While tennis has been a game played for many centuries, the playing of the game in an outdoor setting only traces its origins back to 1872. Wimbledon was first held just three years later in 1875 and the earliest Lawn Tennis Association was formed (in the United States) as recently as 1881.1.
As such a recent innovation it is surprising that this sport gained such immediate acceptance in Beecroft and Cheltenham. Many of the early homes had a private tennis court – Rosman and Jenanbe in The Boulevard or Ramona and Red Hill on Beecroft Road; even adjourning properties like Lyndhurst, Mindaribba and Boronia in Malton Road each had private tennis courts. Despite a plethora of private courts and social functions in 1895 a group of residents formed the first tennis club in Beecroft or Cheltenham. This was the Kennedya Tennis Club (which was named after a local flower) and club members played on the court of Mr Henry Perdriau in Copeland Road Beecroft. In 1898 two courts were constructed on the Village Green at Beecroft with play commencing in January 1899 with a handicapped tournament for 'mixed couples'. It was won by Joseph and Dora Seale. By 1902 there were three courts, a pavilion and 30 to 40 regular players on the Beecroft Village Green tennis courts.2.
Within Cheltenham, one of the largest landholders, William Harris was also a keen sportsman. His home was Edensor which is now entered from Beecroft Road Cheltenham but originally had its entrance off The Crescent. On 30 October 1912 he hosted a gathering of fifteen local residents at which he offered to donate 2 acres from his property to establish a recreation club for the playing of a variety of sports - including tennis.
A public meeting was held at the School of Arts on 7 February 1913 at which a committee of 7 was appointed, subscription rates were set and a promotional scheme agreed upon to encourage membership of the new sporting recreation club in Cheltenham. The land was transferred to the newly incorporated club on 28 June 1913 and construction commenced on two tennis courts, a four rink bowling green and a croquet lawn. Finance was raised by the issuing of 100, five pound debentures. The first shelter was approved for building in November 1914. The initial committee was largely representative of the clubs membership, which largely comprised middle aged family men.
At this time organised tennis was largely a sport for adult males. While there was a reference to an inter club competition for children at Beecroft in 1911, and children regularly played on private courts they were not allowed to play on the Cheltenham courts until 1950.
If children were not officially recognised neither was competitive sport on the Sabbath. No Sunday competition play happened at Cheltenham until 1963. Even greater debate took place over coloured clothing with pastel clothing not allowed at Cheltenham until 1978 – and even then, only because it had first been allowed at White City the then main courts for the NSW Lawn Tennis Association.
For over half a century organised matches were held amongst the local community or between neighbouring clubs. The Schubert Memorial Shield was inaugurated in 1961 for a competition between Beecroft and Cheltenham tennis clubs. It was in 1964 that Cheltenham first joined the Badge competition of the NSW Lawn Tennis Association. Just over two decades later, in 1986, the highest grade of this metropolitan wide competition was first won by a Cheltenham comprising Jim Watts (captain) John Eldridge, Brian Benson and Graham Carter. In the seventy or more years since the club was founded, by the mid 1980's a significant proportion of the men of the club were now unmarried and in their twenties.
The emphasis on competition changed the nature of both clubs. Membership was not limited to local players and membership numbers were capped to guarantee all members the opportunity to have access to a court when they wanted to play. Membership was guarded closely to permit the fielding of competitive teams. This led to a degree of tension with the local community as club members were selected irrespective of where they lived in Sydney, so long as they demonstrated the requisite tennis prowess. In 1981 the courts at Cheltenham were first hired by a professional coach while in 2003 the highest graded team at Cheltenham was sponsored.
As a sign of the shifting demographics in the clubs, during the 1960s and 1970s numerous social events were held. Activities ranged from balls with over 150 people in attendance to card nights. This high point of interconnectedness swung away in the following decades. By early 2000 club facilities were now hired to outside catering firms to generate income, the number of competition teams declined and the hire of courts by individuals increased.
Membership of the club had now again swung significantly towards an older male family man.
Through out the period, enjoyment in playing tennis remained evident across both suburbs.