There’s one phrase I’ve never heard anyone utter: “I wish I hadn’t joined the tennis club.” After all, what can you lose? Sure it costs some money, but not only are trials often available – the cost may be far less than you think.
For instance, I’m a member of Prestwood Tennis Club. It’s got three all-weather outdoor courts, floodlighting and shares grounds with a health club (so you can use its changing rooms etc if you need). And it costs £110 per year for an adult, after which you don’t need to pay a penny.
So, how do you choose?
1. Find out what’s nearby
The LTA has a handy court locator on its website. You can either let it detect your location or perform a manual search. It even lets you filter for pay-as-you-go, free-to-play and membership-only courts. I knew they were using all that money for something good.
2. Draw up your shortlist
Now you know what clubs are nearby, take a look at their sites and see what facilities they offer. Can you only play in the evenings at weekends? Then make sure they’ve got floodlights or indoor courts. Have a deep love for a particular surface? Then take a look at what they have to offer.
Probably the most important thing to consider is what club evenings are available – they’re often geared to people of certain abilities, so “developing players” will gather on a Monday, say, so that the wannabe Federers don’t get frustrated. Take a close look at the diary.
Coaching is another big potential factor. The bigger the club, the better this is likely to be, but that’s not always the case (my club is small but has an excellent coach). You might find it worthwhile to try out the coaching before you sign up to the club.
Indoor courts are a big plus, but you’ll end up paying for it one way or another: either through high club fees or an extra cost per session. Also note that tennis players tend to be quite hardy; for example, at Prestwood we play through the winter, with a dozen people often turning out despite freezing weather.
Don’t be too pernickity when drawing up your shortlist. You may find that you think you care about something only to discover that it’s not relevant. Often, closest is best, just because you’ll go there more often.
3. Give it a try
I don’t know of a single club where they would mind you popping down and using the facilities – even joining in a club night – to see if it’s right for you.
You’ll also get an idea of the standard of players at the club and potential partners for a Sunday afternoon knockaround.
4. Visit at a time when you might play
By now you should have a pretty good idea whether this club is right for you, but you don’t want to sign up and discover that you can never play because the courts are full. Turn up at your likely time and see who else is there.
Let me know in the comments if there’s anything else you think should be covered.