Mark Gillett

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British Tennis – A Sorry State

with 3 comments

As the first Grand Slam of the year is about toImage 2 start, my mind turns a little towards the sport I have been associated with for 45 years of my life. I played until I was 42, coached and ran my own school until 7 years ago and through a series of events I dropped tennis out of my life. I’d had enough and it was time to follow directions and passions that had always been running alongside but but were now more important.

After around 3 years of no tennis I began to play during time spent in LA and it was pure pleasure. Sun, nice courts everywhere and availability to everyone of every level. And it was for me that I played. This was when I really started thinking about tennis and the state of the game in the UK.

For the last 3 or 4 summers in England I played a few times with my teenage daughter at the local courts which again was fairly easy. I had tried to speak to my local Club in Haslemere but to use their courts I had to join, which to play only a few times through the summer was pointless. So we played on the courts next to the club which were the same quality and for public use. But this was not always so easy either. On a number of occasions we would go down and the club had taken these over for their junior tennis. This is simply not right. Open your doors and operate in an open way or close them and stay private. And DON’T take public time. Cake and eat it comes to mind.

More recently I have found the bug again to play more. I have even tooled up with new rackets. I have hit a few times over the last months and Image 3my desire is really back. I am getting better, the feet are moving again and overall I am so happy to be playing this great sport. But the bit that really hinders my return to the game on my terms is our system.

Firstly I approached my old club Woking and they agreed to allow me to play there without joining as I wasn’t sure how for how long I would continue. Not long after this agreement, they returned with a call saying that it was not possible on this basis as it would set a precedent they were not comfortable with being a members only club.

What I would like to point out is that over the 20 years I have known this club, they have received funding for 4 acrylic courts, further funding/support for two porous acrylic courts. 8 courts with floodlighting also supported with grants and free loans from the LTA and further funds for the club house. Much of this funding was a direct result of the programme I owned there. This is not unique to Woking but happens at many of the 2500 clubs around the UK who then close their doors to the public. Ouch, thats a lot of funds given out to private members clubs.

Given that I can no longer play there unless I find £465 to join I decided to phone around. I know most of the local facilities and have managed to find the Guildford Tennis Academy where I can book without being a member. In the process, I found numerous clubs I knew of all with good funded facilities but none that would allow play without joining.

I am a player so I knew where to start but what about those who do not play and just wish to find a court and play; to give it a go and maybe book some lessons or join a group? For me its relatively easy but still I had trouble. Whilst I was in LA, over about 4 days I found 5 or six first class facilities I could book freely. Either with another coach, a list of players I found on a board and through an online site. It was so easy. France is the same and finding somewhere to play is not a problem. In fact most of Europe is like this.

John MacEnroeI am not in LA now, I am here. And I am loving tennis again but the system is not fit for the job. Currently there are around 2500 members clubs that the system works with. The LTA have lots of information on how to play and get started but this is relatively useless if you just want to pay and play.. If we are to start finding players we have to make the sport more available.

I do not think that a club should be forced to open its doors, however, I do believe that if a club receives any support whatsoever from the governing body (LTA), they should then be contractually bound to open its doors for at least its off peak times. In general people will take a punt and book a court for £8-15 and if its in a nice facility they will certainly enjoy the experience. Public courts can be an attraction also and really should receive the lions share of the money that comes form Wimbledon each year. This way tennis becomes affordable and easy to play. Then we start to see progress. Clubs that don’t “play ball” should receive nothing, and I can assure you many would be closed down. Forcing them to open up to public bookings would allow so many empty courts to be filled and clubs to boost their revenues. I suppose it will get up the nose of some of those lofty wankers who wish to remain members only but then they should not accept or be offered funding or interest free loans. And with these loans they are very often not paid and written off.

I don’t believe the solution is a difficult one but would take a concentrated effort and mean upsetting a few of those firmly entrenched in the establishment. The LTA has now got itself a new “head of state” so it would be nice to see them setting a few rules for funding that allow people access. Or just not fund. It would also be apt to go back historically and set rules with clubs that have in the past seen injections of cash. Why should these facilities then be only available to those who wish to be part of a private club or those who can afford it. The very people who believe they are doing so much for tennis are in fact hindering progress and limiting exposure of a great sport.

Image 1it will be interesting to see how we get on at the Australian Open over the next two weeks but other than Andy Murray we don’t have much there. And his success was outside the system too. As was Henmans’s.

All Images are copyright Mark Gillett.

Written by markgillett

January 17, 2015 at 5:26 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Many of these large clubs, such as Woking, have empty courts for many hours each week. Agreed, public funds etc. Going back 30 years I can add that juniors (at another home counties club)
    were unable to join in with adults on ‘club’ nights despite being better players.

    Darren Lewey

    January 19, 2015 at 11:50 pm

  2. We are having issues with our local tennis club (that we are unable to use as it is private members only) at the moment. The “club” is five courts at the end of our 50ft gardens. They are going to apply for floodlights to three of the courts despite the proximity to our homes and they are only able to do this because they are being funded by the LTA. There are six public courts within walking distance which are accessible to all rather than just a few. Why are the LTA ignoring these and funding a closed shop private members club?


    June 14, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    • Caroline, I suggest you write to who is chief exec at the LTA.. I personally think it is outrageous that any club gets funding or financial help unless they open their doors.. I would also be careful to not assume that the LTA are funding or helping.. You could also go tot he press. The Daily Mail are big on LTA and funding issues.


      June 15, 2015 at 6:58 pm

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