The Pacific Life Open, considered by many to be the "Grand Slam of the West", is the fifth most-attended tennis tournament next to the Grand Slams. It is one of the few major events combining both men and women over a two-week period on the ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tours. Held annually at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, a state-of-the-art facility boasting a 16,000 seat stadium, the second largest in the world is one of the world’s most beautiful venues for watching the top professionals compete. In 2007, 303,398 people attended the event, making it the first tournament, outside of the Grand Slams, to ever pass the 300,000 mark.
Through the guidance of partners Charlie Pasarell and Raymond Moore, the tournament has attracted more than 250 of the world’s top men’s and women’s tennis stars annually including Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova. It enjoys elite status on the ATP (ATP Masters Series) and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour (Tier I) calendars.
This tradition of strong player fields including well-known champions, coupled with world-class tennis facilities and the idyllic weather and desert scenery of the Coachella Valley in Southern California, has fueled the Pacific Life Open’s emergence as one of the most prestigious tournaments on the tennis calendar and one at which a great performance is extremely important to a player's ranking and resume.
The Pacific Life Open started as an ATP fund-raising event in Tuscon, Arizona before moving to Mission Hills Country Club in the Coachella Valley in1976 where it benefited from a successful five-year run. The event's connections with the Coachella Valley were nearly broken, however, when the ATP considered moving it to a proposed tennis stadium to be built near Disney World in Florida.
Pasarell, a native of Puerto Rico who had been the No. 1-ranked player in the U.S., was an ATP Board Member and the Director of Tennis at the La Quinta Hotel. He lobbied the ATP Board to keep the event in the Coachella Valley and convinced the owners of the La Quinta Hotel to build tennis facilities adequate for the event. Pasarell’s efforts resulted in the tournament’s move to the La Quinta Hotel, a new 7,500-seat tennis stadium, and a commitment to make the event "even better" in the future.
When the event moved into its new home in 1981, Pasarell became the tournament director. It enjoyed success in the following years and had several noteworthy finals, the most memorable being the 1982 championship when Yannick Noah ended Ivan Lendl's winning streak of 44 matches, just two short of the men's record.
It was Pasarell’s goal for the tournament to grow into a major tennis event at which both top men's and women's competitions would be take place during the same time period. To fulfill this goal, he implemented a plan that was simple in concept but difficult in execution -- to build the event's popularity with the players, the fans, the sponsors and the media through great facilities, attention to detail, strong competition, and wide print and broadcast coverage.
During the six years (1981 - 1986) the tournament was held in La Quinta, it indeed became established as a very popular tennis destination for the players, the fans, the sponsors and the media. In fact, the event achieved such success that it outgrew the tennis stadium and facilities at the La Quinta Hotel. If Pasarell’s goals were to be accomplished, and if the event were to strive for "major tennis event" status, he needed to build a larger, more modern and permanent tennis stadium with enhanced facilities.
To construct the appropriate tennis stadium and facilities, Pasarell and long-time friend Raymond Moore established a company known as PM Sports Management, and created a team along with other investors (including Alan King) to design, develop and operate a luxurious resort hotel and tennis facility in nearby Indian Wells. Pasarell signed Newsweek as title sponsor and Indian Wells became home to the “Newsweek Champions Cup.”
In 1986, construction was completed on the 350-room Grand Champions Hotel (now known as the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort). Its centerpiece was a sophisticated tennis center with 12 courts including a 10,000-seat tennis stadium (with some 7,000 permanent seats), a 3,000-seat clubhouse court, two grass courts and two clay courts. Other facilities included a 3,000 square foot retail sport boutique, a 1.62-acre hospitality village and an 8,000 square foot convention center that also served as a media facility, a player’s lounge and a kitchen facility during the tournament. At the time it was completed, the stadium and facilities were truly state-of-the-art.
The new stadium debuted in 1987, which was also the first year that a top women's professional competition (that year featuring Steffi Graf and Hana Mandlikova) was held in conjunction with the men's event (though not concurrently). This foreshadowed the combination of the men's and women's competitions that was essential to meeting Pasarell’s goals.
The tournament received significant national and international attention when Boris Becker won the first two events (1987 and 1988) held at the new stadium. The tournament took another crucial step forward in 1990 when the ATP, then under the leadership of Hamilton Jordan, restructured the men's tennis circuit and designated the Newsweek Champions Cup as one of the elite events on the ATP in the category now known as the ATP Masters Series.
The women's tournament went through a somewhat different evolution. Originally a non-sanctioned event, it became an official Sony Ericsson WTA Tour event in 1991 in partnership with IMG. In 1992, the women's event was honored when Chris Evert agreed to attach her name to the competition, making it the Evert Cup. In 1997, it was designated as a "Tier 1" event, the top Sony Ericsson WTA Tour category.
Until 1996, the women's event was held immediately prior to rather than concurrently with the men's event. That situation changed, however, when the ATP and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour approved of combining the events. Thus the tournament, then with the somewhat unwieldy name of Newsweek Champions Cup/State Farm Evert Cup presented by Harman International, attained the lofty status of being one of only six Masters Series/Tier I-level tournaments in the world, including the four Grand Slams, that has a combined men's and women's event, a distinction it still holds today under the Pacific Life Open moniker.
A New Home
This success had its price as the tournament quickly outgrew the Grand Champions grounds. Pasarell now dreamed of a new stadium that would serve as a showplace for the burgeoning event.
The development of the Tennis Masters Series coincided with the completion of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 2000, bringing the tournament a new name (Tennis Masters Series Indian Wells) as well as helping it reach new heights in attendance, prize money, television and print exposure, and international status. During its entire existence, tournament attendance has grown from 30,000 to more than 270,000; prize money has grown from $250,000 to more than $5 million; the television audience of the tournament has grown from 25 million homes to nearly a billion homes worldwide; and the facilities have grown from 7,500 seats to a 20-court, 54-acre complex including a 16,100-seat main stadium, two smaller stadiums, 44 luxury suites, nearly 6,000 box seats and first rate ancillary facilities.
One of the reasons for this growth was Pacific Life who signed on as title sponsor in January of 2002. The support of Pacific Life, and dozens of other sponsors, is invaluable to the continued success of the Pacific Life Open.
Another boost to the Pacific Life Open came in the form of an increased playing field, which spawned additional days and sessions creating a full two-week event. Now 20 sessions strong with both the men’s and women’s draws at 96, top players are in competition beginning the first weekend, adding to the excitement and the “Grand Slam” feel of the tournament.
Bigger and Better
The next chapter of the Pacific Life Open is just beginning as Pasarell and Moore, with the help of new partners George Mackin and Bob Miller of Tennis Magazine and Patrick W. M. Imeson of Calim Private Equity, LLC, recently recruited a new team of investors including the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and tennis legends Pete Sampras, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, to acquire International Management Group’s (IMG) 50% interest in the tournament.
The tournament, which at one point had interest from several overseas investors, now has one of the most powerful and strategic tennis partnerships possible and is will be held in Indian Wells, for the foreseeable future. The City of Indian Wells’ displayed their unwavering commitment to the event by purchasing 27 acres of land adjacent to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
That land is currently being developed into a cutting edge complex that will include a luxury hotel, movie theater, shopping, restaurants and more. The development will enhance an already successful event and guarantee that it will reach even greater heights in the future.