On behalf of the 2019 Knott-Stephens tour, we would like to thank Bill Stephens for creating a new way for players to discover the game of Racquets, and for establishing a powerful tradition that has lasted for more than 30 years.

Starting when Bill and Jimmy Knott first toured around the UK together, to the 15 tours that have followed, it’s the one big chance for North American racquets players to make a journey to the UK for 10 + days to play racquets. Following Jonathan Larken’s announcement from NARA on Bill’s retirement, as members of the last tour hosted by Bill, we were reminded of how lucky we were to be a part of it.

We were 8: representing Chicago, New York, Boston, Tuxedo, and Detroit.

 

Seated L-R:

Front Row: Stephen Merwin, Tennis & Racquet Club, Boston. Philip Stockton (Captain) Racquet and Tennis Club, New York. Parker Brickley, Racquet and Tennis Club, New York. Chapin Lee, Racquet Club of Chicago.

 Back Row: Scotty Paskerian, Tennis & Racquet Club, Boston. John D. Beam, Tuxedo Club, Tuxedo Park. Joseph A. Maiorana (Vice-Captain), Detroit Racquet Club. Devin J .Vrabel, Racquet Club of Chicago. 

 

Day 1: Landing in the UK

 

We met outside Terminal 3 at Heathrow on Friday morning, either fresh off red-eye flights or in Beam and Merwin’s case: coming directly from Octoberfest in Munich. After much debate and advice from prior Knott Stephen’s tours, we opted to enlist the services of a professional driver.  Neil of “Vans for Bands” was our guide. Neil’s usual clientele were small Rock bands touring around the UK in nondescript sprinter vans. We fit right in…Our first stop in the NARA limo was the The White Hart for lunch, followed by a Black Tie Dinner under the Concorde in Bristol.

 

Fundraiser for the Western Air Ambulance, hosted by the Bristol Breakfast Rotary Club, Bristol Aerospace Museum.

 

“Tell us more about the Concorde.”

 

The NARA Limo and our Fearless Driver: Neil Horabin

 

Stop 1: Bristol

 

We arrived at Bristol Real Tennis Club Saturday morning, now experts on supersonic flight, ready for some games. We played mixed pairs for a few hours, joined by Reggie Williams (Rackets Professional at Clifton College), James Blackburn aka. Blackers and Sam Beale, our Lead Host.

That night, Nick Cooper hosted us for a Barbecue in celebration of Reggie’s birthday, and then the team explored the nightlife of Bristol with the help of the Clifton Boasters, priming us for our match the next day.

Stepping on court the next morning Chapin Lee set the tone by simply stating: “I feel great actually.”

 

Joe returning serve at Clifton College

 

Post-Match beers with the Clifton College Boasters.

 

Court Tennis at Bristol Real Tennis Club

 

Thank you to our hosts: The Beales, The Dixons, The Sandows, The Coopers, Clifton College, and The Bristol Real Tennis Club.

 

Stop 2: Cheltenham

 

After three days in Bristol, we moved on the M5 North to Cheltenham.  At Cheltenham we were greeted by Karl Cook, Master in Charge and Mark Briars (Head Professional at Cheltenham College). To look at the “Old Cheltonian Winners” board is testament enough to the legendary players (J.A Stout, Duncliffe-Vines, NCW James, RCD Owens, AJ Coldicott) who have come through Cheltenham College.

We paired up in racquets against the Cheltonian Girls & Boys, played Cricket in front of the Cathedral, and were treated to drinks and dinner at “The Spice Lodge.”

 

In the NARA Limo on the road to Cheltenham

 

Beam demonstrating the science of power hitting. Cricket at Cheltenham College.

 

Thank you to Chelthenham College, Karl Cook and Mark Briers, and our hosts.

 

Stop 3: Winchester

 

We re-assembled after our night in Cheltenham, and headed south for Winchester College. Standing in the Rackets Courts at Winchester, the first thing one notices are the incredibly high ceilings, the sound of the serve cracks across two courts set in parallel.

We paired off against the Wykehamists, with Toby Calder and Ben Cawston generously marking matches. Post jet lag, Post-Bristol, our collective play was starting to fall into place. We had seen bounces at a handful of various courts, were familiar to concepts such as taking the first serve on the fault (“TAKEN!”), and having two serves to play with. After three hours of doubles, we were treated to a wonderful dinner in a barn, hosted by Nick Hubbard along with Wykehamists and our hosts in Winchester. We spent the morning touring the Winchester Cathedral & the Great Hall, playing fives, and finally finishing with lunch at the Wykeham Arms.

 

Scotty serves up at Winchester

 

Thank you to our hosts: Simon Taylor, Jonathan Jesty, Nick Hubbard, The Calder’s, and Neale Turner.

 

Parker and Joe square off in Winchester Fives

 

Stop 4: Eton

 

From Winchester, it was north to Windsor. Bill Stephens had left very specific instructions in the itinerary to “turn right at the burning bush, a wrought iron lantern on common lane near the Eton Fives Courts.” This level of cryptic specificity got us around England with ease. We were easy to spot as we were old, and not wearing Eton Jackets. Peter Brake (Lead Professional) took us to the courts. We spent the afternoon hitting on the hallowed ground of Eton’s two courts, trying out Eton Fives nearby, followed by dinner with the Beaks (Masters) and an overnight at the Boarding Houses. A huge thank you to Peter, Richard, and Eton College for hosting our rag tag band of racquets players.

 

John Beam, the other lefty on the squad, serving to Richard Montgomerie (Master in Charge) an inaugural member of the 1989 Knott Stephens Tour.

 

The legend himself: Bill Stephens & his lovely wife Pauline made a surprise visit to Eton, to see the team off on the second leg of the tour.

 

The shape of the Eton Five’s courts are taken from the Eton Chapel, played in areas like the two on the right of the photo.

 

Stop 5: Wellington

 

Playing three plus hours of rackets a day, living out of our green team bags, and barreling down narrow English roads was becoming our new way of life. Our next stop was Crownthorne, Wellington College. We were met by Ryan Tulley (Head Racquets Pro) and Dan Jones (Real Tennis). Ryan came up with an open format instead of fixed pairs, allowing many matches with the Wellington Boys and Girls, including 2019 Foster Cup champ Freddie Bristowe. The gallery at Wellington was unique in that it was a full-floor versus the normally tiered steps, allowing more of a town hall like atmosphere. After a few long days on the road, Wellington was a port in the storm. Players could casually grab a sandwich, wander to the school shop to buy “kit” and not “gear” as we had mistakenly referred to it as, or play real tennis, while yelling both supportive and devastating comments from above.

That evening we were hosted by two legends and their families: William Maltby (1990 US AM Singles Champion) along with his son George (Knott Stephens Tour 2017) and Tim Cockroft (2009 British Open Doubles Champion) at the Maltby’s home. After a wonderful dinner, seated in close proximity to a painting of Maltby himself, we were challenged to The Bottle Game. In this game a player must advance the furthest across the floor without falling. Players start in a semi-plank position, using two empty glass bottles like ice-axes, carefully advancing outward, and then setting one bottle as the distance to beat, then returning on a single bottle. With many failed attempts and signs of diminished fitness across the team, It was Chapin Lee who prevailed. The team retired into the night, full and happy after an incredible day.

 

When he wasn’t golfing on tour, Devin Vrabel could strike a mean racquets ball. Here he is, playing slightly up the line with Scotty against Merwin and Joe.

 

A huge thank you to our hosts: The Cockfrofts, The Maltby’s, Ryan Tulley, Dan Jones, Charles Oliphant, Simon Roundell, and Wellington College.

 

Joe and Chapin posing with our gracious host: William Maltby.

 

 

Stop 6: Charterhouse

 

After Wellington we were officially on the back leg of the tour. We headed an hour east in the NARA Limo to Goldaming, the former stomping grounds of Neil Smith (World Singles Champion 1999). There we were met by Martin Crosby (Lead Professional, Charterhouse) at The Withies, a traditional farmhouse and coaching-inn.

The gang split into two groups: one toured the grounds of Charterhouse, the other were generously hosted by Dickie Cowling for Real Tennis Doubles at Hampton Court. That afternoon we regrouped down the road at the racquets courts. While we squared off against the monks our driver Neil read a book in the racquets gallery. We all felt this was a sign that our play had risen considerably, as the ball was now contained within four walls.

That night we were treated to a feast with the Charterhouse Monks back at The Withies, in a 16th century dining room.

 

Parker, Phil, and Joe, coming off court at Charterhouse as Neil reads a novel in the background.

 

A huge thank you to Martin Crosby, The Charterhouse Monks, and the staff at The Withies Inn for hosting us, and for such a memorable evening in Goldalming.

 

The night concluded with Stephen Merwin drinking a yard of beer out of an ancient  glass.  This feat no-doubt greatly impressed the entire staff of The Withies and our fellow guests who listened to our cheers in the parking lot.

 

 

Stop 7: Harrow

 

Now within striking distance of The Queens Club and our final destination in London, we stopped off at Harrow-on-the-hill for some midday racquets at Harrow School. Met by John Eaton (School Head Professional) we were given a historical tour of the grounds. It was humbling to be in the heart of the hill. Walking into the original school building, one could see the names of Old Harrovians like Lord Byron and Winston Churchill, carved into walls of the Fourth Form Room.

We walked slightly back down the hill, grabbed our bats, and headed onto the racquets court at Harrow. Joining us were Old Harrovians Sam Northeast, and Lucas Garvin, a familiar face from the Racquet Club of Philadelphia.

We spent the afternoon playing doubles, in top but weary form from a week straight of play. We then piled into the NARA limo, for the last run to Queens.

 

Touring The Old Schools at Harrow, the west wing (left) side was built in 1615.

 

Joe in a Harrow hat, and the rest of us on court. Thank you to John Eaton and The Harrow School for hosting us.

 

Final Stop: Queens Club

 

We spent a couple of hours in traffic on the way into central London. As the rain streamed down the sides of the NARA limo, there was a feeling of content, or perhaps exhaustion. No one was severely maimed on court…and over the past week and a half we had made many new friends, seen many of the institutions which make up the heart of the game of racquets, and toured together as a team.

Arriving at Queen’s Club we were greeted by our lead host James Coyne (World Doubles Champion 2013) who graciously got us set up and underway for the Queen’s weekend.Before we splintered off with our various hosts we had to present the coveted Salver Award at the Queens Club Dinner.

The Salver award is for the Tour MVP. The player that most exemplifies what it means to be on the Knott-Stephens Tour.

It was a tough decision. We started with 12, planned, for 10, and ended up with eight.

We’ve had a player who drank a yard a beer in under 35 seconds…. successfully

 A player who fit in 3 rounds of golf in our non existent spare time.

 A player who kept the teams spirits high no matter what.

 But, one man stands above them all.

 This man, who had the best excuse of anyone of us to not attend, came and played through a concussion.

 This man is Parker Brickley.

Congratulations to James Blackburn “Blackers” on winning the Singles, and Scotty for taking it all the way to the doubles final of the Queens Autumn Weekend 2019. And thank you to our generous hosts in London: George Maltby, James Coyne, Rory Sutton,Louis Winstanley, Lucas Garvin, Ben Bomford, and The Queens Club.

On behalf of Knott Stephens, the game of rackets, and the North American Racquets Association We’d like to present the 2019 Salver award to Parker Brickley of the New York Racquet and Tennis Club.

 

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