Constance Craig Smith: Hartswood Tennis Club is thriving – with a record membership

A guest post from Constance Craig Smith.

Hartswood Lawn Tennis Club, off Hartswood Road in W12, has been around since 1914, when – so rumour has it – it was founded by men going off to fight in World War One in order to give their wives something to keep them occupied.

The British public only gets excited about tennis at Wimbledon time, or when Andy Murray or Jo Konta pull off a high-profile win, or when the ATP Finals are on at the O2 Arena, as they are this week. But at Hartswood we play tennis all year round on our six outdoor courts. We are a hardy bunch and unless it’s raining, or the surface is icy, we play on whatever the temperature even if we are swathed in hats, gloves and layers of thermals.

The club used to have several beautiful but high-maintenance grass courts but these are now a thing of the past, as is the ‘all white’ clothing rule. These days we play on tarmac courts; easy to maintain and incredibly quick to dry, if rather hard on middle-aged knees. The courts have a devilishly high bounce, which baffles visiting teams and gives us quite an advantage when we play home matches.

While the Lawn Tennis Association ¬†reports that many clubs are struggling to keep up their numbers, Hartswood is in the happy position of enjoying record membership with over 400 members; there may soon have to be a waiting list for those wanting to join. It’s partly because our rates are reasonable, but mainly because we try very, very hard not to live up to the stuffy image of so many tennis clubs. New members are welcome even if they are complete beginners, and once you have joined you can book courts as often as you like at no extra cost. There are inexpensive group coaching sessions for players of all ability, and juniors are particularly well catered for. The club is fierce in its commitment to younger players and Saturday mornings during school term time are for juniors only – no adults allowed! There’s also a lively programme of social events.

Apart from technical stuff like court maintenance, and the services of a handyman one day a week, the club is run entirely by its members. Accounts, public relations, gardening and the clubhouse bar are all organised by volunteers. We are proud of our involvement in the local community, with twice-yearly fundraising tournaments for the Chiswick branch of Macmillan Cancer Support, and regular events in aid of The Upper Room.

The great thing about tennis is that you can take it up at any age and improve rapidly. I started playing in my mid 40s, encouraged by a neighbour who is a Hartswood member, and from a very low base I have risen to the dizzy heights of captain of the ladies’ fourth team. I think (hope) I am still improving now I’m in my 50s, and I plan to keep playing for many years to come. But belonging to Hartswood – or any other tennis club – is about far more than honing your forehand. You will get fitter, rediscover your competitive instincts and develop an unhealthy interest in different brands of tennis clothing. Above all, tennis is a social game, and by belonging to your local club you will make lots of new friends and feel part of a community – something that many of us in London are looking for.

Membership details here.

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