Volvo Car Open tournament director Bob Moran has been a part of one of the world's premier women's tennis events since 2000, when the tournament moved from Hilton Head Island to Daniel Island, near Mount Pleasant. Now closing in on two decades at the Family Circle Tennis Center, this annual rite of spring never gets old, he says - quite the contrary.
Moran enjoys telling how Shelby Rogers, a ball girl for the tournament when she was seven years old, has since risen to a ranking among the top 50 women's players in the world - and competing in the event she once attended as a starry-eyed youngster.
"We also have a couple of other young women who are in the top 300 and grew up in Charleston and South Carolina," he says. "We've seen multiple tennis clubs begun, more league participation. To us, pro tennis should grow the game at the local level."
That only seems fair, since as Moran notes, the Volvo Car Open - before 2015, it was called the Family Circle Cup - also has helped grow the pro women's game since its debut at Sea Pines Plantation in 1973.
Forty-four years later, the Volvo Car Open is one of a handful of women-only tennis tournaments remaining. "Our No. 1 goal was to grow women's sports, and a key to that was to have an event at the top level," Moran says. In the process, the tournament has become a must-see annual date on the calendar of many visitors to South Carolina.
Upward of 50 percent of the annual attendees - between 90,000 and 100,000, a significant uptick over the years at Hilton Head - have visited Mount Pleasant to see the likes of Venus Williams, Madison Keys and defending champion Sloane Stephens (who will miss the 2017 tournament because of an injury) compete on the Family Circle Tennis Center court. Moran says economists have gauged the economic impact at between $30 million and $40 million.
"What's fun this year, we've taken another direction with the Tennis Channel, a big partner with us in promoting it," Moran says. "Their promotions have boosted our ticket sales from all over the US, from places we haven't seen: people from Texas, Oregon, Washington (state) are coming to Charleston to see a great city and great women's tennis."
Visitors will see such favorites as Keys, Johanna Konta, Venus Williams and former Volvo winner (2011) Caroline Wozniacki, all ranked in the top 25 in the world. Keys reached the Volvo finals in 2015, Williams lost to sister Serena in the Australian Open finals earlier this year, and Wozniacki was a finalist in two recent events in the Middle East. Also in the field is Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig.
But as big a draw as the tennis, Moran says, are activities off-court. A sign posted in the stadium in 2016 promoted the slogan, "Sports. Music. Life."
Among fan-friendly events are players visiting the stadium suites, pro-ams with sponsor partners and, for the regular fans, autograph sessions. "We have players from 54 countries, and our job is to educate fans on who they are," Moran says. "But the players love coming for the same reasons: to meet their fans, to try Charleston's restaurants. We even have a player party at the Charleston Aquarium."
"Our mantra here is, 'It's all about building an experience,'" he says. "We focus on the experience outside the lines: the food, beverages (and) shopping activities. We want fans to come, spend the day with us, enjoy a ladies luncheon, all of that built into the experience."
Moran laughs at the notion of watching much tennis himself. "Our whole team is focused on the fans and players, taking care of people," he says. "We want to make sure everything goes according to plan, but we do love being here."
That said ... if Moran could be a fan for a day, he would be there for "Semifinal Saturday," he says. "That's the best value of all: four matches, two semis (singles and doubles), the best tennis, a full day from 11 a.m.-7 p.m."
"We know fans love Semifinal Saturday from a tennis standpoint. But the music and all the rest - that's every day."
The 2017 Details:
It all begins Saturday, April 1, with a full slate of activities each day through Sunday, April 9. Among off-court attractions are the Lisette L. Montreal Pants Giveaway, the Ban Challenge Court (all ability levels welcome), the Blue Lizard Family Zone (mini-nets and junior rackets for kids) and much more. For details, visit their website.
The tournament's comprehensive website also includes information on match schedules, tickets and the field of players. A compilation of player interviews from 2016 is available here, and a fan guide is here.
Daniel Island is located at Exit 24 off Interstate 526 (Mark Clark Expressway). You can find parking information here. For specific questions, email the tournament at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 843.856.7900.