While she is technically conversant, Marie Minnick, were she a child again, wouldn’t be sitting inside playing video games or such, she would be outdoors.
“I was out playing in Central Park all the time when I was a kid,” the longtime platform tennis pro said during a recent conversation. “We used to roller-skate, we played stoop ball . . . hopscotched, we’d sled, ride horses. . . .”
While platform tennis, or “paddle,” as it is known, is her favorite game — “probably because it’s what I’m best at” — she is an extremely versatile athlete, platform tennis, tennis, golf, paddleboarding, sailboarding, snorkeling, and skiing being among her interests.
“I’m a visual person; I watch things and I see how they work. I taught myself windsurfing by watching and reading a book. I taught windsurfing here, at Boys Harbor and near Devon. Paddleboarding is a beautiful thing to do if you take your time . . . it’s so peaceful. . . . As for golf, I didn’t like it at first — I’d hide in the ladies’ room at summer camp to avoid it — but I took it up at 40 and now I love it.”
Typically, though, Minnick doesn’t spend four hours on the course. “I play speed golf,” she said. “Eighteen holes in two hours. I don’t stand there and worry and take 10 practice swings. I take none. Walk up to the ball and hit it. When I worked as a speech therapist, I’d come out here on Fridays, start at 5, and be done by 7.”
“I’m an 18-handicap — I don’t practice, but I like the exercise and it’s a beautiful walk. . . . Stanley Barbour, who played at Maidstone, told his daughter, Kitty Sutro, once, ‘You don’t have to be stupid to play golf, but it helps.’ ”
“Keep your armpits in close, stick your ass out, hold the club as if it were a wounded bird — Dave Alvarez, the former pro at Maidstone, used to say that — turn your shoulder until you can’t turn anymore, and let ’er rip! Grip, stance, posture, and alignment — that’s what Dave Alvarez used to say. That’s 90 percent of it. The rest is in your head, which is why I guess Stanley Barbour said it’s the smart thing to be stupid.”
Asked if there were a sport she didn’t do, Minnick paused. “Curling . . . and I don’t fish. Peter [her husband, and a fly-fishing instructor, who was listening in] does that. When we take pack trips into the back country, he’ll fly-fish and I’ll ride around on my horse. Though once, fording a stream on our way out to where we were to camp, I looked back to Peter to find his hat, his head, and the horse had disappeared under the water. They popped up farther downstream. I wrote about that, actually.”
Further on the subject of sports she’d not done, the interviewee said, “I haven’t done snowboarding — I watched my daughter fall and hit her head 20 times, and decided not to try it. . . . I look like I’m a really good skier, but I’m a total chicken when it comes to heights and steepness. Maybe I need to see a hypnotist.”
Both the Minnicks’ daughters are, unsurprisingly, athletic. “The older one is working on a doctorate at N.Y.U. on movement and motion in the theater, and the younger one is a yoga therapist in Asheville [N.C.].”
As for platform tennis, she and her husband first set eyes on a court almost 50 years ago in the Adirondacks, at the summer camp of his great-grandparents, and quickly become paddle proselytes.
“Peter’s mother, Ninette — she’s 90 now — built the first court here in East Hampton in 1969, and there would be lines of cars down the driveway every weekend. It’s a great thing for people to do in the winter. Pretty soon, Stuyvie Wainwright [the late former congressman] got tired of all the waiting to play at Peter’s parents’ place and built his own court, and that’s how it started out here. Peter and Jim Clark and Bogey Thompson and Sandy Ingraham — I taught him how to play — and Kevin Graham — I taught him too — and the Bromleys, Steve Sr. and Jr., used to play. . . .”
“And Claude Beudert and John Goodman and Bob Morgan,” this writer added.
“We had Rich Maier and Steve Baird, who were 9 or 10-time national champions, come out to give us clinics,” she continued, “and other top-ranked players. . . . When I was 30 and Mary Scheerer was 15, we teamed up and went on to win a lot of tournaments. Everybody lived in fear of her forehand. And I love volleying and dancing back to send up lobs. We’re the defending Long Island 50s champions. We won the tournament the last time it was played, in 2008, the year she turned 50. I’m 15 years older than Mary is, so you do the math. Apparently they haven’t been able to get enough teams in that age group since, though I know there are many people here and elsewhere who are playing well into their 80s.”
Lately, Minnick has been among several pros who have been through two-hour clinics drumming up an interest in the sport at the East Hampton Indoor-Outdoor Tennis Club, which recently put up two lit, raised, chicken-wire-enclosed platform tennis courts on either side of a well-appointed warm-up hut.
“It’ll be great if we can get some good tennis players to come out into the fresh air and play this game, which offers much more exercise than tennis doubles. How many balls do you hit when you’re playing doubles tennis — four or five? Try 80. The rallies in paddle are much longer — 10 minutes sometimes — and the ball doesn’t go into the next court. It’s especially good for older people — you’re in a small area, you don’t have to hit the ball far . . . and it’s social.”
Hard-hitters generally were disempowered, Minnick said in answer to a question, inasmuch as those who are adept at playing the spongy ball off the side and back screens could keep lofting it back.
“It’s true what they say about the last team to hit the ball loses the point. Because they’re the first to make an error.”
And with that, she said to this non-golfer, “Now, come outside and try swinging a golf club.”