I journeyed up to Incline on a particularly warm day for that time of year. I found Paxton to be a very energetic and outgoing guy. When I asked him how long he had been playing tennis, he replied just for a year or so that most of his athletic time had been spent playing golf. I was later to learn that he had played basketball at USC and that he won the golf club championship at his home club, Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. He said that tennis was gaining in popularity in LA and he thought he could do a good job bringing the sport to Incline. The upshot of the meeting was that he asked me to do the publicity for the club and in return he would give me a free membership and teach me how to play tennis.
He had plans to open the club about the middle of June and he was going to have a pro tennis team tournament at that time. For my part I contacted Grant Sawyer who was then the Governor of Nevada and invited him to be on hand to throw out the first tennis ball. To our satisfaction he readily accepted. For his part Paxton was able to utilize his salesmanship ability to get the major casinos on the North Shore to ante up the prize money. He succeeded in raising a total of $1,500.00 which seemed a paltry sum to me. He said he would offer the competitors free room and board while they were at Lake Tahoe, and they would be happy with the prize money. I wished him good luck on getting any top names for that amount. To my surprise he succeeded in getting Pancho Gonzales and Rod Laver plus six other of the top professionals in the country. Another feather in Paxton’s cap was that he was able to get Dinah Shore to become the first official member of his club.
I remember the morning of the opening day driving over Mt. Rose to the lake while snow was falling on my car and I wondered what sort of crowd we would attract. Fortunately it was not snowing at lake level, and the tournament went on as scheduled. While the audience was sparse, the tennis was excellent with Laver and Gonzales reaching the finals. Laver was known as the first player to develop the return of serve as an offensive shot, while Gonzales was a serve and volley expert. On his first serve to Laver the latter returned it with such force that it put a hole in the new tennis net. It was a very exciting match with Laver winning and Gonzales tossing his racquet over the adjoining units of the club.
Since the tournament occurred at the same time as the Wimbledon championships the pros, who were not yet able to play in the English tournament, huddled around the black and white TV in the clubhouse when they were not on court.
Once again I was amazed at Paxton’s salesmanship as he was able to sell nearly 300 memberships to his club. Being the innovator that he was when heavy winter approached he enclosed one of the open decks at the club and it became a haven for late night skiers. Another innovation at Paxton’s bar was that his slot machines paid off in tennis balls rather than in dollars.
During the early years at the club the entire cast of “Bonanza,” when they were filming location shots at Tahoe, would be frequent visitors to Paxton’s bar and restaurant where Peter himself would serve as chef.
Unfortunately Paxton decided to return to Southern Cal where he opened several more highly successful tennis clubs. For the next few years the Tahoe Racquet Club passed through several different ownerships. The highlight of those occurred in 1975 with the booking of the Clint Eastwood Celebrity Tennis Tournament which had relocated from Carmel with the opening of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. It was the greatest collection of celebrities ever to grace the lake’s shore.
(To be continued)
Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.