My first sightseeing stop in Newport, RI, where I spent last week, was the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. There’s a lot to see and do in Newport (which is why I chose it for our week-long getaway with the baby) and it can be difficult to decide where to start. But this was an easy decision because on August 20, our first full day in Newport, the Tennis Hall of Fame was celebrating 1881 Day, the 130th anniversary of the first US National Lawn Tennis Championships.
You may not be familiar with the US National Lawn Tennis Championships, but they morphed into what’s known today as the US Open. The tournament remained in Newport until 1914 and then moved to Forest Hills, NY.
Since visiting the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum was on our to-do list, we figured that 1881 Day was the ideal time to go. People were in old-fashioned costumes (the kind of sportswear that was popular in 1881), and not only were they demonstrating tennis on grass courts with small wooden rackets, they were also playing lawn game like croquet, which is actually played regularly at Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum. There was the air of joie de vivre that one hopes to find in Newport.
The grounds of the Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum are so beautiful that they appear frozen in time — in truth they look so great because of a $7.5 million effort to restore it to its original splendor. Yet it’s more than just a piece of history. The grass courts are open to the public and can be booked by the hour, or if you think you’ll play frequently you can become a member of the Hall of Fame Lawn Tennis Club.
The Real Tennis Court is also open to the public, and it’s the only one of its kind in the US that is. What’s Real Tennis? Yes, sadly it turns out that we’ve all been playing fake tennis this whole time. Real Tennis is the first version of tennis, which was developed during the Renaissance in castle courtyards. Luckily, there were people playing while we were there so we got to watch this oddity. It’s kind of like a cross between squash and tennis, with some funny angles and numbers thrown in.
We probably spent the most amount of time inside the museum, which is extremely well done and gives visitors excellent insight into the history of tennis. While the space isn’t huge, it’s full of tennis trophies, rackets, sportswear and even tennis-themed jewelry and tableware. There’s also an oil painting of Real Tennis being played in a castle.
You don’t have to be a tennis fanatic to enjoy the Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum. While I enjoy going to the US Open, I rarely pick up a racket myself. As long as you like tennis even a little, you shouldn’t miss out on this Newport attraction.
Comped But Never Compromised: I received a VIP Courtesy Card from the Newport and Bristol County Convention and Visitors Bureau that granted me entry into the area’s attractions, but I am free to write whatever I want.