Tennis with a Purpose

Star players bring attention to inaugural Kate Laver Invitational and its charities at Bighorn Golf Club event.

February 23, 2017
Story by Judd Spicer
kate laver foundation
2016 ATP Newcomer of the Year and SoCal native Taylor Fritz will face off against Bjorn Fratangelo in a tennis exhibition during the Kate Laver Invitational in Palm Desert.

Serving a set of equal parts philanthropy and world-class tennis, the inaugural Kate Laver Invitational comes to Bighorn Golf Club March 5 in Palm Desert.

Coupling a hosted bar and dinner with a live auction and multiple live bands, proceeds from the event will benefit the Kate Laver Foundation, a nonprofit focused on supporting local children with special needs and their families. Former Saturday Night Live star and comedian Jon Lovitz will serve as emcee.

The foundation provides financial assistance to families with special needs children who are supporting Pegasus Riding Academy, Angel View assisted living homes, and the United Cerebral Palsy of the Inland Empire respite program.

“I felt like I could bring a high-end event that they had never done before in tennis, using a unique platform with an underserved charity in the special needs community,” says event founder and Bighorn resident Richard Laver, whose daughter, event namesake Kate, was born with cerebral palsy.

Between the lines on Bighorn’s newly minted courts, the tennis exhibitions, which take place a day before the BNP Paribas Open starts, will feature 2016 ATP Newcomer of the Year and SoCal native Taylor Fritz facing off against Bjorn Fratangelo for a $15,000 purse.

Kate Laver

Richard and Michelle Laver founded the Kate Laver Foundation. Kate Laver was born with cerebral palsy.

The event hosts the legendary Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, in a doubles duel versus former USC stars and grand slam champions, brothers Murphy and Luke Jensen.

“For the event, I really wanted to select [players] who I thought were going to be major contenders for grand slams in the next three to five years, and putting them before [the people at] Bighorn before they really achieved greatness,” Laver says of the Fritz vs. Fratangelo match.

Laver’s surname will no doubt find traction with the sporting set, as Richard (who is a former tennis professional and the former teaching pro of the historic Palm Springs Racquet Club) is the cousin of tennis luminary Rod Laver. Rod Laver won an all-time best 200 singles title during his career and was ranked No. 1 from 1964 to 1970. The 78-year-old appeared at last year’s BNP Paribas Open and signed copies of his autobiographical book.

Tennis DNA aside, Richard and his wife Michelle founded the Kate Laver Foundation with profits from their business, Kate Farms, which produces a plant-based meal replacement shake that the couple developed to supplement their daughter’s nutritional needs. Products from Kate Farms are now available in more than 7,000 stores across the country.

Laver says the invitational will have classic Palm Springs flair.

bryan brothers

The Bryan Brothers, Mike and Bob, will play former USC stars and grand slam champions, brothers Murphy and Luke Jensen, in an exhibition match at the event.

“The event style that we’re throwing is truly trying to go back to the heyday times of tennis in the valley, like the Racquet Club of Palm Springs,” Laver explains. “We’re trying to throw a Rat Pack–type of event, where you’ll see wood rackets around, and a Marilyn Monroe look-alike will be there; everything is geared toward taking people back in time, where tennis was at its most special time and the classic entertainers were around.”

With top-shelf play on Bighorn’s new surface (“which closely mimics the hardcourt at the BNP,” Laver says) and an evening of fun, food, and philanthropy, the founder expects this inaugural invitational to be the first of many to come.

“We’re feeding people all night and showing some of the best tennis in the world at a private club,” says Laver. “No one has ever done that before in such a unique setting.”

Kate Laver Invitational, 4–11 p.m. March 5, Bighorn Golf Club, 255 Palowet Drive, Palm Desert. Grandstand tickets are $500 per person; to purchase, call 760-610-8222.