© Kelli Turville/Turville Family

Larry Turville, who was involved in the sport for more than 50 years, co-founded the first satellite circuit to award FedEx ATP Rankings points.

Larry Turville, Co-founder Of Influential 1970s Satellite Circuit, Dies Aged 71

Laconic personality with a lifelong passion for the sport

Larry Turville, co-founder of the WATCH (World Association of Tennis Champions) satellite tennis circuit, the first to award FedEx ATP Rankings points in the 1970s, has passed away due to cancer at the age of 71.

Turville, who graduated from Georgia Tech in Atlanta as a two-time All American in 1971 (53-24 record in doubles), found breaking onto the main professional circuit difficult — like many others — so he decided to establish the WATCH circuit with his good friend, Armistead Neely.

When the FedEx ATP Rankings were first established in August 1973, Turville and Neely arranged for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) to award ranking points for the WATCH circuit. Every satellite tournament that has followed globally harks back to Turville and Neely’s grand vision.

Tournaments on the WATCH circuit — one of five satellite circuits across the United States — ran each summer for between five and 10 weeks, offering total prize money of $5,000 per event, with the winner taking home $3,000-4,000.

"There were a group of up-and-coming young players who didn't have any tournaments to play in the winter," Turville told The Washington Post in 1977. "So we decided to start our own circuit… We're a training ground for inexperienced players. Most of the players we get have played local tournaments and college matches, but they haven't had the experience of real tournament competition. Sometimes they'll have to play two matches a day for three days in a row. It's like the gladiator thing: throw 'em in the ring and see how they do. It's good competition."

Around 800 players from 40 different countries competed on the WATCH circuit that ran between 1971 and 1978, attracting the likes of Howard Schoenfield, Tim Gullikson and 1963 US Championships finalist Frank Froehling. There was a one-time fee of $25 to play on the circuit, a springboard to the main Grand Prix tour, and a $15 fee for each qualifying tournament. 

Turville, who stood at 6’7”, grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, where his lawyer father, Edward, became the first President of the Florida Lawn Tennis Association in 1949 and was later a non-playing captain of the United States Davis Cup team. His brother, Ed Turville, was a member of the US junior Davis Cup team. Turville was the top junior in Florida, and he played at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open as a pro.

He attained a career-high ranking of No. 210 on 14 June 1976 and worked as coach of the men’s team at Rice University from 1979, the year he handed over the running of the WATCH circuit to the USTA, until 1996.

Turville’s passion and commitment to the sport for more than 50 years extended to the development of the Florida Super Senior Grand Prix for players aged 55 and over. The format was reminiscent of the WATCH circuit, offering points and prize money.

From the age of 35, Turville also won 46 USTA age-group National singles and doubles championships and was once ranked No. 1 in the 60-and-over ITF World Rankings. In 2010, Turville beat Jorge Camina Borda of Spain to win the 60-and-over World Championships title held in Antalya, Turkey, and lost to France's Bruno Renaulf in the 2017 World Championships in Orlando, Florida.

He was a member of T.C. Wolfsburg in Pforzheim, Germany for the past 10 years, helping them win nine titles.

Turville, a resident of Dunnellon, Florida, passed away with his wife, Kelli, by his side.

Larry Turville, tennis player, tournament director and coach, born 4 June 1949, died 10 October 2020.