HRH Real Tennis Tour

30 Jan 2018

The Earl of Wessex is undertaking a yearlong programme of engagements aimed at generating support for The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award. Through a combination of DofE events, Real Tennis tournaments and fundraising activity, His Royal Highness will enable a new generation of young people to start their DofE journey in the UK and abroad.

HRH Real Tennis Tour
HRH Real Tennis Tour
HRH Real Tennis Tour

Real Tennis Tour 2018

“Why on earth do you want to do that?” This is the sort of question you might think, but should rarely ask out loud. Particularly when discussing an apparently mad endeavour such as running a marathon every day, or climbing some notorious, far-flung mountain, or rowing across an ocean or skiing across a frozen continent; for what might seem mad to you or me can give someone else enormous pleasure. Well, actually, it’s probably less to do with pleasure and more to do with the satisfaction of setting and overcoming a particular challenge.


From many years of experience of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award I have learnt that this strange human characteristic is not particular to any one culture, but can be found anywhere in the world. It’s been a long time since I did my Gold Award, but I now find that I have succumbed, once again, to this peculiar trait and have set myself a bit of an ambition; not an overly dramatic one I hasten to add, but perhaps an appropriately eccentric one: I have decided to play every Royal or Real Tennis court in the world.

This is not an unusual ambition among Real Tennis players, but I’m not aware of anyone who has tried to do it in one calendar year. Inevitably, once I started discussing this with the some of the experts I soon discovered courts I had hitherto unheard of, such as “trinquet” and “tripot”. We have produced a list of about 50 courts in 5 countries (taking into account benign ownership, permissions, playability etc.) and my aim is to play three sets of doubles on each court.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

Apart from the personal need to do this sooner rather than later (in other words while I still think I can!) there are some other factors behind my rather bizarre choice of activity. The common element is The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Real Tennis was my choice of Physical Activity to achieve my Gold Award, which inspired a bit of a passion and a sport which I have continued to enjoy. 2018 marks thirty years of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Association, formed to help the growing spread of the DofE around the world which today operates in more than 130 countries and territories and involves more than one million young people. Above all I hope to open young people’s eyes to the opportunities out there, sports clubs to be more open and welcoming to potential players and adults to be more encouraging; to experience the satisfaction of helping a young person to achieve a goal of their choice.

Financial Legacy

To this end, the whole tour has an additional economic purpose with an attempt to leave a financial legacy for the benefit of young people. Clubs have been asked to find different players for each set, who could be novices, juniors, seniors or professionals, hopefully sponsored. The DofE will also benefit from fundraising activities and opportunities generated by the tour.

Charting My Progress

The Real Tennis Tour started on 18th January in Cambridge where I learnt to play. Today there are two courts, there was only one in my day and it was unbelievably cold as the photographs from that time show. A number of players have asked me to record my observations of each of the courts, how they differ and how they play. So I will endeavour to chart my progress around the courts for those who are interested or who simply think I’ve gone mad and are still wondering, “Why on earth do you want to do that?”!


Courts 1 and 2 – Cambridge University Real Tennis Club

Huge thanks and congratulations to CURTC who hosted the most brilliant start to my Real Tennis Tour on Thursday 18th and Friday 19th January. A great mix of ages and abilities involved on court from novices to juniors to seniors; great engagement with the community; a productive fundraising dinner at Jesus College for the DofE and the actual tennis wasn’t too shabby either!

The event kicked off with around 40 complete novices from a number of local schools and colleges were given the chance to try their hand at the game producing the usual mixture of bemusement, frustration and amazement. Most said they would be back to give it another go and some even said that they would like to get involved with the next junior competition. Of course, it was not only the young people being exposed to the sport, but also the school staff. All-in-all a great investment in the future.

Green Court

The first of the two courts I had to play on is known as the Green Court, although there is nothing particularly ‘green’ about it. This is the one I learnt to play on way back in the mists of time when I was an undergraduate and when it was the only one in use. Those were the days when Brian Church was the professional, a legend of the sport, renowned for his exploits both on and off the court! His playing style and coaching skills are still remembered.

My abiding memory of those days was the temperature of the court which never seemed to rise much above freezing. The decision to play in January must therefore rank as being somewhat questionable, nevertheless we were lucky with the weather and I was pleasantly surprised by the ambient temperature. My playing companions for the first three sets were junior members, all of whom were below the age of 15 or so, which certainly put me under plenty of additional pressure. By common agreement this is the truer court which takes a reasonable cut; the Tambour is not particularly pronounced so the ball tends to head for the back wall just over half way easily catching out the unwary by getting behind the defender. The Penthouse is quite sharp and I never really got the pitch or length right, not that my receivers complained!

Blue Court

The Blue Court was recently restored having been used as squash courts in my day. The last and only time I played on this court was when I was invited to re-open it! My companions for the next three extended sets were some of the senior members (or ones over the age of 15 or so!) and some pretty even play, at least all but a handful of games going to deuce. This court has a unique roof design with a series of glazed pitches which allows a lot of natural light without direct glare; its most unusual feature being the hessian covering of the brick walls above the out-of-court line. This court is much livelier with the ball bouncing more, however the main wall does induce a bit of drag which can make the corners tricky to read. The Penthouse and Tambour are similar in design and effect.

Not sure my tennis was all that good (which I’ll put down to a very good evening at Jesus College and a slightly too hearty breakfast!), but I’ll take the members’ reported comment that they were relieved they were involved in the first event as a compliment! Once again, my thanks to one and all for rising to the challenge and kicking off the Tour in such fine style and with plenty of enthusiasm. As for me, well there’s no turning back now!

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