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The History of Tennis on Hilton Head Island

Posted by Bill True on Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 at 4:34pm.

history of tennis on hilton head island, sc

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know the history of tourism, recreation and retirement on our piece of paradise known as Hilton Head Island, that tennis was launched as a serious participant in the menu of sports activities at Sea Pines Plantation.

Originally, Charles E. Fraser, the developer of Sea Pines Plantation included courts as another recreational amenity like golf, fishing, biking and kayaking. That all changed in 1971, fifteen years after Fraser offered up his plans for the spectacular community and resort, which included the fledgling Sea Pines Racquet Club.

In that year Stan Smith—the top-ranked player in the world—joined The Sea Pines Resort as its touring pro, lending enormous credibility to the fledgling racquet club. Two years later, Sea Pines hosted the inaugural Family Circle Cup. The women’s tennis event drew the game’s top seeds to its clay courts—and a national television audience.

Hilton Head's World-Class Tennis Facilities

tennis, grass surface courseIt has been nothing but spectacular improvement for the ensuing forty-seven years. Now Sea Pines Racquet Club ranks as a world-class tennis center offering a teaching/training staff of USPTA and PTR certified pros in one of their award-winning instructional programs.

Amateur tennis enthusiast from around the world come to simply enjoy playing on the twenty-one-clay court facility. Here they can serve, return or volley in the footsteps of the biggest names in the history of the game, competing in prestigious events such as the Family Circle Cup, Dupont All-American, CBS Classic and the World Invitational.

Since the introduction of tennis to the island, every resort and community develops and maintains outstanding facilities, including hard courts, clay courts and even grass courts. Thus affording the Hilton Head Island resident the opportunity to play as the pros do in the Australian and the US Open (Hard Courts), the French Open (Clay) and Wimbledon (Grass).

As of this writing the island is home to over five-hundred courts. But more on that later.

The Origin of the Sport

As is my tendency, I like to introduce a bit of history into my writings because I find so many interesting facts surrounding a subject during my research. A few for your enjoyment.

The original game that bears a remote resemblance to tennis was introduced in the twelfth-century, where and by who has been an ongoing argument …probably since the thirteenth century, so I won’t get in the middle of that one. However it was played without rackets and called for the ball to be hit with the players’ palms. Thus, it was called jeu de paume, ("game of the palm"). There is a clue here that France is a hearty contender for ‘place of origin.’

ealry tennis gameBe that as it may, it wasn’t until the sixteenth century that rackets were introduced and the new version called tennis (Origin of the name also in doubt), became seriously popular in England. We know this to be a fact because Henry VIII (he of the many unfortunate wives) quite fancied the game. So much did he like it that he had courts built at all his palaces and in many parts of England.

The Birth of Competition

Competition evolved early on, but it wasn’t until the twentieth century that global competition took off. The Davis Cup, an annual competition between men's national teams, dates to 1900, unfortunately it would take more than half a century before an analogous competition for women's national teams, the Fed Cup, was founded as the Federation Cup in 1963.

Of course, the industrious work of promoters escalated as soon as they recognized the potential.

In 1926, promoter C.C. Pyle created the first professional tennis tour with a group of American and French tennis players playing exhibition matches to paying audiences. The most notable of these early professionals were the American, Vinnie Richards and the Frenchwoman, Suzanne Lenglen. This money-making endeavor ended the amateur status of players, but they sought solace in the fact that they were making more money than they had in their lives.

Some amusing tennis anecdotes; tennis is mentioned in literature as far back as the Middle Ages.

  • In ‘The Second Shepherds' play (c. 1500) shepherds gave three gifts, including a tennis ball, to the newborn Christ.
  • Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's round table, plays tennis against a group of 17 giants in ‘The Turke and Gowin’ (c. 1500)

Modern Tennis in the Lowcountry

Now we return to Tennis today on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Here are some facts and a few of the outstanding communities and resorts offering a great tennis experience:

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort - Ranked among "The 50 Greatest U.S. Tennis Resorts" by Tennis Magazine.

Port Royal Racquet Club - The Racquet Club features ten Har-Tru clay courts and four Nova hard courts, with stadium seating and lights for night matches.

Van Der Meer Shipyard Tennis Resort - Shipyard Racquet Club is nestled among majestic Oaks, and offers 13 clay courts, 4 outdoor hard courts, and 3 INDOOR courts. (The only ones in the region) A variety of programs and events take place at this active site, directed by expert tennis professionals.

Besides all those mentioned above, nearly every gated community on Hilton Head Island has professional level, well maintained tennis courts, among them:

Considering making a home here on Hilton Head Island? Please contact us online or call 1-843-785-9500 to get in touch with a qualified & experienced Hilton Head area real estate professional.

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