have photos taken. One match follows another all day long, with a great list of professionals and celebrities taking part.
Saturday evening is the big Black Tie formal dinner. This is a super-gala affair. Everyone is bedecked in their finest attire. A cocktail party precedes the dinner, and there is an auction of lots and lots of sports memorabilia and other goodies. Trips to Wimbledon including lunch with Chris; a walk on with the Seinfeld show; an original Wheaties box with Chris' photo; signed footballs, golf items, paintings, etc. The first part is silent and each just writes out his bid. Later in the evening at the dinner, the winning bids are run on an electronic board (by number, not name) so the individuals can pick up their purchases. Several of the bigger items are auctioned live at the dinner and that is exciting to watch as the bids go higher and higher. We must say, there were really lots of bargains picked up at the auction, many of the items purchased for below cost. Of course, everything is donated to the auction and all the money collected goes to the charities to fight drug abuse and child neglect. Everyone ends up a winner.
The ballroom at the Boca Hotel is decorated magnificently, each year with a different theme. This year it was Halloween and the cobwebs and black and white decorations were magnificent. The masks at each place setting were fabulous, big feathery .. like you might see in all the shops in New Orleans.
The dinner is the latest in gourmet preparation, presentation and taste and the entertainment terrific. This year, Lonnie Shorr, the comedian, kept everyone laughing and the Spinners had everyone on the dance floor till the early morning hours. The nice thing about this weekend is it has always been the Saturday that we push the clock BACK .. so there is an extra hour of sleep before the matches on Sunday and everyone is delighted to be able to stay late and enjoy the lavish party.
Sunday the matches begin at eleven again and go through the day. Oh, and this past year, Pam Shriver had the whole stadium rocking both Saturday and Sunday when she lead the crowds dancing the Macarena. On Saturday, Andy Mill joined her on center court and on Sunday, Regis Philbin was her partner. Everyone in the stands got to their feet to join in.
At the end of the scheduled matches, the presentation was made. Chris presented a check for $800,000 to the charities!!! Everyone had such a good time ... and to be able to raise all that money for a good cause ... what a weekend!!
Over the years over five million dollars has been raised by this tennis event. It is really an entertaining time for all, and the ticket prices for the day matches are not high so everyone can attend. If you have any thoughts of getting to the Palm Beach area the end of October, this is a very special event that we know you will want to attend. It is a chance to see all your favorite stars and players with their hair down, where winning or losing does not take over, where they are relaxed and they have the time to sign autographs and chat with their fans.
We know you will love it. Perhaps we shall see you there next October?
©1996 - 1997 ALESE & MORTON PECHTER
Alese O. Pechter & Morton H. Pechter
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