Adventures in Obscurity

This is a challenging writing assignment. Starting with the 100th edition of the Chase the First newsletter, I am going to write a monthly story about court tennis. The challenge results from there being two audiences.

The first will find the stories in a newsletter aimed squarely at players and fans of a game that is unknown to most but deeply loved by those who do know it. The second will find them on, my third (and current) website, which is aimed at a far more general audience.

We are going to have to compromise. The court tennis fans will have to put up with a little more explanation than they would like and those new to this theme will have to be a bit open minded about something quite different and — sadly — somewhat obscure.

Let’s hope we all get along with each other better than Democrats and Republicans.

My real tennis adventure began six decades ago. Sadly, it was not consistent as there were long periods when I lived in places that lacked courts. On balance, the easier course would have been to move to a place they did have a court, but the easier course seems rarely have been the one I chose.

Hence, one of my six decades was spent with a group of stalwarts mostly failing but finally succeeding at building Prince’s Court near Washington, DC. This series will include a story on that saga.

For those new to this game, we need to spend a moment on its name. For about 700 years, it was called tennis, but nearly 150 years ago, the name was pinched by its far better-known successor. Since then, the game has been called real tennis in England, court tennis in the United States, royal tennis in Australia and Jeu de Paume in France. (Jeu de Paume means game of the palm because, for many centuries, it was not played with a racket.) Thanks to a virulent case of Anglophilia, my personal preference is real tennis, but forgive me in advance for interspersing the name court tennis as well.

The idea for this series came from the recently published, “A Tennis Passport to the Tennis Courts of the World.” The idea for the book was conceived by Edward J. Hughes and it was published by Ronaldson Publications in Oxford, England.

The book is designed to encourage players to pack their bags and travel to other courts where they will meet enthusiasts like themselves. Fortunately for us, travel to and from Australia, England, France, and the United States, the four countries in which the game is played, is far easier and cheaper than it once was.

Here are pictures of the operative passport pages to give you an idea of the theme of the book.


As in all passports, there is supposed to be a picture, and this one seems about as good as any. Yes, Henry VIII did play real tennis and he built a lovely court at Hampton Court Palace.

“[The] book is dedicated to those tennis travelers who have been willing to pack a little kit, a racquet or two, and head off to visit the other courts and clubs, and to discover and make new friends of their fellow players in this rarest of games; and for those new players willing to follow in those footsteps. It is also in grateful appreciation for those hosts who welcome these tennis rovers and ambassadors to their countries, their courts, their clubs, and their homes.”

Here is the Introduction written by Ed Hughes.

There follow two facing pages on each court in the world. On the left is a narrative about the court and on the right is a picture under which, the visitor is invited to write the date of his visit, the scores of his game, and any comments that might occur to him.

Another note on words. This is a game that was once only played by a “him,” but that is no longer the case. Some of our best players are “hers” as are some of my closest friends in the game, but that does not mean I am going to put a “him or her” speed bump into every sentence, where political correctness has triumphed over writing style.

The idea of traveling from place is not as daunting as it sounds. Though the game has been played for 700 to 1000 years, less than 50 courts remain in the world.

I have played in all but two, one of which is under construction. This summer I expect to add both to my life list. The framework for this series will be the experience of playing a game that is played by less than 10,000 people in the world but is loved by those players more than any other game I have ever played (or heard of). It is also a story of the wonderful people I have come to know thanks to doing so.

Maybe, when the monthly journey is done, we will have some idea why such a small game can be so loved or, for that matter why we love any game. Or, maybe we will just have had a good time as I have as I have had for the last 60 years.


26 Responses to “Adventures in Obscurity”

Rob Jolly, January 31, 2020 at 6:28 am said:

Great stuff as usual Haven. Greetings from Ballarat!


Thomas B Hovey, January 31, 2020 at 6:56 am said:

Never played, but then I’ve hardly played any racquet sport. I know where a few courts are and watched. My sporting life has been spent in or on boats. Rowing here and in England where it was invented and sailing all over the world. This will be an enjoyable journey.


Haven Pell, January 31, 2020 at 7:05 am said:

Tom, here’s a plan. I’ll introduce you to my sport of you introduce me to either or both of yours. We can share our reactions in a story.


Temple Grassi, January 31, 2020 at 7:51 am said:

looking forward to following along- as The Greatful Dead once ‘crooned’-‘What a long strange trip it’s been!’


Haven Pell, January 31, 2020 at 7:58 am said:

Who knows how many “appearances” you might make?


Chuck Houghton, January 31, 2020 at 8:32 am said:

Good morning. I agree. Court tennis is the best sport that I have ever played.

Looking forward to your series.


Haven Pell, January 31, 2020 at 8:45 am said:

Thanks Chuck, you should make a comeback.


Guy Cipriano, January 31, 2020 at 10:36 am said:

Wow – playing in every court but two is an impressive feat!
Does that include Suncourt in Troon? The court in Sydney? Falkland Palace? And the court owned by the Saudi Prince which is off limits?


James Walton, January 31, 2020 at 10:57 am said:

Guy – if he told you the answer to the latter I fear he might have to kill you 🙂


Haven Pell, January 31, 2020 at 11:02 am said:

and the answers are: no (because nobody can), yes (the last overseas visitor to do so), yes (fortunately it did not rain though it almost did), and yes (thanks to Chris Ronaldson)


Bob Homasn, January 31, 2020 at 11:11 am said:

I only played once, at the T&R in Boston, and it was after several rounds of drinks.


Haven Pell, January 31, 2020 at 3:46 pm said:

Cocktails often played a role in first outings, but they do make the game a bit more challenging


Chris Ronaldson, January 31, 2020 at 5:23 pm said:

Thanks Haven.
I greatly enjoyed your article, although I was concerned that your Henry VIII has his racquet inverted.
In Britain, I believe that the appellation ‘real tennis’ was only adopted after WW2, the modern game being referred to as ‘lawn tennis’ before that time (regardless of the surface).


Haven Pell, January 31, 2020 at 6:25 pm said:

Inverted it is. I would blame my photoshop capabilities, but I have none. The picture was created by someone else and given to me as part of a surprise. I decided to follow Voltaire: “the perfect is the enemy of the…” funny nonetheless. You are correct as to the evolution from the tennis name in response to the others dropping the word lawn from their name. As these stories unfold, please keep the comments coming as errors have a way of creeping into the real tennis narrative.


James Walton, February 01, 2020 at 3:55 am said:

Great stuff, looking forward to part 2 already. Speaking of adventures in obscurity, yesterday I saw a copy of the furthest distance photograph ever taken of planet earth (well, by earthlings, anyway). A tiny speck of dust illuminated by sunlight… about obscure. And yet, if we saw such a thing from earth, we now have the technology to find out all sorts of things about them, including whether they are habitable or not. I’m rambling…


Haven Pell, February 01, 2020 at 6:14 am said:

Perhaps they look upon us from afar and wonder why we too are not playing as much real tennis as they are ?


Richard Meyer, February 01, 2020 at 7:57 pm said:

Haven: How proud you must have been when your father attended the opening ceremony of Princes Court!


Haven Pell, February 01, 2020 at 8:05 pm said:

standby for the coming story on building Prince’s Court


Richard Moroscak, February 01, 2020 at 9:38 pm said:

Great job Haven. Love to hear the story of your most enjoyable time on the tennis court and what that day looked like. Was it the opening of Prince’s Court or a day when you were younger at Greentree ??


Temple Grassi, February 02, 2020 at 7:21 am said:

Your win with Robin Martin in The Whitney Cup has to be one of your best


Haven Pell, February 02, 2020 at 7:50 am said:

Great question, Rich, and one I will try to answer. Yes, Temple, in terms of wins, that was a high point. I wonder if the best day will actually involve winning? It might not. Maybe something else will make it a best day?

We’ll see I guess, and, since I don’t know either, I will see too.


John A. Murphy, February 02, 2020 at 1:32 pm said:

Well done, Haven and Ed.


Haven Pell, February 02, 2020 at 4:51 pm said:

and well done to your grandson I think. Did I hear he won his level tournament this weekend?


Oakley Brooks, February 09, 2020 at 10:41 am said:

Come now, everyone: it’s ‘bat’ not ‘racket/racquet.’

My favorite tennis-story-on-self was the reply of an observer to a query about a just-finished match between Gene Scott and me at Tuxedo: “It was pretty much ‘dad out with the boys.'” I’d lost 4 and 2 but thought I’d done okay, considering. Not.


Haven Pell, February 09, 2020 at 3:07 pm said:

getting any games off Gene Scott was a fine accomplishment. Well done


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