Tennis is more than a game for the Columbia LadyNets in South Carolina. You too can join the club—no membership required.

Tennis Fitness Buddies
(from left) Mechelle Robertson (37) loves having toned arms and legs; Pat Butler (51) feels healthier and less stressed; Fabrienne Payne (35)  went from a size 12 to a size 8.
| Credit: Robbie Caponetto

When Mechelle Robertson moved to Columbia, South Carolina, for a new job, she knew no one. Working all day and going to the gym at night, she thought she might never make friends in this town and even considered moving because she didn't feel any real connection to her new home. Then she took her first tennis lesson at the Richland County Tennis Center, and everything clicked.

"When I met my tennis friends I knew that I was home," Mechelle says. Through lessons, she connected with a team called The LadyNets from Greenview Park. "Playing with these women has changed my life. I have friends now, bought a house, and am part of a community."

The LadyNets, who range from 33 to 53, practice year-round and compete during the spring, playing against women from across South Carolina. The team of 12 women started in 2004 as beginners. Since then, they've won city, state, and regional tournaments.

It's tough to miss the LadyNets when they walk on the courts. With their bright-colored outfits, swift serves, and quick laughter, their camaraderie is unmistakable. It's a friendship that's strengthened their bodies and spirits, says Pat Butler.

The retired human resources professional started playing with the group to improve her overall fitness. Eventually, it turned into what she calls "a form of therapy" when she was faced with some serious challenges in her life. "My tennis family became an enormous support structure," she says.

For Fabrienne Payne, a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard, playing with the LadyNets is a way to be accountable to her fitness goals. "It's great to know that there are a group of people who are counting on me to stay healthy to contribute to the team's victory."

Tennis 101: It's Your Turn
Always wanted to play tennis but are intimidated? Don't be. You don't need a country club membership to learn how to play, says Kurt Kamperman, chief executive of community tennis for USTA. "Tennis is the fastest growing sport in the country, and it's accessible to everyone." Here's how to get started.

Enlist your friends­—Group lessons are actually better than private lessons when you're getting started, Kamperman says. "It's more fun that way and saves money." Find a partner or group of friends who are also interested in getting started so you can build skills together.

Start with basic gear—You can get a standard beginner's racquet for $20 to $30. In general, look for one that is light. If you're still not sure what's best for you, know that many facilities will let you try out racquets. Make sure not to wear running shoes, which can lead to a twisted ankle. Instead, wear cross-trainers or tennis shoes.

Find a place right for you—The South is full of public tennis facilities with qualified pros, and many private clubs offer beginner lessons. To find a facility in your area, visit and type in your zip code. (If you're concerned about your joints, look for clay courts, which are easier on knees and ankles.)

Make time for practice—Beginners should aim for hitting the courts three times a week: at least once for instruction and twice to practice. Enlist your friends to keep you accountable.

Join a league—Once you are comfortable, make it official. Competition is by level and age. And you're never too old to start—the USTA even has a "Super Senior" league for people 60 and older.