End of Elam: Men’s pro tourney gives way to McDonald’s Family Classic

For the first time since its inception, the Elam Classic men’s professional tennis tournament will not take place this year.

The tournament, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last summer, lost its sponsor when Elam Construction was sold and officials decided not to continue the tournament.

“It was an incredible tournament,” official Lena Elliott said. “It was a great experience for the community to see that caliber of play. When we had the pro-am, our local players got to play. Memories were valuable, but everything comes to an end.

“I know several people asked me if I would get a sponsor. With the economy, I’d rather have the money be generated locally and put back into the community.”

Tom Van Fleet started the tournament, called the Bookcliff Country Club Invitational, in 1960 and ran it for three years before moving.

Carter Elliott took over running the tournament, with Central Distributing as a sponsor. The tournament awarded prize money, luring players who were starting professional careers.

Harold Elam, founder of Elam Construction, picked up sponsorship of the tournament in 1983.

Since then, the number of players in the tournament has increased.

The purse grew to the current $10,000 amount, the highest in the region until recently, with the start of the Safeway Open in the Denver area two years ago.

Four players have four Elam Classic singles titles in the tournament’s history, most recently, Cory Ross of Denver, in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The other four-time champions are Jim Landin (1963, ‘65, ‘66, ‘69), Kent Woodard (1971, ‘73, ‘74, ‘84) and Martin Barba (1991, ‘92, ‘94 and ‘96).

Clancy Shields, who grew up in Grand Junction and played college tennis at Boise State University, won the past two singles titles, defeating his brother, Luke Shields, in the championship last year. It was Clancy’s second consecutive Elam Classic title. The Shields brothers teamed up to win the doubles title last year. Luke won the 2001 singles title at the age of 16.

The Elliotts, though, started another tournament in its place, the McDonald’s Family Classic. It takes place beginning at 8 a.m. today at the Elliott Tennis Center at Mesa State College. The tournament continues through Sunday.

“It seems to me, every year our family event (during the Taco Bell Western Slope Open) has gotten bigger and bigger,” Elliott said. “We’re so family-oriented and I’ve always wanted a family tournament. I thought this was a great opportunity to do that.

“It’s not big, but it’s a start.”


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