Around the World in 50 Courts: Greentree

If you’d like to get an argument going, put the very few people who have tried to play every court tennis court in the world into the same room and set them to matching their achievements. We all have our own ways of counting and these are invariably the ones most favorable to ourselves.

As far as is known, not a single mind has ever been changed in such a discussion, and there isn’t even a Guinness record at stake.

The Tennis Passport, a handsome book conceived by Ed Hughes and published by Ronaldson Publications, lists 59 court tennis courts in the world, but that includes at least six that have been closed for decades and two that have yet to be built.

By my count (and it is a reliable sign of pathology to know this), I have played on 53 of them with two yet to play and two others yet to be built.

Nonetheless I have chosen 50 for the title of this series: partly, because it is a directionally accurate number of playable courts today; and, significantly, to bootstrap off of Jules Verne. After all, how many books would he have sold if he had called it Around the World in 79 days or 83? We might never have known David Niven or Cantinflas.

There are some superb court tennis books on:

  • the history of the game;
  • tennis in different eras;
  • tennis in different countries;
  • how to play;
  • a couple of novels; and
  • several reminiscences by those who have tried the same thing that I have.

There are 32 of them on my desk.

This series is in the reminiscence category, again for two reasons:

  1. I can’t compete with the writers of the other kinds (especially the instructional ones); and
  2. I think a beauty of the game is the experience we have when we travel to meet the others in our micro-universe, many of whom are quite colorful.

Today, we begin the world tour of the courts, in pretty much the order I played them, at Greentree in Manhasset, Long Island.

There is probably no consensus on which court is the best in the world but few people who have played at Greentree would leave it out of their top three. Sadly, those who have played there are decreasing in number as the court has been closed to general play for nearly 20 years.

Greentree was more than the court. It was 500 acres including a private golf course. This is the house, though I rarely saw it from this side. The court is on the left.

Built in 1915 by Payne Whitney, who died on court while playing with his professional, Frank Forrester, Greentree has been called “the most perfect court in the world” and “a court tennis Mecca.”

Today, that would be thought politically incorrect, but much of what happened at Greentree when I played there as a teenager was even more so. This is your trigger warning. Times were different; no need to pretend they weren’t.

The January 10, 1915 opening match pitted Olympic Champion Jay Gould against Walter Kinsella, another notable player. Those in attendance were described as “the largest aggregation of sportsmen ever assembled.”

Forrester was the resident professional from 1915 to 1927, when he took on something of a house manger role. He was succeeded by William (Blondy) Standing who stayed until 1957 and taught such luminaries as Ogden Phipps, Pete Bostwick and Jimmy Bostwick. The latter two went on to hold the World Championship.

The first professional I met was Eddie Stapleton whose tenure lasted from 1958 to1973. He was followed by Pierre Etchebaster for one season and Jack Hickey, who began in 1974 and stayed until the court was closed.

Greentree was only used on weekends between mid-October and mid-April. Following Payne Whitney’s death, it was owned by John Hay (Jock) Whitney, who also owned the New York Herald Tribune and served as the Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.

On vacations from Le Rosey, St. Paul’s and Harvard, my father took me to Greentree to teach me the game. I also played from time to time while in the Navy and at law school, so the bulk of my time there was from about 1958 (age 12) to 1974 (age 28).

This was probably my first view of Greentree as we parked the car to go and play.

In my early teens, I assumed this was all pretty normal. Somewhere around age 16 or 17, I figured out that it wasn’t. While teenagers were at little league with their dads, I was stepping into the middle ages and hitting solid felt tennis balls over a drooping net and into obscure openings in the walls with French names like “grille” and “dedans”

My “little league field” was in a very large house decorated with significant French Impressionist paintings, many of which were eventually donated to the National Gallery. This, too, turned out to differ from the experiences of others my age, but again that was news to me.

I got to do this because, during Jock Whitney’s Ambassadorship, my father organized a group of about 50 to 75 people who played there on winter weekend mornings. The $85 annual dues paid the professional and bought the balls.

At age 12, when I suspect my maiden voyage might have happened, I would not have noticed that Eddie Stapleton differed from other court tennis professionals. He was the only one I knew.

To some degree, even the evolving role of “maître paumier” that had begun in the middle ages in France, included aspects of the hospitality industry. (Maître paumier loosely means master of the palm game, because in its earliest iteration, the game was played with bare hands not racquets.)

Stapleton was ill-suited to the hospitality field, perhaps because of chronic back pain. On one occasion, probably around 1960, a player of greater enthusiasm than skill (despite being a highly regarded polo player) called Dev Milburn double faulted. For those new to court tennis, that is hard to do because getting the serve in is very easy.

As the four players changed ends, passing each other through the doorway at the left of this picture, Stapleton said to Milburn, “there are 54 serves in this game and you can’t hit any of them.”

Here we need a brief aside for non-tennis players. A set of tennis balls ranges from 72 to 108 and they belong to the court not to the players. Many of them end up near the net during play and, from time to time, they are gathered up in a basket that sits in a hole directly in front of the net post. You can see it at the left edge of the picture.

Thence would Stapleton carry the basket and balls to the serving end of the court where they were dumped into a trough to be retrieved by the server as needed. Stapleton would then return the basket to the hole in front of where he stood by the net to keep score.

On the occasion of his thoughtful interaction with Milburn, known not only for polo and lawyering skills, but also for an acerbic demeanor, Stapleton looked down into the hole about 18 inches below his feet into which he was to place the empty basket.

There he saw… a tennis ball.

Are we remembering Stapleton’s back problems? Good, then we are picturing him leaning over to pick up the ball before replacing the basket. Not a word was said, but Milburn continued the practice for the remaining dozen or so years of Stapleton’s tenure.

While on the subject of Milburn, whom I admired and liked enormously, we should touch on another moment at Greentree with him.

The dressing room (I am not sure what would have happened if anyone had called it a locker room) was palatial. It was decorated with paintings of Whitney horses, but never the riders. There were eight or so alcoves along one wall, each with a cushioned bench in the back and some hooks on either side. There were privacy curtains in front, but I don’t recall them being used. There was a fireplace in one corner and huge squooshy sofas and chairs surrounding a mahogany coffee table. Behind the sofa was one of those tables that often holds lamps, eclectic decorative items and large format books.

Post-match gatherings included bottles of dark liquid that had been brought by the players in their canvas bags. My godfather, about whom more later, was noted for the Teacher’s Highland Cream that emerged from the fluffy white cable knit sweaters in his bag.

The table behind the sofa always had a polished silver ice bucket and circle of crystal glasses around a polished silver pitcher on a vast silver tray to meet his remaining thirst needs. As you will hear later, play only took place in the morning.

The dressing room was L shaped and the foot of the L had two or three toilet stalls, a stall for a giant bathtub and two showers with heads the size of manhole covers. There were also two sinks on either side of a porcelain table that could have doubled as a mortician’s slab. On the table were combs, brushes, hand towels, mouth wash and such like.

I must have been about 15, when boys begin to be concerned about such things, and I was standing in front of the porcelain table looking at the array of products but not finding the one I sought.

“Where is the deodorant,” I asked.

“Mr. Whitney doesn’t smell,” replied Milburn.

The foot of the L shaped room opened onto an indoor swimming pool. Double opaque glass door, down two or three steps and straight off the diving board. Women would not play at Greentree for another 30 or 40 years, so bathing suits were at most optional. I don’t recall ever seeing one.

There is an apocryphal tale of the pool being closed to further use after a player darted through the double doors, down the steps and off the diving board while dressed “appropriately.” This was ill-received by Mrs. Whitney, then in her 60s or 70s, and the guests at her ladies’ lunch.

Though I have often been accused of this crime, as have my brother and Jimmy Bostwick, I can assure you that I was not the perp. The others can speak for themselves.

The area surrounding the pool had summery, upholstered, floral print, wicker furniture. It also had something called a Scotch Hose. That had two components: a tiled room with water sprays on the walls and ceiling; hot lights; and, some distance away, a nozzle that looked like it should have been on a fireboat.

Presumably someone would stand in the alcove turn on all the lights and jets then be assaulted by an attendant wielding the nozzle. I never saw this used.

In the early 30s, Jock Whitney began an annual event called the Payne Whitney Intercity Doubles that continues to this day. Teams of three doubles pairs (later five) representing Boston, Tuxedo, New York, Philadelphia and Greentree competed on a weekend in early December of each year.

It is possible, that strictly on the merits, Jock Whitney might not have made the Greentree team, but this would have been infelicitous. The solution was to pair him with a superb player and hope for the best.

One year he was paired with my godfather, whom you met earlier in connection with the Teacher’s Highland Cream and the fluffy cable knit sweaters. The match did not go well, and Whitney came down to the dressing room and slammed his racket down on the squooshy sofa.

“Damn,” he said, “I had the Sunday morning Grant on Saturday.”

Emile was a key figure at Greentree. He surely had a last name, but I am not sure I ever knew it. I certainly don’t know it now. He was the Whitney’s butler and his story would have been at least as good as Mr. Carson’s on Downton Abbey.

He saw to everything and, as far as I could tell, nothing was ever out of place. Never were his efforts more prominent than at the Sunday lunch that took place on the Whitney Cup weekend.

There was a secondary or perhaps tertiary living room adjacent to the court. It was about 40 by 60 feet, and all the furniture was replaced by tables for 100 to 150 guests. Rarely was more country tweed assembled in a single location and the invitations were much coveted.

Leaving some room for windows, doors and a huge fireplace, there was just under 200 feet of wall space that were covered with equestrian paintings, some by Alfred Munnings, and major works by French impressionists.

Just above the door leading from the court to the living room was a blue oar commemorating Jock’s time on the Yale crew.

The Whitney Cup represented the highest level of play at Greentree, but there were many lower ones.

Since the court was only open for four hours, the worst players began at 9:00 and the quality of play improved at 10:00, 11:00 and 12:00. One of the earliest versions of the handicap system was to refer to someone as a 9:00 o’clock player and to another as an 11:00 or a 12:00.

As a child, I began as a 9:00 o’clock player and progressed to about 11:00.

Henry Lewis was one of the stalwarts of the 9:00 o’clock hour.  There was one great and eternal truth about Henry Lewis. He never hit a backhand. Now, some players might be unskilled or unable to hit backhands, but they flail at them, nonetheless. Lewis, as I just told you, but you probably didn’t believe me, NEVER HIT a backhand.

This was a challenge when he was at the receiving end under the grille where the choice is to hit a backhand or back yourself into the wall as the ball approaches. Henry Lewis invariably chose to back himself into the wall to play the shot.

On most occasions, when the ball was not too close to the side wall, this plan merely resulted in a grievous error and a lost point.

On some, however, he might strike himself in the shin, the knee or the thigh and shout “oh blast.” This was known as a “Henry Lewis.”

On occasion, it was still worse. Backed deep into the corner with the ball whizzing at him, he would flail at it and strike himself in the gentlemen’s personal zone. The “oh blast” would be followed by doubling over and stumbling around like a drunk. This was known as a “full Henry Lewis.”

I took a lesson with Pierre Etchebaster sometime during his year at Greentree and we focused on one of the most difficult shots in the game.

Your partner has served, and your opponent has cut the return sharply into the intersection of floor, sidewall and backwall.

Pierre asked me which surface the ball would hit first and I confessed that I had no idea.

I am not sure how to spell a Basque accent, but his reply sounded like, “I don’t know eizerrr, so I hold ze rackette like zis and zweep it like a brume.” Pro tip: give it a try. It works.

Nobody didn’t love Jack Hickey. He had been a junior assistant in New York where he was called by a different name because there was already a Jack.

One of his responsibilities in New York was to place Pierre’s horse racing bets with his bookie. It dawned on Jack that he was taking far more money from Pierre to the bookie than he was bringing back, perhaps because Pierre was not as skilled at betting as at court tennis. Jack began to simply pocket the money and never place the bets at all.

In time, Hickey left the New York job and years later reconnected with my father, while working as a bartender at the TWA VIP bar at LaGuardia airport. Recalling his hospitality skills, my father asked if he’d like the Greentree job and he stayed for a quarter of a century.

On one occasion my father was playing with Jock Whitney and had to decline a possible third set because of a Sunday lunch invitation.

Jock replied, “how unfortunate, and you might not even have roast beef.”

I had many years of “roast beef” playing at Greentree and, at the time, I never gave much thought to the idea of playing anywhere else.

That would change, but it was a great start.

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Note: I have no idea what will happen to this eventual collection of stories, but they might be compiled into something less ephemeral.

If you have other notable Greentree stories, put them in a comment. They might be included in a future iteration.

 

82 Responses to “Around the World in 50 Courts: Greentree”

Chris Hughey, May 30, 2020 at 8:45 am said:

Haven, this is great! I’m eagerly awaiting the next installments and the eventual, less ephemeral compilation too.

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Haven Pell, May 30, 2020 at 9:30 am said:

Thank you Chris, once a month for as long as it takes.

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Clarence Mcgowan, June 02, 2020 at 10:10 am said:

Just wonderful Haven ,Thank you! Otto

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Haven Pell, June 02, 2020 at 10:40 am said:

Thanks Otto, Glad you liked it.

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John Austin Murphy, May 30, 2020 at 9:18 am said:

Please forgive me if my memory is flawed on this matter. And, Haven, strike this if you wish.]

George Limb, of Australia, I believe, wrote about traveling the world and playing each court. When we chatted in the RMTC years ago, he told me about his disappointment at Greentree. He said he mentioned it in his book, reporting that he had permission from Mrs. Whitney, but was denied access by a S.O.B. named Clary.

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Haven Pell, May 30, 2020 at 9:29 am said:

I just pulled out my copy of George Limb’s book and your recollection is accurate. He goes on for several paragraphs on my father providing an obstacle to his quest though he did overcome it. In the same book, he panned the court we built in Washington so, perhaps the earlier slight explains that. For several years, Temple Grassi kept me from knowing about the very existence of the book let alone the description of Prince’s Court.

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Peter W. Bragdon, May 30, 2020 at 9:34 am said:

Haven!
What incredible memories — I treasure the attention to detail — such as the reference to the reason for the absence of deodorant. I just recommended a Manager for the Kent School Hall of Fame — during four straight Championship years Will Agate ’76 was an “Emile” — sheer perfection — every detail covered — the scorebook handed to me after each period with an accurate shot pattern for each team with a number indicating the Kent line on the ice at the time of each shot, Gatorade for the players, cold towels between periods — it will be interesting watching the powers-that-be at Kent wrestle with a non-athlete for this honor — but such a critical factor in any successful effort.
If your message indicates that my past message did not register, I emphasized the importance of ritual during down times. Unlike you, I brood a lot — my nickname with my children is “Eeyor” — you have never witnessed this side of me because I am always on a high when with enthusiastic you — when once with the 15-year-old Isthmian view of you or the present somewhat older version. In my support of the use of ritual to escape the doldrums I mention that I defy the weariness which accompanies the chemo treatments — I could sleep all day — by setting an alarm clock and rising to shave each morning — and I make a shave an event by using a brush and lather. I referred to this ritual used by Dodge Morgan, the Head of the Governor’s Board at the time when twenty-five years ago he soloed a circumnavigation of the Globe in his sailboat “American Promise.” Each one of his 155 days at sea — no stops anywhere — he shaved. NASA studied him because they had never had an astronaut alone in space for that long. Dodge was fine — asked for “a gin and tonic and a hamburg” when he exited his craft in Bermuda.

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:53 am said:

Thanks Pete. I am glad you are enjoying these stories. The dressing room scene at Greentree definitely differed from hockey locker rooms. I hope your Kent hockey manager makes the Hall of Fame. There was sometimes a role for players whose skills would not put them on a team but whose interpersonal skills were invaluable to team cohesion.

You sure never seemed like an Eeyore to me and, until your recent mention of it, I had no idea.

Your ritual is an example of the attitude about adversity and challenge that you conveyed to your players and students.

In honor of Dodge Morgan, I will shave before going to ride my bike in VA today even though I won’t see anyone.

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Patrick Jenkins, May 30, 2020 at 9:56 am said:

My parents had good friends, John and Swizz Clark, who had no children other than their three chihuahuas. John and Swizz would regularly stay with us at Christmas, to the great excitement of my sisters and me. They were a fun couple, and John was a wealthy man.
One year for Christmas, probably 1958, they gave me a Bancroft tennis racket, and John told me that Jock Whitney had organised this for him for me.
It is only now, considering your article on Greentree, that I realise the extent of John Clark’s connections.
Regrettably, the Bancroft did not last long. It was so much better finished than a Gray’s, but the handle was so smooth and so round that it twisted in the hand, and in those days the idea of a grip was not considered. One played ‘bare boards’, with a sprinkling of resin for a better grip. Even the resin did not help.
On a tennis visit to Fairlawne a few years ago, there was to be found a box of nine racquets in the marker’s box for use of visitors, all with ‘bare boards’.

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

As the Greentree story neared 3000 words, some editing took place and out went the “resin box” that was built in to hazard the first gallery. I played with ungripped handles as did most everyone at that time. I also played at Greentree with the Wilson T 2000 that Gene Scott wanted to have permitted for use. That would have been a bad idea because it enabled poor players with slow reflexes to hit the ball far too hard. Fatalities would have ensued. I have surmised that a Wilson T-2000 was a 20 to 25 point handicap advantage for a mid-level player.

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Vaughan Williams, May 30, 2020 at 9:56 am said:

Delightful, Haven. Thank you for providing this charming vignette. How I am looking forward to the other 49. I wonder which your missing 2 are. On my Mission Impossible list to do this lifetime is to play at Greentree and Fairlawne. Vaughan

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:39 am said:

Thanks Vaughan. My goals are easier than yours. Wellington and the new Bordeaux. Chris Ronaldson took me and a group of others to Fairlawne. He might be able to help you there.

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Peter Brooks, May 30, 2020 at 10:47 am said:

Well done you! Having played almost all the courts, excepting Prested Hall, and the closed courts at Exhibition Street and rue Rolland, I, too, am curious which two you have missed.

For those who were previously unaware, or perhaps unconcerned, hopefully one thing the coronavirus pandemic has awakened in us is the notion that, to quote Richard L. Brickley, “Time is a thief my friend.” When this scourge has passed, it would be encouraging to see a renaissance of the golden age of tennis travel.

I would post more here now, but I need to work on the farm today – two new foals (‘new’ and ‘foals’ might be redundant), plus one Belted Galloway calf born three days ago, and pastures to mow.

More to follow, but thanks for a great reminiscence of the magnificent Greentree.

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:36 am said:

The missed courts are not really missed as they are readily available to be played. They are the two most recently built. Wellington is near London and the new court in Bordeaux opened (or actually didn’t officially open in early May thanks to the recent viral unpleasantness). The not yet built courts are in Charleston and Sydney.

A post-Covid Golden Age of Tennis Travel would be a splendid idea. Unless, of course, that spread the virus.

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charles g houghton, May 30, 2020 at 11:09 am said:

great article – I am sending a copy to Payne Payson Middleton. Mr. Whitney’s niece.

Many thanks – looking forward to all 50

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:19 am said:

Thank you Chuck. Paynie Middleton knew my mother well and me somewhat so I hope she enjoys the story.

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Schuyler C Wickes, May 30, 2020 at 11:13 am said:

Haven – I believe my mother has “played” all the courts too, an endeavor she accomplished in the early oughts, over a two year period, while she was Head Pigeon for The Hurlingham Club touring tennis team. I know she will enjoy reading this series, so I shall cc: her on your Fb post. Thank you for this – I look forward to reading more installments.

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:18 am said:

Schuyler, your mother led more than one Pigeons Tour to Prince’s Court. Please ask her to subscribe.

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Jimmy Weekes, May 30, 2020 at 11:27 am said:

God, I loved that bath tub. Every one since has suffered by comparison. I also sympathize with those who came into Uncle Dev’s sights. Acerbic is one of your rare understatements. To add to the rumor mill, we always heard that it was Larry Chapin who did the diving board caper. We will never know.

I still have a dram or two of Teacher’s Highland Cream after dinner, my father’s favorite.

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:17 am said:

Jimmy, thank you for noticing “acerbic.” I chose the word carefully for just that reason.

Austin T. Gray, Jr, has confirmed in a separate comment that it was he and Larry Chapin who disrupted Mrs. Whitney’s lunch.

A mystery solved.

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Jimmy Weekes, May 31, 2020 at 9:25 am said:

I should have suspected that Towny would be involved.

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:58 am said:

I leave that to future Thanksgiving dinner conversations.

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Tony Villa, May 30, 2020 at 11:58 am said:

Haven, what a wonderful memoir! While I’ve never played at Greentree, your depiction of the court is so deliciously detailed that I can easily picture myself there. The only NJ equivalent might have been the private, indoor lawn tennis court built by James Cox Brady on his Hamilton farm estate in Peapack, where I learned the tennis game that is better known today although it has only been around for 146 years. I count myself lucky to have played on 15 UK courts, 2 in France and 7 in the US (never been to Australia, alas) and I will certainly look forward to the next 48 installments of this engrossing newsletter.

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Temple Grassi, May 30, 2020 at 12:58 pm said:

I have 2 courts to go to complete my global circuit -Pau in France and Wellington in England
I will attempt remembrances of each court as Haven ‘introduces’ them!
Greentree:
Haven always said that you had to be invited to play there . We had heard that the court was going to be closed and no invitation to me had been issued. So I summoned up my courage and called up Jack Hickey and asked if I could play. As a result, I spent an entire day there playing, watching, and marveling at this magnificent place. Haven has done a great job of describing Greentree so the only thing I’ll add is at the end of my day, Jack took me back to his office and showed me a log book with the names and results of every match that had ever been played – no comments about any of the matches except for the following : February 8, 1982 ‘Mr Whitney died today. ‘

I’ll ‘take on’ George Limb at a later date

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:01 am said:

Readers, please watch for Temple’s comments on future stories as he has many insights. Especially when he gets to George Limb, many episodes from now when we get to the late 90s and Prince’s Court.

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:14 am said:

Thank you Tony, that is an impressive list. You make me feel better about my obsessive counting of my life list. Like a bird watcher.

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Peter Brooks, May 31, 2020 at 11:48 pm said:

The Hamilton Farm indoor ‘lawn’ (It was red clay) tennis court was magnificent. Especially the large male and female tennis player murals as you descended the stairs to the court. And, of course, the venerable and crusty Ellis Klingeman.

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:41 am said:

There was also a whole batch of indoor lawn tennis courts built in Long Island that looked quite similar. One was used for a scene in Sabrina, a leading movie depicting that era. Bradley Delehanty was the architect. Glass windowed roofs with individual panels that could be tilted up to allow air in. The green background against which to see the balls was provided by ivy grown on wire mesh.

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Austen Gray, May 30, 2020 at 12:30 pm said:

Truck Weekes has it correct: My father, “Sonny” Gray, was a regular early Saturday morning player at Greentree usually with Truck’s father Arthur Weekes, playing in the time slot before the big boys such as Grant and Pell. This particular weekend my cousin Larry Chapin joined me to rally while my father got dressed ready for his game. When they took the court kicking us off Larry and I would explore the facility. I remember there was a medium sized Movie theater you could access from the locker room area. Anyway Larry and I charged out naked into the huge indoor pool from the locker room at one end of the court and dove into the pool as we had done many times before. We had never seen anyone around ever in our explorations before but to our horror sitting around the fireplace at the other side of the pool were ladies having coffee or something. We immediately retreated back to the locker room which had the “Swedish massage” shower where an attendant I assume used the water hose to spray you, sort of massaging you with the water.
The ladies turned out to be Mrs. Whitney and her friends and they complained to Haven’s father and that was the last time We were allowed to use the pool.
I have a great photo of when I was 16 years old playing at Greentree with my Father against Arthur and Towny Weekes. I am wearing my new official Rangers hockey jersey with #9 Andy Bathgate’s number which was my prized jersey that I literally lived in for about a year. Andy Bathgate was a great hockey player.
I always thought Peter Pell was also with us that day jumping in the pool but that was 60 years ago!

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:12 am said:

Sonny was a 9:00 o’clock stalwart with forays into the 10:00 o’clock game. As was Arthur Weekes, a noted sailor.

We have a resolution of the great swimming pool question that has been unanswered for six decades. Jimmy Bostwick is off the hook. Thank you for your confession, that statute of limitations has run out.

As this series continues, I expect there will be much more to be learned in the comments.

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Chip Oat, May 30, 2020 at 12:39 pm said:

Haven,

Well played!

Are there certain courts that are considered “better” than most of the rest for whatever reason(s) in the same way that golf courses or steeplechase courses are often ranked?

I’ve only played on three tennis courts and I was worse than “novice”, so the relative excellence of them was as lost on me as the quality of a golf course is irrelevant to the worst hackers.

I’m speaking only of the playing characteristics of the court itself and not the quality of the bar, cocktails and parties attached thereto.

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 8:05 am said:

The most frequently asked question to those who have played lots of the world’s courts is, of course, “which was your favorite?” Same for those who have skied in lots of places or played golf on lots of courses. There is no future in answering it because you’ll make a few friends along those whose home court it is and many enemies among those whose home court it isn’t.

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Donald Hannan, May 30, 2020 at 3:46 pm said:

Well written Haven.Must say I very much enjoyed your perspective on Reals at Greentree. Never have had the pleasure. Must say the Court at Lords with the drawn baths upon conclusion has been a lasting memory. Stay well

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

Thank you Don. The “post match drawn baths” at Lord’s is an interesting discussion in light of the superb Netflix series, The English Game. As times changed they became a source of considerable resentment.

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Rob Jolly, May 31, 2020 at 4:28 am said:

Great stuff Haven. Looking forward to reading along with your journey. Best from BTC Down Under

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 7:54 am said:

Thank you Rob, please pass the email with the corrected link on to other real tennis players.

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Simon Talbot-Williams, May 31, 2020 at 4:29 am said:

Highlight of this morning’s reading! Looking forward to the next. (Feels seamless as bedtime reading “Dark Genius of Wall Street”, the JG 1 Biography, has reached 1859, the point where JG I started regular visits to Manhattan leather businesses in the “Swamp”!) Love to hear more about the excitement engendered by JG II matches. I remember that an early 20’s match at Prince’s Knightsbridge also created a stir with best seats @ £50! ($600) – imagine how much we’d have to charge for Challenge seats if they were to be index linked! STW

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 7:53 am said:

A scholar could write an incredible story about the troubled relationship between Jay Gould, the player, and the leadership of the game at the time. I suspect that many of the “leaders” had been burned by Jay Gould, the robber baron’s, misdeeds (shorting a stock of a company of which he was chairman then running it into the ground because he secretly owned he only competitor, among others). They took it out on the player, who was actually the robber baron’s nephew. Was the Gold Racquet in Tuxedo really not played for a quarter century just so Gould could not win it? Was Jay Gould, the player, kept from joining the clubs in NYC and Philadelphia?

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Simon Talbot-Williams, May 31, 2020 at 11:18 am said:

You’re the man Haven! Isn’t that what they say when things get exciting (or is it “In the Hole”!!). Will be interested to see whether RT gets a mention as I get through to JG I’s death in 1892. Having read a little about JG II; Olympic win, long singles winning streak, and Covey matches etc, I had it fixed in mind that JG II, born in 1888, was a grandson of JG I. Perhaps I can act as your researcher!? STW

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:52 am said:

My fading recollection of a Gould biography suggests the real tennis player was the nephew of the robber baron. Georgian Court, now a college, was built by the robber baron’s brother, if I recall correctly. I welcome correction.

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Dick Brickley, June 01, 2020 at 9:28 pm said:

Jay Gould, the robber baron, was the grandfather of Jay Gould, World Champion.

Haven Pell, June 02, 2020 at 11:00 am said:

I have emailed a friend in DC who is a Gould descendant (just learned that descendent has a slightly different meaning that has been largely lost) to get some clarification. Here is what Wikipedia thinks. Jay Gould, described euphemistically as a “financier” was born in 1836. He had six children: George Jay Gould, Anna Gould, Howard Gould, Helen Miller Shepard, Frank Jay Gould, Edwin Gould. George Jay Gould, born in 1864, had 10 children, seven with his wife and three with a mistress. The ones with the wife were called Kingdon, Jay Gould II (the real tennis champion), Marjorie, Helen Vivian, George Jay Gould II, Edith and Gloria. The ones with the mistress were called George Sinclair Gould, Jane Sinclair Gould and Guinevere Gould. Seating charts for Christmas dinners must have been a bit confusing with all the Georges and Jays.

Haven Pell, June 02, 2020 at 12:25 pm said:

Here is a definitive reply from a member of the Gould family.

Your Jay Gould was the second oldest son of George Gould who took over the family businesses and who was the eldest son of the original Jay Gould. I gave Temple a family photo of George and his sons which I think hangs in McLean. Jay is the “foppishly” dressed lad next to his father. Kingdon is top left and my grandfather, another George, is to his right. A good looking clan!

James Walton, May 31, 2020 at 5:41 am said:

It’s a crime that this court isnt in play. I know little about why we aren’t welcome. What would it take to challenge them, and overturn their ability to allow this important American cultural asset to go to waste?

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 7:44 am said:

That was the argument I made as my tenure as Chairman of the U.S. Court Tennis Preservation Foundation was going to an end. Among the least successful of my efforts during that time.

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James Walton, May 31, 2020 at 9:41 am said:

I should have added that it was a lovely vignette, well told as ever. Let’s start the battle – and dont rely on committees to do much!

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:57 am said:

We definitely learned that together! Watch for the RTO story late in this series.

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Richard SM, May 31, 2020 at 7:34 am said:

richard.seymourmead@btinternet.com.
Haven, Another excellent article. Keep them coming.
I will send pictures of the court at Hewell Grange. Did you ever see it?

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Haven Pell, May 31, 2020 at 7:42 am said:

Thank you Richard. Please forward the email with the corrected link to other tennis players. The story has done quite well and there have been 9 new signups in 24 hours.

I have not seen Hewell Grange and would be interested in pictures.

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william holmberg, May 31, 2020 at 10:23 am said:

Haven

During my 2 months quarantine in Paris, I updated the Wikipedia page for Real Tennis: locations section (I did not touch the others) as I found it quite incomplete. You’ll see I added Bordeaux and included the 10 courts in the US.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_tennis

Kindly review and let me know if we’re missing any key details for US court history. I did not list all the UK courts but doubled the list that was there before + added Australia and of course refreshed France.
the Chantilly court is ‘available’ as the owner Aga Khan (used it for wedding parties) is selling- anyone have EUR 1m or so to secure and restore it?

In addition I’m working on editing/ updating with Gil Kressman the Paris club history book and creating a Membership booklet as well. Since there is no French Open to organise I’m spending laet spring and summer on these and related topics. I plan to offer the history book in EN as well as I’m sure there are those in US/ UK interested in reading it…

Bill (VP, membership, Paris club )

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:56 am said:

William, what a fine contribution. I will check out the wikipedia page. Looking forward to adding your book to my collection of 32. Thank you for contributing to the history of the game.

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Peter W. Bragdon, May 31, 2020 at 10:43 am said:

Haven!
This morning I read all the remarkable comments — that your story has received so many comments does not surprise me. It is beautifully written — such an attention to detail! Keep it going and stay safe- Pete
PS Hope you enjoyed the morning breeze on a fresh-shaven face.

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:53 am said:

you inspired me. 36 miles 3200 feet of climbing.

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Charlie von Stade, May 31, 2020 at 3:55 pm said:

Dear Haven,
I was happy to here the nice things you had to say about my father’s cousin Dev Milburn SPS’ 35. My father Charlie as well as Dev’s younger brother Jack were killed in the war and are both almost totally forgotten. Dev also lost his father, “Big Dev” the 10 goaler in 1942, 4 months before Jack was killed. My father was on his way to being a 10 goaler having attained 8 at a relatively early age. In terms of Milburns of our generation, the only one that I every was close to was Frank SPS ’63; Dev III SPS’58 and Jack’61 went to Harvard and then seem to have disappeared.
I never took up “real tennis” but came across Pierre E. many times in both long Island and Aiken. My Bostwick step-cousins, Jimmy and Pete (G.H., Jr) were pretty good, I understand. My cousin Skiddy is the only person in this generation of von Stades who may have been a player.
Cheers C.v.S. P.S.: Please come back to Big Sky next year and stay with us a day in and a day out.

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:50 am said:

Thank you Charlie. Your “pretty good” cousins Jimmy and Pete both became world champions with one defeating the other for his championship. The most diligent readers will recognize Charlie as the guide in Skihad BCE: A Week with the Fellas.

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Graeme, May 31, 2020 at 5:39 pm said:

Great outline thanks Haven and might I say exactly the right length for reading when that thief time is around

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:45 am said:

Thank you Graeme. I won’t have nearly that much to say about each of the other courts but I am thinking of combining several courts into one story.

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Charles Johnstone, May 31, 2020 at 6:47 pm said:

As a long time former captain of the Greentree Whitney Cup team I was very excited to read Haven’s memories of my favorite court. His beautifully written memoir successfully walks a tightrope that makes it a fascinating read both for players who were lucky enough to play there regularly and players who up until now have never been able to . Maybe this essay can serve as a catalyst to one day reopening the most beautiful of all Courts . If this is the first stop of this wonderful trip I anxiously look forward to to the next 49.
On a personal note I humbly add a category to your listings of Court or Real Tennis books and that is my Artists book titled “ East Court” which is a photographic essay of the East court at the Racquet&Tennis Club which includes a beautiful essay by James Zug.

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:43 am said:

For those who might not know Charlie, he has followed a distinguished era as a court tennis player and leader of the game by becoming a noted photographer who is regularly shown at Art Basel.

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Dick Friend, June 01, 2020 at 4:03 am said:

History is not lost, Haven, where you recall such pleasures. It inspired my recollection of another “Full Henry Lewis” at the Hobart Real Tennis Club when, after a long boozy bucks party, a few intrepid players ventured onto court and attempted to pirouette and perform at a 1am standard, while a non-playing colleague actually named “Henry Lewis” surveyed the perambulations from the deans and cajoled those attempting to match racquet and ball. After a while, the commentary from Henry subsided and we assumed he’d departed for more exciting activities in the wider world. After topping up our level of refreshment in the Club room, we braved the brisk dark night, leaving him locked inside the totally darkened Club, asleep on the upholstered benches of the dedans. A full Henry Lewis indeed! Worse, on awaking in the strange environ, in a dream-like state he stumbled in the dark tripping on chairs feeling his way along the side galleries only to fall onto the lower floor level at the entrance to the court playing surface, and returned in total darkness to eventually see a sliver of light between the closed shutters over the main window to the street, and opening the shutter finally discovering where he was. And next day only felt like a half Henry Lewis.

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:33 am said:

I wonder if they were related? Lucky he did not try a penthouse run. Do you have Teacher’s Highland Cream in Australia?

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Temple Grassi, June 01, 2020 at 6:16 pm said:

About 20 years ago, the rackets boys had ‘a throw down’ on in Philadelphia- they played rackets all afternoon and early evening followed by a black tie dinner! At 10:30 pm they were met by a bus with a wet bar and bathroom (very important!) and they were off to Atlantic City for ‘some fun’ in the casinos. Arriving about midnight, they were told to be back on the bus at 4:30am. Amazingly enough, they all made the bus , but one of the lads went to the back of the bus just to take a ‘small nap’! Well, you guessed it- they forgot about him and he finally woke up in wherever buses go about 6:30 am!

Rackets and court tennis are first cousins and maybe some of our ‘relations’ can shed some light about ‘what makes them tick!?’ I’ve watched a lot of rackets over the years and I don’t believe I’ve seen more than 3 drop shots!

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 7:22 pm said:

The racquets players look down upon the tennis players because we are insufficiently “festive.” Your story certainly supports their case.

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Dick Friend, June 02, 2020 at 11:35 pm said:

No relation, as the Tasmanian “Full Henry” did not play even if some of his family had. They would all be familiar with Teachers Highland Cream, but preferred malts imported in cask in concentrated form to the Tasmanian Club (a gentleman’s club within a dreams distance of the tennis club). I trust Penthouse running can await your recollection of the Hobart court?

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Haven Pell, June 03, 2020 at 5:58 am said:

As I understand it, penthouse running might well have begun there and spread elsewhere on a tsunami of adult beverages.
The act of placing such a statement in open view might “crowd source” competing narratives, which is all to the good.

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Ted Cockram, June 01, 2020 at 6:52 am said:

Haven, I enjoyed the Pundificator and all the comments. I remember your father well at Bathurst Cup matches.

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 8:30 am said:

Thank you Ted. As I remember playing you and your brother in Melbourne almost 15 years ago. It did not go well for Graeme Holloway and me. For those unfamiliar with Australian court tennis, the Cockram brothers are in the Laver Emerson category of Australian court tennis stars.

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Peter Brooks, June 01, 2020 at 10:02 am said:

No doubt, Mr. Cockram remembers many Bathurst Cup moments, but of those relating to the venerable C.C. Pell, one in particular is interesting. At the 1986 Bathurst Cup at The Queen’s Club, Ted Cockram was matched against Kevin McCollum, an Englishman playing for the United States. (Controversial enough.) In the midst of a furious rally in a first-singles match, in which McCollum was defending a chase of two yards, Mr. Pell, one of the two captains of the United States squad, yelled, from the packed dedans, : ‘Leave!’ to McCollum on the court. David Warburg, the honorary and quintessentially English captain of the British squad leaned forward and stared down the front row at Mr. Pell. From the back row, Jim Wharton whispered to the other American captain: “I see ‘international incident’ written all over this.” An ’emergency’ international meeting was indeed called, and American captain number two defended Mr. Pell by comparing Bathurst Cup to Davis Cup in which ‘coaching’, from the benches, is permitted. Pell rightfully defended and exonerated, and crisis averted.

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Haven Pell, June 01, 2020 at 12:11 pm said:

The word “Leave!” is etched in my psyche as if in stone. I had not heard that particular anecdote but I don’t doubt it for one minute. Mostly he shouted it at a partner, which could be quite off-putting. The players in Newport gave him a tee shirt with the word printed on the back. He wore it proudly. After he died, I gave the shirt to the club and it now hangs in a lovely shadow box frame in their club room. There will have to be an entire story on Clarry-isms in this series.

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Jon M, June 02, 2020 at 3:13 am said:

Excellent reminiscences!

I would love a post with the names of all 32 books on real tennis… I am trying to build up my own collection!

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Haven Pell, June 02, 2020 at 10:43 am said:

Maybe I should begin with a photo of the shelf?

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cmcamcgowan@yahoo.com, June 02, 2020 at 10:31 am said:

Just Wonderful ! Thank you Haven, Otto

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Haven Pell, June 02, 2020 at 10:40 am said:

Thank you Otto, much appreciated.

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Temple Grassi, June 02, 2020 at 2:45 pm said:

I have 31 books relating to court tennis. When Prince’s Court reopens 🤞, I’ll look to see how many we have out there!
I started my collection with a book that I found in the classroom library at Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland where I taught for 22 years. It was part of an American Heritage series . It is entitled ‘The French Revolution ‘ It has a copy of the Tennis Court Oath painting by David.
Probably the most obscure book that I have is a book of letters written between Thomas Jefferson and Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours published in 1930. On page 151 Jefferson writes to DuPont on Feb 28, 1815 ( Leap year!) – ‘….I congratulate you…to your ante(pre) revolutionary condition. You are now nearly where you were at the Jeu de Paume on The 20th of June 1789. The king would (should) then have yielded by convention, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by jury, Habeas corpus, and a representative legislature. These I consider as the essentials constituting free government….’
As we all know, the king did not agree with any of these and the revolution was on! At that time there were 500 tennis courts in Paris alone – now there is only one – but it’s a good one – the ceiling was designed by the same architect as designed The Eifel Tower!

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Haven Pell, June 02, 2020 at 6:39 pm said:

Temple, I might need to fill the gaps in mine by borrowing some of yours as this series continues.

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Michael Riley, June 03, 2020 at 3:16 pm said:

Haven, what a wonderful piece on Greentree. I did not play there,but did get to see the court on my way to the Gold Racquet with my Boston members in the early ’80’s. What a glorious memory! I look forward to many more of your stories.

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Haven Pell, June 04, 2020 at 7:58 am said:

Thank you Michael, much appreciated.

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Robert S. Price, June 08, 2020 at 9:44 am said:

Dear Haven, I played on the marvelous Greentree court only once while representing Philadelphia with the late Joseph Ashman in the Whitney Cup. We were the senior team and played against Messrs. Slater and Pell. The score was one set all, five games all, forty all and the tension was palpable.
Joe, although short, was powerfully built having played football for Harvard I think about 1946. I made a good serve which Clary returned rather weakly directly to Joe who was playing up. Joe would up and with every ounce of his strength, hit the ball as hard as he could. He hit it so hard that it almost tore a hole in the net. Ah, of such events are my court tennis memories filled.
Haven, I cannot confirm why Jay Gould never became a member of the New York Club. But he clearly became a member of the Racquet Club of Philadelphia. A picture of him as a young man is over the mantelpiece in the dressing room and the nicks on the penthouse on the server’s side of the court are attributed to his follow though of his railroad serve. One final recollection of Greentree: the collection of antique bicycles and the plaque outside of the suite where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip stayed. No other main wall can boast anything like that on its other side.

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Haven Pell, June 08, 2020 at 9:59 am said:

Wow, so much that is new to me in your comment. Thank you. I remember Joe, but far later in his life. I know the shot he hit well. I have done it many times especially at 5 all 40 all. Thank you for the Gould correction. These comments straighten out the record. I had totally forgotten the antique bicycles and the Queen Elizabeth plaque, which I recall only dimly now. Hope you will be along for the next chapters too. Thank you.

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Temple Grassi, June 11, 2020 at 3:54 pm said:

Joe Ashman was the first person I ever played with! It was in Philadelphia and he showed up with his own set of balls! I played with him many times after that! He lived in NYC and would take the bus down to Philadelphia or out to Tuxedo to play! He was the player who introduced
me to the lob…the rest is history!
I believe he was also a fighter pilot!
RIP

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Haven Pell, June 11, 2020 at 4:36 pm said:

I had forgotten about him having his own set of tennis balls, but now I remember. Since there are at least 70 in a set, that is quite a bag to carry around. I certainly never knew he taught you that miserable lob.

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Temple Grassi, June 11, 2020 at 5:42 pm said:

When Prince Edward wrote his blog about visiting all the courts in the world- he said, about Prince’s Court that there was one player who had ‘an unattractive but somewhat effective lob shot’ -highest compliment!

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