Grandstand view at last year's BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
  • Grandstand view at last year's BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
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Each March I make my pilgrimage to the desert to pay homage to the world’s greatest tennis players. Framed by the snow-summitted Mt. San Jacinto, the BNP Paribas Open is hosted at the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens.

With prize money in excess of $5,000,000 for men and women, the two-week tournament draws household names such as Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova. The event has grown from somewhat humble beginnings – it was originally held at the Mission Hills Country Club, then continued to grow and move until it reached its present-day venue.

Today it's owned by billionaire Larry Ellison and has BNP Paribas as its title sponsor. This year, an expansion has been unveiled in the form of additional courts and a palm tree–lined entryway.

One of the major attractions is the close proximity fans have to players. I enjoy going the first weekend of the competition because all the players are still there and the matches on the outer courts are quite intimate as sporting events go. This is especially true around the practice courts. Under the guise of security, they placed restraints on the fans last year; top players were moved to practice courts surrounded by bleachers. The stars are also now regulated to the cavernous grandstand court for their matches.

Indian Wells practice courts, snowcapped San Jacinto Mountains in the background.

However, for players ranked outside the top 10 the same rules don't apply. It's great to see the personalities and banter of the athletes up close. This year we virtually sat on the court while watching Ernests Gulbus practice, and last year we were less than 10 feet away when treated to a practice match between Feliciano Lopez and Gael Monfils.

The grounds are park-like, complete with lounge chair–style seating and a grassy knoll in the middle of the compound. A food court provides everything from salad to nachos. There's plenty of shopping too – but expect to pay a premium for the latest tennis wear and equipment on display. If you're on a budget, it's good to know that you can bring your own food and water.

Tickets start at $38 for one-day general admission, and range upward from there. Parking's an extra $20.

If you like tennis, this event is not to be missed. Even if you're a casual fan, the tournament and atmosphere is a day well spent.

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