Paul and Cindy Vander Berg with TJ.
© Garrett Ellwood
By John Freeman, special to USTA.com
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – For your average dog, watching tennis probably isn’t all that exciting.
But TJ, a 95-pound golden retriever, has spent his entire life around tennis. His masters, Paul and Cindy Vander Berg, both teaching pros in South Carolina, spend virtually every waking hour on the courts.
So TJ felt right at home at the USTA League 4.5 Senior Championships in Rancho Mirage as Cindy competed for the Southern section. Despite the 95-degree heat, the purebred pooch had Paul to escort him around the Mission Hills Country Club complex.
"I’m Cindy’s No. 1 fan and the designated dog-walker," said Paul, himself an accomplished player who in 2009 captured the South Carolina state 70s singles title. "We’re all in this together."
The Vander Bergs met nearly 25 years ago when Cindy took a lesson from Paul near Hilton Head Island, S.C. Now as then, a 19-year age difference separated the two. But they managed to bridge that gap.
"I thought to myself, ‘She’s a good player and she’s cute, too bad she’s young,’ " recalled Paul, 72, a retired Marine Corp officer and long-time teaching pro.
"And I said to myself, ‘He’s got nice legs, too bad he’s so old,’ " added Cindy, 53. "I guess we worked that out, didn’t we?"
To reach Rancho Mirage, the Vander Bergs packed up their 30-foot motorhome, no doubt providing a comforting mode of travel for TJ. So far on their planned three-week trip, they’ve racked up 3,800 miles.
This weekend, by happy coincidence, they’re celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary. It wouldn’t be the same without TJ along for the ride.
"Dogs are such unconditional friends," said Cindy. "He’s always ready to have a good time, plus he has a short memory and he’s very affectionate. Sounds a lot like my husband. I love ’em both a lot."
Just then, by accident, Cindy took a sip from TJ’s cup of ice water.
With mock disgust, Paul chastened the couple’s pet: "You’re not going to drink from that cup after Cindy did, are you?"
To which Cindy settled the matter: "He doesn’t mind at all, dear. We’re a sharing bunch."