The Belton Tennis Association is a 501-c-3 organization which started following World War II as the Belton Tennis Club, with Max Grubbs as the first president. The Tennis Club assumed the responsibility for management and upkeep of the two clay “town” courts and began to sponsor an annual tournament which began as the Anderson County Championships. Later the tournament expanded to include five neighboring counties and became know as the Piedmont Championships. The Tennis Club received its first charger in 1954, and the property where the courts were located was deeded to the First Baptist Church by Dr. Willis Martin in memory of his parents. Soon the Club had raised $10,000 in local contributions, and a third court was built and the surface of all 3 courts was changed from “real” clay to all-weather Rubico. By 1957, the Piedmont Championships had been sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association, and became a junior tournament for players from throughout the south. The tournament’s name was changed to the Palmetto Championships.
Due to maintenance issues, the three “town” courts were converted to hard surface in the mid-1960’s. The Belton Tennis Club disbanded and became inactive between 1971-1986 (when it was absorbed by the Belton Recreation Association), although the Belton community and the Belton Recreation Association continued to host the Palmetto Championships. The club was re-activated in 1986 as the Belton Tennis Association, and with the help of Blair Mills employed a local tennis professional.
The Association raised over $150,000 in 1991 and expanded to five hard surface courts. A club house was added, the original three courts were resurfaced with new fences and the landscaping was improved. In 2004 the original three courts had deteriorated beyond repair. Another $120,000 was raised and these three courts were demolished and rebuilt with new fencing, and the two new courts were resurfaced. The trees adjoining Court 1 were removed, and awnings were added to provide shade to spectators. Additional landscaping was added. Since 2004 the courts have been resurfaced, most recently in 2020 at a cost of $60,000.
Leda Poore Park, which is owned and operated by the City of Belton, was opened in the early 1970’s and included five hard courts. These courts were resurfaced numerous times over the years, but by 2013 the courts had significant structural issues and major cracks. The Timken Foundation provided a $100,000 grant to rebuild the five courts, add a sixth court and shelter. The project started in early 2014 and was finished just in time for the Palmetto Championships at a total cost of $252,000.
Each June since 1957, the Belton Tennis Association has hosted the Palmetto Championships, the state’s largest and strongest tournament for junior players. The Palmetto is the state’s national qualifying tournament for South Carolina junior players for many years. Each year the Palmetto has attracted 450 to 480 players from all over the state. The Palmetto has been named the South Carolina Junior Tournament of the Year three times (1986, 1990 & 2008), and the Southern Junior Tournament of the year twice (1990 & 2016). Over the years key sponsors have included South Carolina National Bank, Wachovia Bank, Chick-fil-A of Anderson, Dunlop, Pepsi, Waste Connections, Smith Stearns Tennis Academy, Wells Fargo, Playsafe and South State Bank. The Palmetto celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006. The Belton Tennis Center also hosts several other key events each year, including:
• Hall of Fame Classic, a girls high school tournament held in late September, which was started in 1987 and has received the Southern Team Event of the Year Award
• Special Populations Unified Doubles (SPUD), a USTA Southern event was started in 2010. This 2-day event is played each summer featuring special athletes paired with unified partners in team competition. This event was recognized as the USTA Southern Special Event of the Year in 2019.
• South Carolina Men’s Collegiate Championships began in 2014 and is played in memory of Big Jim Russell, a long time Belton tennis volunteer and renown tournament and collegiate referee. The tournament is played in early October and features singles and doubles for players from state colleges and universities.
A new event, the Southern Conference Men’s & Women’s Fall Tennis Championships began in 2021 and is played the first weekend ion November. The tournament features individual singles and doubles competition for players from Southern Conference schools.
The Belton Tennis Association is a USTA registered Community Tennis Association and is operated by a 12-member board of directors. It is organized to provide tennis opportunities, means and facilities for junior and adult players in the Belton area. The BTA was recognized as the USTA South Carolina and the USTA Southern 2017 Community Tennis Association of the Year. It operates the Belton Tennis Center, with 5 lighted courts and a clubhouse in downtown Belton. A part time Director of Tennis is employed by the Association and is available for lessons and clinics. The Association is operated with private funds, but its facilities are open to the public. No membership is required to use the facilities, which are open Monday through Saturday 8:00 until 10:00 and Sunday 12:00 until 10:00. No play is allowed at the Belton Tennis Center before 12:00 each Sunday.
A number of programs, many sponsored by the United States Tennis Association, have been offered at the Belton Tennis Center over the years. These include:
-USTA Adult League programs -High School tournaments
-Junior Team Tennis -High School matches
-School programs -Individual lessons
-Sanctioned tournaments -Group clinics
-Cardio Tennis -Adult socials and events
-Quick Start Tennis -College tournaments
-Tennis & Art Camps -College matches
-Events for special athletes -Children’s parties and socials
-Junior Recreation programs -Net Generation programming
-Game Day competition -High School team clinics
Belton is also the home of the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame, which was opened in the Historic Belton Depot in 1984. The Hall of Fame is operated by the South Carolina Tennis Patrons Foundation and features portraits of over 60 inductees, mementos from each inductee’s tennis career as well as tennis artefacts. Several inductees have Belton connections, including Janie Haynie Hentz, Fluffy Rice, Max Grubbs, Jim Russell and Rex Maynard. The Hall of Fame is open to the public and there is no admittance charge. It is open during the hours of the Belton Museum, which is also located in the depot.