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Ownership Has Its Privileges.

Whether it's golf or tennis, you can enjoy the game among a community of friends

At 5:30 in the morning, 69-year-old Emeral Crosby and his wife, Corene, start their day working at the sprawling two-acre property that houses the Metropolitan Racquet Club in Detroit.

"Every morning we're out there trimming trees, sweeping, watering, and rolling the courts," says Crosby. "My wife and I, we're here all the time."

For the Crosbys, caring for and maintaining the club is a labor of love. In addition to helping out with the maintenance, Corene also takes care of the landscaping, planting dozens of flowers every year. Crosby is one of the few African Americans in the country who owns and operates tennis facilities.

Like many other tennis and golf enthusiasts, Crosby wanted to find a place where he could constantly enjoy the sport he loved. His answer: Buy one.

In 1971, Crosby and four other investors pooled their resources and purchased the club from the Detroit Tennis and Squash Club for $50,000.

"Everybody thought it would be a profit-making venture, but it was not," says Crosby, who splits his days working as principal of Detroit's Pershing High School. "After the others realized it wasn't making money, all of them wanted out. So I had to buy them out." It cost Crosby an additional $30,000, although one of the original partners still has a 20% stake in the business.

The Metropolitan Racquet Club features six outdoor clay courts, two squash courts, a sauna, shower facilities, and locker rooms. While membership at most clubs generally costs more than $1,000 a year, Crosby only charges $250, and he only allows the tennis pros to charge $30 an hour for private lessons.

"I try to keep it so that blacks can get to learn and play the game," he says. "I try to promote tennis. It has meant a lot to me. My kids learned to play, as well as my wife. The game has been good to me physically."

Teaching the game has been important for Crosby, who personally sponsors a junior tennis program for nearly 100 kids during the summer months. The Metropolitan also holds three major tournaments. Every year Crosby hosts the U.S. Midwest Section Championships for men and women, the Senior Classic, and the ShootOut.

Crosby is one of a small, select group of African Americans who have managed to gain a foothold in the club ownership business. Starting a country club or a golf and tennis club is no easy feat. It requires millions of dollars to purchase several acres of land and equipment, build tennis and/or golf courses, as well as fitness facilities. In addition to the millions in start-up costs, there is the cost of staffing and the expense of daily and monthly maintenance.

Crosby shells out more than $5,000 a year for maintenance. However, he and his wife do a lot of the labor themselves, and some club members also help keep the facility clean. But the maintenance costs are considerably higher for larger clubs. Some of Metropolitan's members pay an additional $20 to get their own key to the club.

Most African American entrepreneurs looking to start a country club would probably need to enlist a panel of investors to offset the hefty costs. But there are other ways to enjoy a country club lifestyle. Just ask Roy Johnson. For the past 10 years, he has treated golf junkies to a great, daylong competition via the Bill Spiller/HBGT Golf Classic.

When Johnson, the editorial director of Vanguarde Media and the tournament's organizer, started the event 10 years ago, it was called the Home-Boy Golf Tournament (HBGT). In 1999, the tournament was renamed in honor of the legendary African American golfer, Bill Spiller. The Bill Spiller/HBGT Golf Classic has always been engineered to attract a strong African American audience.

Spiller was a trailblazer in golf in the 1940s. Because of the blatant prejudice that African American players faced on the PGA Tour, Spiller formed a tour for black players called the Universal Golf Association (UGA). Many black golfers, including Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford, came up in the UGA. Spiller also sued the PGA to get it to drop the whites-only clause that barred black golfers from the nation's public courses and private clubs.

"We felt it was only fitting to rename the event after Bill Spiller," says Johnson.

As a further tribute to Spiller, the Bill Spiller/ HBGT Golf Classic is only held at prestigious private country clubs. Some of the tournament's past sites include the Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, New York, and the Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle, New York. "We've been able to do that because all of these clubs have black members," Johnson said.

The money that is generated from the tournament is donated to such urban charities as. New Visions for the Public Schools, the Harlem School for the Arts, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Child Development Center in New Rochelle, New York.

"You give people a full day of good golf, good food, and good camaraderie," says Johnson, "then you'll have a successful event."
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Article Details
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Author:Holder, Sherie
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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