Gavin Manders considers his options as the end looms for Fairmont Southampton tennis courts
Manders Tennis Management accepts that its days may be numbered at the Fairmont Southampton, despite the programme providing a rare bright light for sport in Bermuda during a dark 13 months dominated by Covid-19.
Gavin Manders, the MTM principal, spoke to The Royal Gazette after the news was circulated that Gencom, the hotel’s owner, is moving ahead with refurbishment plans that will lead to the tennis courts being replaced and MTM looking for a new home.
“I’ve known all of that for over a year, every single part of it,” Manders said. “It didn’t really alarm me because I already have a contract with them and we’ve already come to an understanding that until that [renovation] starts, we’re going to be good to work.
“I do have a signed contract until February of next year, but it does have a clause that if funds became available that they would immediately start the project.”
Manders has run MTM near the hotel beach since leaving Tucker’s Point five years ago. He had a meeting with management last week to be updated on the hotel’s publicised plans to replace the tennis courts with cabanas as part of a scheme to revitalise the resort, which was built in the early 1970s.
“The meeting was just to touch base with the people that I trust the most,” Manders said. “It wasn’t just Fairmont upper management; I’ve had conversations with a lot of different people, including people who have ties within ownership.
“They’ve assured me they appreciate what we do and we have as much time as will allow. As of right now our relationship is positive, but from the management company, I have no information on anything past when the project will start or if we will even be the company they keep when it is finished.”
A planning application expressed the hotel’s plans to demolish tennis courts and offices at the South Shore property in favour of cabanas, an event venue and a swimming pool.
Manders said July marks five years since MTM has operated at Fairmont Southampton. He recently held tennis tournaments while other sports were shut down, making sure to keep numbers down while practising social distancing across the courts during matches.
“Tennis is the fastest-growing sport through the pandemic because of its built-in social distancing without being socially distanced,” he said. “You can be on the court and average 40 feet from the person you are playing against; that’s why we’ve been able to have all the events that we’ve had through the pandemic.
“We had 14 events through the pandemic because our goal is to promote physical and mental health, and use tennis as a vehicle to do that. In general we have about 85 juniors weekly and about 150 locals who play weekly.
”There used to be courts at the top of the hill but they were flattened quite a while ago, before we came to the facility, and used as parking and storage when they have events.“
No talks have been held to provide a “best of all worlds” scenario for MTM, but Manders cannot help but wonder.
“There is a spot they [the courts] could go to but I have no information on the game plan moving forward,” he said. “I have been given assurance that the ownership does love what we represent, but there is no real movement on if we would be the company used after the project.“
Manders is proud to have arguably the top academy programme in Bermuda, its most high-profile graduate being Tariq Simons, the Bermuda No 1, who came through Fairmont Southampton as a junior.
“We do have 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the top-ranked players training out of the Fairmont facility,” Manders said.
“We do appreciate Fairmont allowing us to run out of the facility right now. We don’t know when the [renovation] project will start, how long it will take and where our home will be.
“We do know what we represent. One of our options is to leave the island, and we are looking at that, although it is not what we want to do.”
Manders added: “My goal is for MTM to make a difference in the future of Bermuda tennis and use it as a vehicle to help the next generation. Obviously, I would need a facility for that.
“The same thing happened at Tucker’s Point when they brought in an international management company [Cliff Drysdale Tennis]. I was the head tennis professional there for just under five years, then they brought in an international company and I moved to Fairmont.
“MTM was already created by then and the goal was to have multiple MTM facilities.”