THE HISTORY OF TENNIS IN BRIDGEHAMPTON, NEW YORK
by Julia Douglas
What may be considered old, is definitely new again; as is the cycle of life....and may great traditions never end.
CHAPTER ONE: THE TRIPLE CROWN
My love affair with tennis began in the 1950’s at a family club in Bridgehampton. There was no dress code; we girls played in bright colored corduroy shorts and liberty cotton blouses. We all wore white Ked sneakers. I was low man on the totem pole so I often didn’t play in the team matches against other Hampton clubs.
As I watched the better more confident players, I vowed that someday I’d be on the first court and a winner in tennis. In the mid 60’s an all white dress code for tennis was instituted. I usually wore white shorts and a polo shirt.
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But then, on my birthday, my beau presented me with a beautiful sharkskin tennis dress from The Bermuda Shop in NYC. The shop, located on Madison Avenue, was an iconic preppy place selling the best sports clothes imported from Bermuda, including the famous wooden handled monogrammed clutch bags.
My sleeveless dress had a pleated skirt and a Peter Pan collar. It was a sensation at the club. By then, in my early 20’s, I was playing mixed doubles every weekend, followed by gin and tonics at someone’s house. We singles lived at a feverish pace on the weekends and raced back to the city Sunday nights to face a week of work.
After marriage and children, I was able to spend the entire summer out on Long Island. Luckily, I found a wonderful tennis partner in my best friend. We won the ladies doubles many times; then I partnered with her son to frequently win the mixed doubles. And in the 1980s, after years of defeats in the final round of Ladies Singles, I won that match as well as the Ladies and Mixed Doubles the same summer, bringing home all 3 trophies and the coveted Triple Crown. At last, my hard work and focus on tennis had paid off.
During the early years of my marriage, my husband and I played lots of mixed doubles. Though purportedly just for fun, these matches could be tense and sometimes verged on being nasty. (AKA divorce doubles) I was a good sport and a good loser but vastly preferred winning. Certain couples were definitely more overtly serious.
A friend of ours, David, got wind of an upcoming morning match we had at our club with a very competitive couple that he knew. He placed a bet on me, which I could not, as a good sport, refuse: if my husband and I won the match David would take us to a very fancy NYC Italian restaurant for dinner. If we lost, I and I alone, would pay the penalty: becoming his servant for the night at a major dinner party. I was to wear a maid’s uniform, use the back elevator, and not be allowed to acknowledge or chat with the guests, many of whom I knew.
The night before the match I didn’t sleep well; the day dawned and I was nervous, keyed up for lack of sleep and apprehension. But this provided the much-needed adrenalin to my system. I was on fire and simply couldn’t miss. As the saying goes, ‘we killed them.’ Our friend David honored the bet and we dined out in style, amidst lot of toasts and laughter, we discussed the match point by point, becoming even closer friends.
CHAPTER TWO: TENNIS IN NEW YORK CITY
When I was a teenager there were tennis courts on the East Side of New York in the Tudor City complex in the 40s. The 5 or so courts were red clay and could be rented by the hour for a reasonable fee.
In the spring, my best city friend and I enjoyed playing singles there after school. We both lived down town in the 20s and would hop on a First Avenue bus with our rackets. We wore brightly colored pedal pushers and gray sweatshirts. Grosgrain navy headbands held our hair in place. One afternoon we noticed a dark haired, very tan man dressed in impeccable whites on the adjacent court. His game was amazing to watch.
The ball whipped over the net at an incredible speed. When our balls strayed into his court as they often did, he graciously returned them with a smile. As we left the court the manager told us about him. We were thrilled and horrified to learn we’d been playing next to a world famous tennis player, Pancho Segura. Originally from Ecuador, at that time, Pancho was ranked number one in the world. He possessed a deadly unorthodox doublehanded forehand. He was known to have a winning sunny personality and tennis fans all over the world loved him.
Julia is a Bridgehampton and Vero beach FL-based writer who has had her unforgettable contributions published in The New York Times, The Southampton Press, Vero Beach Magazine, Colonial Homes and many other publications. When I first joined the tennis team at our club, Julia kindly offered to be my doubles partner. I was so nervous because I knew how fiercely competetive she was and I did not want to disappoint her. She has been playing her entire life and is now over 65 years old. I found tennis later in life as I did not grow up in the country club environment. You can imagine my intimidation and I could barely breathe! She encouraged me, and put up with my beginner skills with a patience and grace that I imagine she used to raise my best friend and her amazing sister. These stories reflect her most memorable times playing tennis in Bridgehampton and New York City way back when...
Love this article!!
Hoping you are selling the bermuda bags that are on your web site? Please let me know as I am going to give these for Christmas gifts. Thank you!
Nice article on a timeless sport and summer lifestyle. It conjures up fond memories for me, especially the Bermuda bag, of which I had many!
Well done, Hedge and M.O.!