Tennis will be in the news a lot over the next few weeks, and for those who aren’t cramming onto the site to watch a match in person, you can take a guided tour of the Wimbledon grounds.
As thousands and thousands flock to Wimbledon 2022, this year is also special as it marks the 100th anniversary of the tennis club where it sits today. Officially the name of the club is The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, and was formed in July 1868, based in the village of Wimbledon, and it was there that they held their very first tournament, as a collection funds to pay for a new lawn roller. It proved so popular that they realized it might be an annual event. Eventually it outgrew the old site and in 1922 they opened at the current site, which has expanded a few times and is about to do so again.
Yes, the whole annual Wimbledon jamboree owes its origins to a poor club that needed a new lawn roller.
Normally, a tour around a sports facility usually requires some familiarity with the sport, but this guided tour is pleasantly light on in-depth details and sticks to the kinds of names everyone will have heard of, even if it doesn’t. is only as background noise on television or radio news.
The tour is really to show a bit of the architecture, the surprisingly large area that the tennis courts occupy, a chance to stand inside the empty tennis courts which are normally only seen when crowded, and to walk in areas not usually seen by the public.
Even someone who isn’t very interested in tennis – and I consider myself more of a “watch the final once a year if nothing else is on TV” person – can feel a moment of excitement to stand in these awe-inspiring spaces that have seen so much triumph and heartache over the century. You will approach very close to the grass but you must NOT touch it.
It is sacred ground.
One thing that strikes is how high-end everything feels here, and not just because of the preparations for the upcoming tournament. But there’s an air of immaculately maintained everything, from the paving to the handrails to the green walls around the main courts. It’s an expensive place to maintain and felt strangely surreal while empty of spectators, a paused space waiting for the crowds.
One of the reasons it looks more like a village than a sports facility is the lack of garish sponsorship banners. Yes, there are sponsors, but they’re pretty limited in the amount of branding they’re allowed to do. The lure of being one of the few sponsors allowed to support the event is so great that companies will abide by the club’s strict rules. This is a refreshing change from other sports venues which can end up looking more like a mall for corporate brands, with a small sports subsidiary attached.
Back to the tour, yes you will be able to stand at Henman Hill/Murray Mount, which is officially called the Aorangi Terrace (you will learn why), made from the ground dug up to create Court 1. Yes, you can see the Court 18 and the plaque commemorating the record match played there. And then something the public won’t see – entering the media center and the room where the TV interviews are taking place. And yes, you can have your picture taken behind that maintenance desk with the tour guides happily using your camera to get your personal memento.
And finally, on the central court, even if during my visit, it was very high in the gods because they were in the last preparations for the championships. Although most people don’t see the amazing view from the top floor landing where the elevators are, they really should try to let the public see it.
The tour lasts about 90 minutes, and yes, it’s really enjoyable and informative, and light on the tennis itself. It really is a chance to stand here and see the hallowed ground for yourself, stripped of the crowds and bustle, and it’s quite special.
There remains the museum to visit – which is located in a large basement, and here the history of tennis in general is told, then of the club and the tennis championships. It helps to be a bit of a tennis fan to appreciate the museum, but I still enjoyed it and learned a lot about the history of the sport.
The plate and trophy are there, as the winners get smaller replicas, and naturally you can’t touch them – but there are some weights nearby to lift to see how heavy they are. My main thought after that being that champions, having probably reached the limit of their stamina, should now hoist this really heavy trophy and preferably not drop it.
It’s a great museum, and even without the tour, I’d give it high marks for people to visit. Add to that the tour, and it’s a pretty good half-day tour.
What was scary though was the gift shop with the exorbitant prices charged for designer clothes, which made me shake my head in amazement, but didn’t put off shoppers buying their t-shirts and their towels. That said, I’ve added a thankfully fairly affordable 100th Anniversary Commemorative Mug to my growing collection of keepsake mugs.
Tours and entry to the museum cost £25 for an adult and £15 for a child – and you must book in advance from here. Unsurprisingly, you cannot take the round during the Championships, so rounds will resume on Saturday July 16, 2022.
Photography is fully permitted anywhere on the tour, with the exception of playing members, who we were helpfully told are easy to spot as they wear white and carry a tennis racket. When I visited, there were members who were still playing tennis on courts that, in just a few weeks, would see top tennis stars playing on the same grass.
A reminder that despite all the hustle and bustle of the Championships, this is still a members club, and it exists primarily to support the approximately 500 members who can play on some of the most famous lawns in the world.