When I first met Butch Buchholz, I was not surprised by his dynamic personality. I heard his name in sports circles for years and heard many stories about him from our mutual friend, tennis legend Tony Trabert. Trabert had told me stories of Butchy’s determination as a businessman, his ability as a manager and promoter of the game, and his style and tenacity as a player.
Butchy beat me in the final for his first pro win, Trabert once told me.
When I met Butch, he finished the story.
Tony rode the professional tennis tour in Europe for Jack Kramer and we were one player short in the 12-man field in Zimbabwe because Lew Hoad had broken his foot, Buchholz recalled. “So even though Tony hadn’t played much, he was still young enough and good enough to compete. Yes, I beat him in the final, but he didn’t tell you we had the semifinals and the final AND the final. doubles finals on the same Sunday because it had rained, so we were both exhausted.
“I went back to the hotel where all the players were staying, and we never closed our doors or anything. I was in a tub to avoid cramping when Trabes came in with a few cocktails and said,” Good job, rookie, I guess. not that that would happen in today’s game.
Add Buchholz’s name to the growing list of sports stars and business people who have chosen to live here in North Florida. Butch and his wife Marilyn moved to Ponte Vedra from South Florida a few years ago.
I had always kept a flat in Sawgrass as we did a lot of business here with the ATP in Ponte Vedra, so when we visited Tony and his wife Vicki, I asked Vickis daughter who is in real estate if she could join my old spot, he said this week.
We did and she asked if we had ever been to The Plantation. I said no, I always turn right out of Sawgrass. When we entered The Plantation we really liked it. And after knowing the prices for real estate in Boca and Miami, I thought there was a mistake in the price of the house. We have friends from the ATP and PGA Tour and access to excellent medical care at the Mayo Clinic. We bought it right away and just love it here.
As a tennis player, Butch was considered a young phenomenon. He played his first tournament at the age of six and won his first tournament a year later. He won all kinds of junior amateur titles and became the first player to win junior titles at the Australian Open (1959) and French Open (1958), Wimbledon (1958) and the US Junior Championships (1958). Fifth in the world in 1960, Buchholz became Prof.
In hindsight, I would have done some things differently, explained Buchholz, a 2005 inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. We thought Open tennis was around the corner, the voices were very close.
Instead, professionals were banned from the four Grand Slam tournaments by the International Tennis Federation and most countries’ tennis associations. That was the start of a pro circuit.
A member of three American Davis Cup teams from 1958-60, Butch won 28 professional tournament events and was one of Lamar Hunt’s famous Handsome Eight of World Championship Tennis (WCT).
We got the WCT trophy from Ken Rosewalls’ garage, Buchholz said with a laugh. It had been the trophy for our Kramer Cup.
With the best players in the world turning pro, it was Wimbledon that helped usher in the open era of tennis and Buchholz was right in the thick of it.
Wimbledon chairman Herman David offered to have eight pros in a tournament by August 67 if we could sell the spot, Butch recalled. We did, and when it was over, he came into the dressing room and said, Gentlemen, you are all invited here next year. They are the last people you thought would start the revolution (of Open tennis), but they wanted the best players.
The open era of tennis started in 1968.
Buchholz retired from playing at the age of 29 after an injury ended his 10-year professional career. But he had just started.
He was a tournament promoter, network television commentator and the captain of the US Junior Davis Cup Team in 1970. He was one of the founders of the first men’s players’ association in 1963. He led tournaments in his hometown of St. Louis, directed WCT events, directed a Virginia Slims event in 1972, and was Commissioner of World Team Tennis. He was an executive director of the ATP and started their retirement program. He also started seven events in Latin America to promote the growth of the sport there.
Buchholz and his brother eventually bought and ran the tournament in South Florida, playing first in Delray Beach in 1985 and then Boca West in 86. In search of a permanent home, Butch was introduced to the Miami Parks Department who gave him a spot on Key. Biscayne.
They took me to Key Biscayne, where the garbage dump was in the park, Buchholz recalled. They were awful old cars, just awful. But I thought it would be a perfect place to park and build the tournament site.
They built the courts and operated with temporary stands. They played the tournament there in 1987. Wanting to build a permanent stadium, Buccholz met strong opposition from the residents of Key Biscayne. After a protracted legal battle, the stadium was built in 1994.
We started there in 87 and helped revive Miami’s image, I believe, he said. We had global coverage, and the only other stuff we had was golf at Doral and the Dolphins.
Buchholz felt that the Lipton International Players Championship should be a combined event with both men and women. No other tournaments outside of the Grand Slams did that.
Politically it was not easy because many tournaments wanted men or women, he explained. But our success showed that you could have a combined event outside of the Grand Slams. Miami’s success led to Indian Wells becoming a large, combined event. Cincinnati, Rome and Spain followed. Most of the Masters Series events are now combined.
By selling the tournament to the International Management Group in 2000, Butch was awarded a five-year contract. He was 11 and was retiring.
I’m sorry it’s away from Key Biscayne, he said of Miami Opens’s move to Hard Rock Stadium. Miami was a big selling point for the players. Many of them have friends there, the restaurants, the nightlife. Miami was a big draw.
Buchholz, a member of TPC at Sawgrass through his ATP connections, was occasionally in Ponte Vedra after retirement. But when his phone rang and it said, PGA Tour on the caller ID, I thought, I bet I didn’t pay my bill.
Instead, the Tour was interested in his promotion and Miami expertise and asked him to hold their golf tournament at Doral.
They wanted me to join the team as part of the Miami fabric. I really enjoyed it, he explained.
We changed everything, you had to know Miami. They sold burgers and hot dogs. We changed that to Shula Burgers and Joes Stone Crab. We built champagne tents. I had learned in tennis that I was in the entertainment world. It’s all about the experience. We organized a wedding party for 300,000 people. We want everyone to have a good time.
It all worked as they increased tournament earnings by $ 2.1 million.
The Trump organization did everything we asked, Butch said of the owners of Doral. Ivanka was our main contact. They upgraded the hotel, put on fashion shows, it was a real thing.
But when Donald Trump ran for president, everything changed. Members of the Miamis Latin community were offended by some of the things then-candidate Trump said about Mexicans and dropped their support of the tournament. Politics became involved and the tournament disappeared to Mexico.
The PGA Tour didn’t want to leave Miami, Butch explained. They were 56 years old, but they could not find a sponsor.
Buchholz now generally plays golf here in North Florida, but has retained his membership with the Bears Club in Jupiter, mainly because of his friends there, including Jack Nicklaus. That 25-year friendship is so strong that he spent the last 10 years playing with Nicklaus on Jack’s birthday. He no longer plays tennis because of a beam-like elbow.
I don’t mind if I play golf, he said with a laugh. Just tennis.
Although officially retired, Butch is still asked for advice on the game and cares deeply about it.
I’m glad I got to be a small part of changing the way the sport was presented. If I could run the whole tennis one day, I would have put everyone under one roof, he said when I asked about the game’s score. Don’t take power away from anyone, but align everyone.
The move to North Florida was a conscious decision to change his lifestyle, and so far, this was exactly what he and Marilyn were looking for.
I don’t miss I-95 in Miami, that’s for sure, he noted.
And without a hint of negative in his voice, he added:
I like the lifestyle here. A little slower. When we moved here I promised my wife that I would get off a set of planks and I was ready to get up and not worry about what was going on. We enjoyed it, it’s an easier lifestyle.
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