Anyone wanting a history lesson on the Richmond Open won't have to look far.
The popular Richmond Tennis Club tournament is celebrating its 50th anniversary with over 400 players currently doing battle for spots in Sunday's finals. The event is also the season opener of the Odlum Brown Summer Series.
The men behind the Richmond Open happen to still be active players at the Minoru Park facility and recall the challenges of the tournament's infant years.
At 80 and 76 respectively, David Kimpton and Tony Cowley have stepped away from their prominent club duties but still hit the courts twice a week for casual play.
Back in the early 1960s, they were among the club's original members and thought why not get a jump on the competitive tennis season by Richmond hosting its own tournament.
"When it comes to hosting outdoor tournaments in Canada this was always the first on the calendar," says Kimpton, who was the tournament director for a remarkable 30-year run.
The initial interest proved to be more than any of the members anticipated.
The club at that time was based at Brighouse Park where the outdoor lacrosse box was converted into four temporary courts. With the Open registration numbers annually surpassing 600 and swelling to as many as 800, extra venues were needed to accommodate so many games. The Richmond Country Club provided a court, and even a club member stepped up to offer his own backyard private court.
The large draws meant scheduling matches nearly around the clock.
"We had some double matches that went late into the evening, to the point where we were drinking coffee just to stay warm," laughed Cowley. "At that time there were homes around the courts (at Brighouse) and the neighbours were telling us to 'be quiet' because they were trying to sleep."
The Open also attracted some of the biggest names in Canadian tennis at the time, including Manitoba's Reider Getz who played in the Davis Cup. Pierre Lamarche was an up-and-coming junior when he competed in Richmond before going on to also play for Canada.
One of the greatest challenges during the early years was simply communicating with participants.
With no e-mails or a tournament website with updated schedules and scores, volunteers were on the phone at the end of each day informing players of their next match.
"The players were responsible for calling us to find out," said Kimpton. "Once they did, we crossed their name off a list.
"Tony was amazing," added current tournament director Lesley Wint. "He had a mental picture of the entire draw and could tell any player what time they were playing at without even looking at it."
Kimpton, Cowley and other longtime volunteers were honoured at a special 50th anniversary barbecue last Sunday at the club.
Action continues at the Open with weekday matches beginning at 5 p.m. daily. The weekend draws will get underway at 9 a.m. Admission is free.
© Copyright 2013