What could John McEnroe, Conchita Martinez, Andre Agassi and Dottie Pepper have in common? They’ve all played Stratton Mountain. And won.
The Volvo International Tennis Tournament drew the world’s best to Stratton each summer from 1985-89 along with throngs of fans, media and matches broadcast live on ESPN.
After taking six months off to spend time with Tatum O’Neal and their newborn son, McEnroe made his comeback at Volvo ‘86. And the Academy Award winning actress was in the stands. So were the paparazzi.
That was the year Agassi turned pro and made it to the Volvo quarterfinals. He lost to McEnroe, who advised him to “get a haircut.”
Fast forward to 1987. Agassi advanced to the semifinals; Ivan Lendl beat him in the third set, commenting on the 17-year-old’s powerful forehand. And long hair.
The tennis renegade in loud apparel promised to “wake up the country club” and journalists loved the story:
“Colorful teen-ager Andre Agassi emerges as new US tennis hope. Wild hairdo attracts fans, while explosive forehand dazzles foes.”
Agassi would win Volvo that next summer, one of his first Grand Prix victories. “I like Volvo and Stratton,” he said. “This altitude helps my game because I put so much topspin on the ball. And the people are great, which is a big help too.”
He celebrated the win with a frozen (virgin) strawberry daiquiri at the brand new Mulligans, cheerfully signing posters and programs. He’d go on to win $1 million that year, and a career that included an Olympic gold medal and eight major singles championships; he is one of only four men to capture all four majors.
Lendl won Volvo only once, beating Boris Becker in 1986 (rain halted the ‘87 Lendl vs. McEnroe finals with no winner declared) but he often returned to ski Stratton and always played the Stratton golf course, sometimes all 27 holes in one round. The Associated Press moved a photo of Lendl with a golf club instead of a tennis racket and it was shared around the world – long before social media.
It was in fact golf that put Stratton on the map as one of the first ski resorts to offer year-round recreation. Of Stratton’s founding trio, Tink Smith was the golfer. And by 1964, he’d be teeing off at Stratton on a course designed by Geoffrey Cornish, who included Mountain 5 in his “Dream 18.”
Twenty-six years later, the noted New England golf course architect’s Mountain 3 played the toughest of any hole on tour when the Ladies Professional Golf Association added Stratton Mountain Country Club to the calendar.
The Stratton Mountain LPGA Classic made its debut in August 1990, the first professional golf event for Vermont. By the following year, it had a title sponsor in McCall’s magazine and boasted $500,000 in prize money making it the richest purse in New England. A special section in the 1992 magazine highlighted partners, players, and promoted a sweepstakes where the grand prize was “A Vacation Villa for One Year in Stratton, Vermont.” Second prize was a mountain bike.
The six-year tour stop was a favorite for players. Jan Stephenson told WCAX sports anchor JJ Cioffi, in an interview from Tenderloins deck, that she brought her family from Australia each year to enjoy the Stratton hospitality and Vermont vibe. Hall-of-Famer Pat Bradley hails from the Berkshires and could be seen on the putting green sharing a few tips with her young nephew.
Middlebury native Patty Sheehan, who would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, finished second behind Melissa McNamara in 1991, sharing stories of ski racing at Stratton when interviewed by the legions of media on site to cover the tournament. There were days when three satellite trucks were sending up highlights for the evening news, live from Stratton.
Michelle McGann tied for fourth in 1993, but she was always the photographers’ favorite with her flamboyant fashion and big hats.
Dottie Pepper won the final McCall’s LPGA Classic with a three-stroke lead and Stratton Golf Professional Dave Rihm as her caddy. She grew up playing a Saratoga Springs course where Rihm had been the pro. Was it a gallery filled with friends and family or Rihm’s inside knowledge of the playing field that helped her score her 10th tournament trophy and what she describes as her most memorable victory?
Stratton hosted professional tennis again in 1993 and 1994 with the Acura US Women’s Hardcourt Championships preceding the LPGA by a week, putting Stratton at the epicenter of New England summer sports. Only the NASCAR Winston Cup in Loudon, NH was bigger.
Zina Garrison won the championships in 1993, and Conchita Martinez in 1994 when she stood center court holding the trophy and a check for $79,500. After thanking the fans and sponsors, she was off to Manchester to “go shopping.”
Golf and tennis were summer draws during the first two decades of Stratton history with John Newcombe Tennis and the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy, which became Stratton Golf School. World-class competition would follow in the ‘80s and ‘90s along with new summer activities, events and entertainment.
BB King, Bob Dylan, Howie Mandel, Lionel Hampton, Crystal Gayle, Willie Nelson, Paula Poundstone, Peter Frampton, Peter, Paul and Mary … were among the stars who played Stratton. On stage. Slopeside. Concerts continue today with Dark Star Orchestra, Gin Blossoms and other amazing performances scheduled for this summer as part of our 2022 Stratton Mountain Music Series.
Now weddings are held at the Chapel of the Snows, at the summit and on the Commons as well with several reception venues including the Stratton Mountain Club since 2003.
This summer, you can play the golf course that played host to six LPGA tournaments. Tune-up your game with Cliff Drysdale Tennis. Ride the Sinuosity designed mountain bike park with new trails for summer 2022. Soar to the summit aboard the gondola for a view that inspired both the Long Trails and Appalachian Trail, then hike out to the historic firetower. Bring the kids to adventure camp while you explore the cool Green Mountains. Share stories and a Vermont craft brew on a patio table in the Village … and that’s just the start of summer at Stratton Mountain. Discover it all.