Butch Buchholz, 2004.

Speaking recently about his old friend and longtime professional colleague Butch Buchholz, fellow Hall of Famer Cliff Drysdale got to the essence of as multi-faceted a man as tennis has ever known. Drysdale said, “Butch has always been there for the game. He has done so many things in tennis. He has great instincts about the future of the sport and has always had a sense about how things would turn out, largely because of his excellent leadership. Butch was continuously in the forefront of the game. He has received a lot of accolades for everything he has done, but not enough in my view. He was always thinking about improving tennis, and he still is.”

Drysdale started crossing paths regularly with Buchholz in the 1960’s when they were both members of the esteemed “Handsome Eight” who got World Championship Tennis (WCT) off the ground. Buchholz grew up in St. Louis. He was an outstanding junior competitor, winning the French, Wimbledon and U.S. National 18 titles in 1958, taking the Australian juniors in 1959. He was ranked third among American men in 1960, reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon before retiring with an injury when leading Neale Fraser two sets to one with the fourth set locked at 15-15. Buchholz had five match points before losing. That could well have been his year at the shrine. In 1959 and 1960, he played Davis Cup for the United States.

Buchholz turned pro after that 1960 season, won the prestigious U.S. Pro Championships in 1962, joined the “Handsome Eight” in 1967 and played on into the Open Era before concluding his career after reaching the quarterfinals of the 1969 US Open and playing sporadically with injuries in 1970. As he told me recently, “If I knew I was going to have to wait eight years for Open Tennis, I would never have turned pro when I did. I thought it was around the corner. But I am proud of the work we did in the sixties to make Open Tennis a reality. In pro tennis we got away from one night stands and started playing tournaments, which gave us more and more recognition. We got the attention of Herman David, who was the Chairman of Wimbledon at the time. He invited eight of us professionals to play our own event at Wimbledon in 1967 and said, ‘I don’t care what the ITF says, you are invited.’ That was a big step in the evolution to Open Tennis. Herman David said if we filled the stadium in 67’ we would be back at Wimbledon in 68’ with Open Tennis, and that is what happened.”

Buchholz was a much better craftsman than many people realize. As his old friend and fellow player, promoter and Hall of Famer Charlie Pasarell told me, “Butch was one hell of a player. He would have won Wimbledon in 1960 if he had not hurt himself. Butch hit the ball very flat, an inch over the net so to speak. His groundstrokes were great and he was a good volleyer. He hit the ball as aggressively as anybody and could blow you off the court. He was also very quick.”

Buchholz and Roger Federer opened the NASDAQ Stock Market ahead of the 2005 US Open.

Buchholz and Roger Federer opened the NASDAQ Stock Market ahead of the 2005 US Open.

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Buchholz soon shifted his priorities. With his agile mind, immense drive and large dreams, he started excelling in many other ways. Buchholz became a tournament director at the WCT tournament in St. Louis. He returned to play World TeamTennis in the mid-seventies as a player coach in Hawaii. And in 1976 he was selected as the WTT Commissioner.

“I thought TeamTennis was fun,” he reflects. “I liked being the player-coach in Hawaii. We had a hard time finding a place on the calendar. But being Commissioner was a great experience when I was working with guys like Jerry Buss in Los Angeles and Bobby Kraft in Boston.”

His next major leadership position was as Executive Director of the ATP in 1981-82. He recollects, “I was excited because I could do the stuff I wanted to do in the sixties. So I created the Pension Program which I eventually turned over to the Men’s Tennis Council run by Marshall Happer. I am proud because at that time I got two weeks on the calendar for the Players Championships. I said to the board that I wanted to start that tournament for men and women and build a stadium. They said, ‘Go ahead.” And that’s how we got started in Key Biscayne.”

Buchholz is referring, of course, to what is now known as the Miami Open. It was the conceptual crown jewel of a long and sterling career for Buchholz. The 1985 groundbreaking tournament was called the Lipton International Players Championships, featuring 84 of the top 100 men and all but three of the top 100 women. It was held in Delray Beach, Fla. A year later, Buchholz moved the tournament to Boca Raton. Eventually the event landed fittingly in Miami with a $20 million permanent stadium introduced in 1994 in conjunction with the tenth edition of the event.

Buchholz sold the tournament in 2000 but remained as tournament chairman until a decade later. Establishing and running what was arguably the fifth biggest tournament in tennis was a tribute to Buchholz’s steadfastness, ingenuity and clarity of vision. He refused to allow hurricanes or anything else to rain on his parade.

Looking back on that crucial endeavor, Buchholz remembers, “We changed the way tennis was perceived. Everyone went to the tennis and spent the day watching people hit balls. We wanted more than that, so we made our tournament an entertainment place. We brought in musical groups like the Platters, The Beach Boys, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Hall & Oates. We also charged people to attend the draw and used that money to build the Ashe-Buchholz Tennis Center. Arthur had passed away by that time but I did this with Jeanne Ashe.”

Buchholz is gratified that his bold move to add a combined men’s and women’s tournament to the game and make it almost as prestigious as the Grand Slam events had rippling effects. He says, “Look at what happened. Charlie Pasarell made Indian Wells a combined event. Madrid is a combined event as is Rome, and Canada is combined through television. Tennis fans want to come and see Federer, Serena, Venus and Nadal all in one place.”

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Pasarell was inspired by what Buchholz did in Miami. He had idolized Buchholz ever since he was an 11-year-old junior player following in Butch’s footsteps. “In the back of my mind,” says Pasarell, “ I always wanted to be like Butch Buchholz. When I did make Indian Wells a men’s and women’s event, I was still thinking, ‘I have got to be like Butch.’ I remember the first year Butch got his stadium built in Florida, he showed me around the stadium, pointed things out and said, “This is great and that is terrific’ but he also said if he had it to do over again there were a few little things he might change. He wanted me to know that for my tournament. That was incredibly generous. Most people in tennis, particularly tournament directors, don’t like to give you their secrets. Butch is totally different.”

A man of many dimensions with an insatiable desire to realize goals that have long lingered in the inner recesses of his mind, Buchholz had already built an incomparable legacy after leaving the Miami tournament behind him, but he had other fantasies to fulfill. Even after he was inducted at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005 as a contributor, Buchholz remained deeply driven and thoroughly committed to the sport, serving on the Hall of Fame board for 13 years.

Moreover, he realized that Latin America was a neglected area of the sport. Buchholz and his business partner, Joaquin Blaya, filled that vacuum in the late 1990’s and well beyond. He muses, “There just wasn’t any tennis in Latin America so Joaquin and I came in. We had a five year deal with Ericsson and had Challenger events in seven cities. Before we started there was maybe one Latin American player in the top 100 but at one stage after we got these tournaments going there were maybe 18 to 20 kids from Latin America in the top 100. We raised the prize money to $100,000 so they could earn more ranking points. I am very proud of that.”

Having achieved more than he ever could have imagined in the sphere of tennis, Buchholz took his wealth of experience as a promoter into professional golf across the last decade. For three-and-a half years leading up to 2015, Buchholz was Chairman of the Cadillac World Golf Championships at Trump Doral in Miami before the tournament moved out of the country, demonstrating irrefutably that his skills as a promoter transcend tennis.

Recalls Buchholz, “I got the call to do this from Matt Rapp of the PGA Tour. I think they were feeling that the event had kind of lost its way in terms of the community. I brought a whole different perspective. It was all about about enjoying the experience, which is just the way we treated the tennis tournament. We treated the golf tournament as if I was inviting 300,000 people to my wedding. I wanted everybody to have a good time. So we changed the marketing, the food experience and we did champagne tents. I brought the same concept to golf that I had to tennis. I was happy it worked. In one year we improved the revenue by $2.1 million.”

Buchholz alongside former WTA CEO Larry Scott after the two presented Maria Sharapova with the WTA Newcomer of the Year award in 2004.

Buchholz alongside former WTA CEO Larry Scott after the two presented Maria Sharapova with the WTA Newcomer of the Year award in 2004.

Drysdale and Pasarell were not the least bit surprised that Buchholz succeeded so handsomely as he ran a tournament in another sport. As Drysdale says, “At that Miami golf tournament they learned a lot from Butch’s expertise. This was a natural progression for him. Pasarell adds, “It was about hospitality. Butch got a lot of local people to support it and brought them all together. Butch has this great intuition about what people like to do. He made the golf event more fan friendly.”

Summing up Buchholz and his essence as a businessman and a human being, Drysdale says, “Butch is a singularly successful salesman. He knows just how to sell his concepts to the important people who can make a difference. There is no way that anybody who knows Butch can consider him an adversary. He is one of the gang and the second most likable person on earth. I haven’t met the person yet who would be the first.”

When asked what stands out the most among his multitude of contributions to tennis, the 80-year-old Buchholz unhesitatingly selects his Hall of Fame honor as the cream of the crop. Wrapped in layers of emotion, thoroughly humbled by the supreme recognition, Buchholz poignantly broke down in tears during his speech in Newport. He says now, “Being elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame means more to me than anything. I never thought this was something that was possible. I was not thinking I could go in as a contributor. It is the biggest honor you could ever have in your life. And the amazing thing is to this day you are called a Hall of Famer. It lasts forever and it is a lifetime highlight for me.”