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World's oldest tennis club now opens its doors to women

London, Apr.22 : For 162 years, the Leamington Tennis Court Club staunchly refused to let women through its imposing front doors.

Now, the world's oldest real tennis club has bowed to the inevitable and is allowing women to become members. ally Jones, a former real tennis world champion, is likely to be among the first female members of the club

According to The Telegraph, it is a decision that has not been taken lightly, and has even led to members and committee representatives resigning.

In contrast is the Moreton Morrell club, where the women's game has been booming. Leamington Tennis Court club officials felt a revenue opportunity existed that could no longer be ignored.

It recently canvassed its 300 members, who voted 3-1 to go mixed.

The first female members will be admitted in September, once the club has built a second dressing room to accommodate them. Whether it will lose its ultra-traditional gentlemen's club feel, with its card room, panelled walls and ornate wallpaper, remains to be seen.

The club was founded in 1846 by a group of aristocrats and local gentry, including Lord Willoughby de Broke, Admiral Lord Somerville, and Lord Guernsey.

For years, men enjoyed escaping there to play, drink and gamble unhindered. They were worried that letting women in would ruin their fund-raising nights because men would be unwilling to bet so much with wives and girlfriends present.

Certainly the changes at the Grade II listed building have not gone down well with all.

One long-standing member, George Hayward, who resigned from the committee, said: "I see absolutely no need to take on women after 160 years without them. All that will happen is that we'll spend £15,000 on a locker room and get maybe three ladies to come and play."

Norman Hyde, the former captain of tennis, said: "I wasn't originally in favour but I'm realistic; the world changes and even a club like ours can't stand still. Golf clubs are far worse offenders than we are, treating their lady members as second-class citizens."

Sally Jones said she was thrilled about the club finally coming around to letting women enter its portals.

There are about 23 clubs in Britain, including the most famous, Hampton Court Palace.

Story first published: Tuesday, April 22, 2008, 13:13 [IST]
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