Marin County’s biggest tennis party of the year begins Friday and runs through Labor Day weekend at the Rafael Racquet Club in San Rafael.
The 40th annual Hal Wagner Memorial Doubles tournament is so popular that the draws filled up six weeks before the four-day event. And the enthusiasm goes beyond the players.
Sponsors are multiplying at such an impressive rate that the tournament now needs a committee to track donations. Lisa Berg, director of tennis at Rafael Racquet for 33 years, relied only on her entourage for sponsors.
“It used to be Lisa’s Rolodex — it was my dentist, my faces,” Berg jokes. “Now a committee of people who love the tournament have stepped up to get more sponsors.”
The Hal Wagner has 50 sponsors this year, including title sponsor Holmes Burrell Real Estate. Jason Holmes is a member of Marin Tennis Club and Arun Burrell is a member of Rafael Racquet.
“We love tennis and the local community,” said Holmes. “We deeply believe in fun, family and sport.”
One of the advantages of being a sponsor is that you can participate in the tournament. Attendance is now capped at 200 entries, with sponsors and club members taking priority. The tournament has had up to 300 entries in previous years, but has declined since COVID.
There will be approximately 130 matches, with draws based on ability/ranking for men’s, women’s and mixed doubles. This is an unauthorized tournament, so results do not affect ratings, another perk that adds to the fun factor.
Holmes plays in men’s and mixed doubles. His mixed partner is his wife, Jen. Burrell and his wife, Kendal, also play.
“The annual Hal tradition at the RRC is something the entire Marin County tennis community looks forward to every year,” said Arun Burrell. “From pros to new players, the Hall provides a place to compete, have fun and connect with old and new tennis friends. The camaraderie of sitting on the tennis decks watching and cheering matches with friends is just as fun, if not more fun than playing. It is truly a celebration of community.
Strong sponsorships literally fuel this see-and-be-seen tennis event. Tournament participants receive daily lunch tickets, two drink tickets, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a goody bag. Wine, mixers, flavored water and pizza are donated by sponsors in addition to other financial contributions from local businesses.
Gina and David Gogna, members of Rafael Racquet, draw from their private wine collection for a unique set of French and Italian vintages, which are auctioned. Proceeds are donated to community non-profit organizations such as the Pacific Coast Marlins—Learn to Swim program which targets underprivileged youth.
The Cognas also donate wine which is used for drink tickets. Martin Ray Winery and Pierce Ranch Vineyards are also sponsors.
“When I heard about the tournament, I said I wanted to be part of it,” said Gina Gogna. “I love this event. Without donations and sponsors, there would be no event.
The finals will take place on Labor Day starting at 11:30 a.m. Shibu Lal of Mt. Tam Racquet Club and former two-time MCAL singles champion Tarrin Dougery will be the favorites in mixed doubles open. Brothers Ryan and Dan Cardiff are set to battle it out for the Open men’s doubles title.
Admission is free and the club has obtained a liquor license to accommodate thirsty spectators.
“If you’re going to do a tournament, this is it,” Gogna said.