The Ojai Valley tennis tournament will lose the distinction of being the oldest amateur tennis tournament in the country next year, when prize money will be awarded to winners in men's and women's open singles and doubles.
A commitment to a total purse of $10,000, split in a manner still to be determined, has been made by the Ojai Valley Tennis Club, the nonprofit organization that runs the 102-year-old tournament.
"There was a sentiment that we needed to rejuvenate the Ojai, and we hope this will be a step," said Bob Jarboe, club president. "In today's world, unfortunately, everybody is looking for a buck."
Jack Morrison, club president from 1968 to '78, and his wife, Ruby, have been members of the all-volunteer group for more than 40 years. He hopes the move doesn't cost the tournament anything more than money.
"I'm afraid if we're pro, we're not going to have the community involved," he said. "I've never played tennis in my life, but this thing is very close to us.
"What if we lose the volunteers? Why should people work for nothing if we're paying the players? If it wasn't for the volunteers, there would be no Ojai tournament."
The purse, the result of a financial pledge from a longtime Ojai resident and tournament supporter, is not enough for the Ojai to be designated by the U.S. Tennis Assn. as a sanctioned ATP or WTA event with corresponding tour ranking points.
Satellite competition, the lowest level for developing pros, is for a share of at least $12,500 in prize money. Futures events have purses of at least $15,000, and the minimum in challenger events is $25,000.
Such events must also stand alone, with no other competitions going on around them, and Ojai currently would not qualify in that regard, either.
"They'd have to get rid of all their other divisions," said Annette Buck, director of adult and junior tennis for the USTA's Southern California section.
That is unlikely to happen anytime soon, according to Jarboe.
"We need to play it by ear and see what happens," he said. "We're anxious to do this, but we still want it to be the Ojai too."
Other changes are in store, though Jarboe said the timing is coincidental and not necessarily related to the awarding of prize money.
Five of the eight courts at Libbey Park, the primary site of the tournament, will be renovated in a $250,000 project scheduled to begin in October. A $45,000 lighting system will also be installed, allowing for night matches and the possibility of television coverage.