By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
RICHMOND– Growing up in Baytown, Texas, Bill Barnes enjoyed playing baseball in high school. He picked up tennis before his move to Richmond in 1986.
Barnes has enjoyed success in the U.S. Tennis Association’s rated divisions, but he is best known as the leading sponsor of the McDonald’s Mid-Atlantic Open Clay Court Championships held every July at Salisbury Country Club.
The junior circuit gives kids a chance to compete in one-day tournaments in different clubs around town.
Barnes, 68, owns 11 McDonald’s restaurants in Richmond.
For all of his contributions, Barnes is being inducted into the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame during a gala celebration and dinner at the Westwood Club on Oct. 28. Tickets are now on sale at richmondtennis.org.
Barne’s long-time friend John DePew said Barnes is enthusiastic about tennis.
“He thinks out of the box,” said DePew. “He has a lot of passion for tennis…he’s a real promoter of the game.”
After taking lessons from high school players in Baytown, Barnes kept improving. He became a 4.5 player under the tutelage of Junie Chatman, a pro at Briarwood (now acac).
Barnes recalls playing at the old Robious Sports and Fitness Club (now Midlothian Athletic Club) when he first got here.
“Playing next to me was Ward Hamilton, Jimmy Milley, Tom Hood and John DePew,” he said. “As things worked out over time, I became good friends with all those guys.”
Barnes captained and played on three U.S.T.A rated teams that won national championships at the 4.5 level. The first came in 1993 and then back-to-back titles in 2000-2001.
Barnes said his team began practice early.
“We would start in October by building our team for the next year,” said Barnes. “A lot of people don’t start until December or January, so we always had a head start on getting the good players.”
The McDonald’s Virginia State Clay Court Championships moved from acac to Salisbury Country Club in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2006 that Barnes and tournament director Scott Steinour decided to make it a stronger event.
It became the McDonald’s Mid-Atlantic Open Clay Court Championships and prize money was increased substantially.
That attracted players who competed on the minor pro circuit, as well as the area’s top pros and collegians.
“After two or three years at Salisbury, Scott and I talked about it,” said Barnes. “My goal was to have a tournament at the prize-money level of the CVITT.”
Barnes referred to the Central Virginia Invitational Tennis Tournament held at the Oakwood CC in Lynchburg since 1960.
The club agreed to allow the tournament to expand its draws while increasing prize money, and gradually the event has become the premier tournament in the area.
Sponsors increased from 10 to the present level of 60. Prize money is now $30,000, with the men’s and women’s winners taking home $7,500 each.
In the next year, Barnes said he would like to see total prize money increase so the winners would receive $10,000.
Along the way, Salisbury has improved its tennis facilities, adding lighting to eight of its courts, improving the landscaping and – the coup de grace — putting in an $80,000 skybox between the two show courts and four other main courts that allows sponsors to mingle, eat and sip beverages.
“The tournament has brought a lot of assets to the club,” said Steinour, the director of tennis at Salisbury. “The skybox, the lit courts. A lot of other amenities that Salisbury has benefited from, due to the tournament.”
Barnes said he likes making friends through tennis.
“It really gives you a good feeling … to know people appreciate having this type of event [clay courts] in Richmond,” said Barnes.