Originally Published: July 29, 2014 6 a.m.
When you get the chance to visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, you may or may not have the choice of doing it at the zest of its summer season by attending the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, when the Hall Enshrinement Ceremony is taking place (which I highly recommend), or any time during the rest of the year because the museum and grounds are open year-round with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Mark your calendar for July 11-19, 2015, to catch all these history filled activities for next year's grandest week in Newport.
As for visiting the museum and grounds without all the hoopla, you'll still be enthralled.
The museum itself can take an hour or most of the day depending on just how much a tennis buff you are.
When you climb the stairway from the first-floor gift shop you'll enter through the Woolard Family Enshrinement Gallery where you'll be greeted with digital kiosks highlighting the lives and careers of the legends of tennis, those who are known as "Hall of Famers." Awards of recognition for international tennis players past and present that have stood out from the crowd in their achievements. Contributors to the game who have gone over and beyond in coaching, announcing, media coverage, special service, education, equipment and tennis industry leaders - all are also inducted based on their service, dedication, sportsmanship and inspiration.
When leaving the "International Inductees" area, the museum is divided into three themes: The Birth of Tennis, 1874-1918; The Popular Game, 1918-1968; and Open Play, 1968 to Present.
You'll see the origins of tennis where the game was called jeu de longue paume, Pal lone, ball au tamis, ballspieler, jeux de paume and sphairistike. Get a close look at photographs of the first tennis champions, their medals, trophies and busts. Or, look at how racquets were produced and where; people and players like James Dwight, Richard Sears, Bill Clothier, Maurice McLoughlin and Bill Larned.
How lawn tennis was born, Major Wingfield's 1874 patent, the first Wimbledon in 1877, and how the game evolved with boxed sets of equipment, long dresses and trousers, wood racquets and gut strings during the industrial revolution.
Review the first U.S. National Championships in Newport in 1881 and rapid growth throughout the United States.
Bill Tilden, Davis Cup, Suzanne Lenglen, Fred Perry, Helen Wills, Hazel Wrightman, the 4 Musketeers and professional tennis tell a story of making the Great Depression a little easier to bear from the late teens through the roaring 20s with the help of the Hollywood crowd. Shorter skirts for women and shorts for men, Don Budge and his 1938 Grand Slam, then World War II closes things down.
You'll see how the post-war years created a new yearning for and with tennis. You'll see how tennis professionals barnstormed the country playing matches from city-to-city with the greats of each decade; while amateurs received the accolades of adding Slam titles to their resumes but with no financial remuneration.
And in the middle of the tour there's an Enshrinement Room for this year's inductees, telling the background of why they were inducted, their merits and interesting stories with pictures and memorabilia.
Open tennis is discussed, put on the backburner and then discussed some more while players like Jack Kramer, Little Mo Connolly, Billie Jean King, Margaret Court, Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, and so many others bring tennis to the masses.
The Open Era takes place in 1968 and the tennis boom begins. See and read about the "1973 Battle of the Sexes," how prize money went from a total of $4 million in 1975 to over $80 million in 2010 on the ATP Tour; the struggle for equality for women on and off the court; year-by-year of the best players and their achievements, and a timeline of the greats.
See how interesting each item and program of tennis has come to be: Davis Cup, Fed Cup, Wheelchair tennis, the Olympics, Paralympics, the Wrightman Cup, Grand Slam events, equipment/industry development, the International Tennis Federation and each country's tennis associations and how they function.
The third floor is an Information Research Center run by librarian Meredith Miller, and holds the world's most comprehensive collection of printed and video items. Access is by appointment only by calling 401-849-3990.
And when you're done with all of that, you'll want to spend a few dollars in the gift shop, then roam the grounds imagining all the greats that have walked the same path you're on, taking in the same sights, smells and thoughts they did.
The grass courts are even available for you to play or take a lesson/clinic on, so maybe the moment can be even more inviting.
Don't miss out on the newly established clay court, which will lead you to the entrance of the only public "royal court" or court tennis facility in the world.
And with the almost $16 million renovation going on the museum will be much more interactive, and with the grounds and facilities added to and beautified, the experience for the visitor and local patrons of Newport will be that much more enhanced.
Let's all set this on our calendar for next year!
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or email@example.com.
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