Star-Bulletin Sports


Find the roots of tennis
at Beretania

By Pat Gee

It's an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle.

It's not a playing field where the fleetness of foot, mental tenacity, and the very soul of an athlete are measured. Nor is it an elite establishment where a member's wealth and genteel manners are the essential requirements.

It is the Beretania Tennis Courts, a tranquil patch of green that reached the 101-year mark on Feb. 9. As probably the oldest club in the state, it's a throwback to a mellower moment in time, and that's the reason its 65 members love the place.

Like the corner watering hole where everybody knows your name, "It's an oasis of camaraderie and friendship ... in the middle of a big city," says attorney Richard Turbin, who has been a club member since somewhere in the mid '80s. It's "old-fashioned," he added.

There's a rather quaint forest green clubhouse that blends in well with the shrubbery, and instead of modern cyclone chain-link fences, there's chicken wire tacked onto timber fence posts -- also forest green -- surrounding three courts. The lockers are of the white-painted wood variety with screen fronts. The much smaller ladies' locker room was added when the men liberalized themselves and allowed women to join about 15 years ago.

John Marrack, a member for 20 years, likes the "nice, homey atmosphere --you can take your shirt off." The retired CPA joked, "we've upgraded our amenities; you don't have to bring your own soap anymore."

Club secretary Brian Moore, an investment banker, quipped, "The interior decorating committee hasn't had a meeting in 30 to 40 years."

Turbin said, "The only requirement is the love of tennis and to play by the rules."

It's a place you can "really let your hair down; there are no airs, no pretentions; you don't have to spend $3 to buy a soda. There's a refrigerator and you bring your own," Turbin said.

Nestled in the midst of Makiki highrises five minutes from downtown, it's a place that businessmen can dash off to on their lunch hours to squeeze in a couple of sets instead of gulping martinis. Screaming in frustration and yelling in triumph are not frowned upon -- "we don't want any quiet, shrinking violets," Turbin said.

Almost all of the members are high-level professionals -- doctors, lawyers, bankers -- but "they don't try to pick up business. They go there to forget about work," he added.

Club pro John Williams, a transplanted Aussie, said, "It's not a snooty club," even if it includes some of the wealthiest, most powerful in the state. Moore agreed, "We don't have any stuck-up members."

What the club could boast about is its visitor's list, which includes several on the Who's Who list of the tennis world: Jack Kramer, Don Budge, Bobby Riggs, Jack Crawford, Harry Hopman, Lew Hoad, Ellsworth Vines and the champion 1946 United States Davis Cup team. Quite a number of Hawaii state champions have frequented the Beretania courts, too, according to Clay Benham, a former champ himself and member since 1943.

Groundskeeper Macario "Max" Gomes, 90, has been an institution at the Beretania courts for 67 years and lives on the corner of the lot with his family, Benham said.

Williams added, "There's never a leaf on the courts." Gomes keeps the lawn and hedges well manicured daily, as well as tending to his orchids and fruit trees, he said.

The land was donated to the club by Alfred L. Castle in 1937. The present location, at 1325 Victoria Street, is the club's third venue since it came into existence in 1901 near the main post office on South King St. It then relocated to what is now Thomas Square, according to Benham.

Tucked away behind a wrought-iron gate, the courts are not visible from the street, and because the club is recessed below the level of the adjacent H-1 freeway, hardly anyone knows it's there. The noise of rushing cars is hardly noticeable; in fact, one female player said it reminded her "of the surf breaking," according to Williams, who's often attired in bright Hawaiian-print shorts that allow him to go surfing after giving a lesson.

There used to be a long waiting list to join, but with members getting older and dying off, the club is looking for about 8 new members, Moore said. Then the monthly fee of $65, laughably low by other club standards, could drop to about $50.

There weren't any special events to celebrate the club's 101st birthday or to commemorate last year's 100th milestone, he said.

"We celebrate every day over there (the club). A lot of members are just happy to be alive," Moore said.

Anyone interested in joining the club can call Williams at 227-8875.

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