OF the few sports clubs that ever make it to 100-years-old, fewer still can claim to have reached the milestone while retaining most of its original charm.
Kirkcaldy Lawn Tennis Club can.
Situated off Boglily Road, just a stone’s throw from the town’s Beveridge Park, sits five picturesque courts, secluded by idyllic woodland, and an old wooden clubhouse that may look its age (it was built in 1914) but which oozes character.
Floodlights and artificial grass surfaces show that the club has moved with the times since its inception in 1911, as you would expect given that tennis, after all, has made great strides from the halcyon days of wooden rackets.
But as retired couple and life members Bill and Mary Robertson point out, Kirkcaldy Tennis Club is as recognisable to them today as it was when they first joined back in 1963.
“The beautiful courts have got lovely new surfaces, but otherwise nothing has changed over the years,” Mary explained.
“It’s such a wonderful place. We had lovely times here, and we would play all day, only stopping for lunch.
“It’s always been a very friendly, happy club with lots of families taking part. Coming here today and seeing it bathed in sunshine makes me want to play again.”
Mary, a former tennis coach, also recalled how the court lines had to be manually laid and lifted.
“It was lead lines we used in those days,” she added. “We put them down, and take them all up again. We used squeegees and brushes, and we made it fun. People were willing to come down and spend a whole weekend doing it.”
Her husband Bill, whose mother Esna was a Scottish Champion in 1928, added: “My memories of playing here involve the tremendous club spirit.
“Like any club it has relied heavily on the goodwill and dedication of a few, and in some cases a very few, but there’ s always been enough to keep the oomph and enthusiasm going.”
And while the antiquated clubhouse may lack some modern comforts, Bill is glad that the club committee has resisted the temptation to knock it down.
He said: “A modern concrete clubhouse may have all the amenities but it doesn’t have much of the charm that this place does.”
A key figure at the club today is current captain, men’s champion, court convener, and general club stalwart, Derek Horsburgh, who has been an active committee member for over 20 years.
“We’re lucky we have such a tremendous setting for tennis,” he said.
“When we go and play in Edinburgh some clubs are right next to bus stops on busy streets, and you quite often get people heckling. That’s why other clubs enjoy coming here to play.
“The club has had its ups and down, but it’s very healthy as it stands today.
“We have a good junior coaching section and a really enthusiastic committee who are always looking not just to maintain the club, but move it forward.
“We’ve got three mens teams, three ladies teams, and numerous junior teams. We’re doing about as well as we can do.”
Club records show that the first AGM was held in 1911, with Mrs Margaret Blyth named the first president of what was initially called Abbotshall Tennis Club.
Three courts were initially built – the other two were not added until 1921 – while the clubhouse was erected in 1914 at a cost of £126 and 10 shillings. That same year the club renamed itself to become Kirkcaldy Tennis Club.
In the club’s early days tennis was played mainly by the town’s wealthiest families, and new members were accepted on an invite-only basis.
Nowadays the club has an open-door policy, and it is cheap to join, as Derek explains: “It’s one of the cheapest sports in town for kids to take up.
“It’s only £35 for a junior membership for a year and that includes all your court time, and balls. You can get junior rackets for £15 to £20.
“The very enthusiastic Lorraine Carruthers runs our junior section, and over the last five years she’s taken it from zero to around 80 kids coming every Friday night.
“It’s meant we’ve been able to get junior teams up and running again.
“We’ve got teams from under 10 through to under 18 and I’d really like to see those flourish. We’re very junior focused and we’d love to see more kids join.”
One of the key factors in the survival of Kirkcaldy Tennis Club was its decision to sell life memberships to members in the early 1960s in order to raise the funds necessary to purchase the land from Raith Estate.
“We used to just lease it from the Raith Estate, and we were very Raith dependant,” Derek explained.
“We own all the land now so it’s not as if anyone can turf us out. Not that Raith ever had any intention of doing that, they were always supportive.
“But the other tennis club in the town got asked to move because their land owners wanted to build on it, and they ended up just becoming Townsend Badminton Club.”
With no rent to pay, and costs at a minimum, the tennis club is in a position to save for vital court improvements.
“In 1975 we changed the courts from blaze to tarmac – and that allowed us to get all year play,” Derek explained.
“Then in 1992 we moved to artificial grass, and that meant we could play even when it was frosty and wet.
“In 1994, the floodlights were added, and the courts are now used every night from about half six to 10 o’clock.
“And we’ve done all that with very little help from lottery grants.
“The courts need relaid every 10 to 15 years at a cost of around £40,000 so we have a saving fund for that.”
There are several names that stand out in the history of Kirkcaldy Tennis Club.
The first member to make it big was Miss Thom, who became Scottish Champion in 1920, resulting in an invitation to play at Wimbledon the following year.
There followed Esna Robertson – a Scottish Champion in 1928 – but the club had to wait until the 1960s for its next big-name star.
Joyce Barclay played in the prestigious Wightman Cup, effectively the Davis Cup for women, and featured at Wimbledon many times. She even married famous Wimbledon commentator Gerald Williams.
The first male to achieve national success was James More – the current rector at Balwearie High School – who became Scottish Boys champion aged 18 in 1980, a feat matched at under 16 level by Rory Sandilands a few years later.
Most recently, the club produced Mhairi Brown – a British Champion in her junior days – and who played for Scotland at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
In terms of club honours, current men’s captain Derek stands out having won a record 20th club championship this year while on the non-playing side, tireless volunteer Marygold Hall has looked after the courts for years. Derek explained: “She must have been up here every day for around 40 years. She’s been a star.”
Anyone interested in finding out more about Kirkcaldy Tennis Club can visit the club website at kirkcaldytennis.net.