Rice University held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new George R. Brown Tennis Complex, which is located on campus near Rice Stadium in West Lot No. 3.
“We are so pleased to make this investment in the future of tennis at Rice, and I am personally grateful for the generosity of some of our most loyal supporters, including Ralph and Becky O’Connor,” Rice University President David Leebron said. “This facility is another way in which we support our athletics programs to make Rice a premier destination for some of the very best student-athletes in the world.”
The new facility will have 14 tennis courts, coaches’ offices, locker rooms, training and equipment rooms and covered spectator seating. Competition-quality lights will give Rice the ability to play matches at night, and the court configuration will give coaches better visual access to monitor team play. Spectators will benefit from seating that allows for viewing multiple matches. The new facility will also accommodate intramural activities and the Rice Tennis Club.
“Rice Tennis is taking a huge step forward today as we break ground on a facility that will certainly become one of the finest of its kind in the nation,” said Rick Greenspan, director of Athletics and Recreation. “Our men’s and women’s teams have an established reputation for excellence, and their new home will be a tremendous asset in adding to their legacies. The George R. Brown Tennis Center will allow us to host high-profile events in a fan-friendly environment and grow our fan base and promote the game of college tennis.”
The new $8 million complex is named for the late George R. Brown, former chair of the Rice Board of Trustees. Brown was a prominent Houston businessman and philanthropist who served on the Rice board for more than 25 years, from 1943 to 1968.
Ralph and Becky O’Connor and their family provided lead funding for the project. Brown served as both Ralph O’Connor’s mentor and business associate and was the grandfather of O’Connor’s four children. O’Connor is a trustee emeritus of Rice; he served on the board from 1978 to 1988.
“When we talked about a new tennis facility, I realized it wasn’t a matter of what we needed to do but how we could do it,” O’Connor said. “We had a lot of ideas presented to us, and I finally decided to kick off the process with a lead gift. Nothing was more gratifying to me than to have the complex named after George R. Brown, my mentor and true friend. When my four children decided to pitch in, I was even more delighted.”
The university also released updated renderings of the 126,000-square-foot complex, which is expected to be ready for use by next tennis season.
“With six courts in a row, the court setup is going to provide a perfect college tennis environment for the fans and players,” said Elizabeth Schmidt, women’s head tennis coach. “It will be an intimate setting where the team can really feed off each other’s energy, and the fans will be able to view matches on all six courts from one vantage point. Everyone will really feel a part of the action.”
“This facility will be second to none and will be a place that all of our players will be proud to call their home court,” said Efe Ustundag, men’s head tennis coach. “When you combine these facilities with the chance to receive a world-class education, we have everything that the elite tennis programs around the country have to offer. We also will be able to attract a number of quality tennis events in the future as well as organize significant events to promote Rice tennis throughout the community.”
The Rice tennis teams have produced 24 All-Americans and have won a combined 15 conference championships. The women’s team reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2012 and is currently ranked No. 20 nationally heading into the 2013 NCAA tournament.