The lawn game: Historic Vancouver Island tennis courts get international notice

After 130 years of operation, the South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club has been named one of the top grass court facilities in the world.

South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club opened in 1887

Founded in 1887, club officials say the South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club may be the oldest continuously operating grass court facility in the world, and the only one remaining in Canada. (South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club)

After 130 years of continuous operation, a small tennis club off a sleepy rural route on Vancouver Island has gained international attention.

The South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club was listed as one of the top six grass court facilities in the world, outside of the UK.

The accolade came in the July issue of the U.K. magazine Tennishead.

"We've known all along that we have a pretty special place here, so to be recognized in a tennis magazine of that calibre is wonderful," Louise Dwyer, the past secretary of the club, told All Points West host Jason D'Souza.

Club members say the facility, founded in 1887, is the only remaining lawn tennis club in Canada and might be the oldest continuously operating one in the world. (London's Wimbledon, which opened in 1877, was closed from 1940-45 during the Second World War.)

When SCLTC began, Dwyer said, the modern game of tennis was still new.

"When the settlers arrived here from Great Britain, they brought along that desire to play the game, so they sent back to England for nets and the fuzzy balls and the rackets," she said.

"We have photos of those days and they played in their long dresses and long pants."

Dwyer said players travelled significant distances to compete in tournaments, including one family that came by rowboat from Saltspring Island. 

The South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club held its 130th Vancouver Island Grass Court Challenge in July, 2017. (Charles Ayers)

As grass courts disappeared elsewhere, the tradition lived on in the South Cowichan club.

This was in part because of the 1928 will left by the farmer who bequeathed the land on the condition that the club exist and lawn tennis be played.

Dwyer said a lawyer for the trust fund recently discovered the will was not valid, and the lawn tennis club was able to negotiate full ownership of the land.

After 130 years, no dramatic changes are expected on the lushly landscaped grounds of the club that's maintained mostly by volunteers.

"I believe the grass will remain because people love playing on the grass courts," she said. "It's more fun. The bounce is not quite as predictable. You have to always be on your toes."

"On a hot day like this you wouldn't want to be playing on a hard court," she said. 

Listen to the full interview with Louise Dwyer on All Points West