Thu, Oct 26, 2023 8:00 AM

Sultans of swing


Tessa Jaine

Since they were just five years old, Ewen Robinson and Ian Gifford have spent many long summer days playing on and tending to the immaculate Rapaura Tennis Club courts. The co-patrons and life members of the club, 86 and 88 years old respectively, have worn many hats at Rapaura Tennis Club, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary at its current location this November – but the club’s roots reach back to the 1880s.

Ewen and Ian trimmed the grass, measured out the courts and marked the lines whenever they were needed for play, with Ewen starting at “half a crown per week” in 1948. The grass courts are a point of pride for Rapaura, one of only five grass court tennis clubs in New Zealand, keeping tennis’s traditional surface alive in Marlborough.

“I originally cut down the courts with a 15-inch push mower after my grandfather Harry Robinson asked if I wanted a job as a kid, and I ended up doing it for the next 50 years”, recalls Ewen.

“Playing on grass is a feeling unique to Rapaura, and people travel to come play our New Year’s doubles tournament because they can’t do it anywhere else – and we hope it continues long into the future”, he said.

The club originally consisted of two courts and a netball court donated by William Gifford, Ian’s great-grandfather in 1923 – but thanks to a 1983 purchase of neighbouring land, the club can host six games on the traditional surface. “The club gates are the originals with minor extensions because the entrance got widened, and the entrance is a huge part of the heritage because we double as Rapaura War Memorial Park, so the centenary will also include a commemoration for the Rapaura boys that didn’t come home from war”, says Ewen.

Rapaura is fielding record numbers of teams, with three premier interclub teams, and 13 President’s grade interclub teams of four players this year, alongside the club’s casual players. The club also has a healthy youth division, with over 90 coming through the ornate gates over the last year to train or take part in holiday programmes.

“It’s been amazing to still have this place for people to play surrounded by our family history, and I hope the next generation of Rapaura tennis keeps the story going long into the future”.

The Rapaura Tennis Club’s centenary celebrations will take place over three days this November, starting with a meet-and-greet at the club on Friday 24 November, followed on Saturday by plenty of tennis-based activities and a centenary dinner in the evening, with a guest speaker. On Sunday, a formal ceremony will take place and a 100-year memorial unveiled for the club.

With the club having been a key feature of Marlborough sport for a century, the club hopes the new 100-year memorial stands watch over tennis players for a long time to come.

Rapaura Tennis Club
Rapaura Tennis Club
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