West Highland Championships 50th Anniversary
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West Coast To The Wild West: Tennis Tournament Places Scotland On The Map In The USA
As Oban prepares to host the 50th anniversary of the West Highland Championships’ revival in July, a group of tennis players from Texas will be celebrating from afar for the first time in two decades after the competition captured their hearts.
First held in 1922 before ceasing for WW2, the West Highland Championships has attracted players from far and wide since the tournament’s return was rallied 50 years ago. With over 100 matches played across four days, the competition originally ran prior to the Highland Tournament in Pitlochry as both holiday competitions held great appeal to competitors from Scotland and county players who routinely travelled from England.
Over the last 20 years, the competition has also welcomed a group of players from across the Atlantic thanks to a chance phone call with a coach of John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, Texas. Whilst on their travels to attend Wimbledon as spectators in 2001, coach Charles Honey was keen for the squad to play some competitive tennis in the UK. As the only tournament running in Britain during the Wimbledon fortnight, Charles was put in contact with long-term organiser of the West Highland Championships, Mary McLean.
This commenced a long friendship between the Texas club and Oban, which has seen 16 young American players compete in the competition each year, having been left in awe at the scenic beauty of Oban and the tennis experience which provides a platform for them to play against top ranked players in Scotland, in addition to participating in the tournament’s infamous social activities.
One Of The Best Tournaments In The UK
Esther Delgado, Coach at John Newcombe Tennis Ranch, commented: “This is a truly unique tournament that holds a special place in my heart. Having brought students from all around the United States for the past 11 years, I can honestly say it is one of the best tournaments in the UK. As a coach, I couldn’t ask for a better experience for my players. They all get the challenge they need to become better players in an international environment.
“From a personal perspective, watching how Mary and her team run this tournament with such professionalism, is what makes it worth coming back. Win or lose, it will always be a positive learning experience. If you haven’t played this tournament, I suggest you add it to your bucket list!”
The partnership with Oban even led local player Gregor Brydon across the pond to work at the John Newcombe Ranch. After securing a further 18-month visa he became a Director of the club’s adult tennis programme, which caters to players attending from all over the world.
Gregor explained: “I had been going to the West Highland Championships for years and just observing as I was too young to play. Throughout the years, I got to know the different members of the ‘touring team’ and the coaches. They liked my attitude and after competing against and beating some of the team members, I was invited over to be a Camp Counsellor in the summer of 2014 and have returned multiple times since.”
More Than Just A Competition
Hailed as ‘more than just a competition’, organiser Mary McLean and committee members have played a key role in developing a welcoming environment for attending players who have also been entertained off the court through activities such as swimming galas, sailing, karaoke and barbecues over the decades.
Since moving to the West Coast in the 1970s, Mary joined Oban Tennis Club where she was ladies champion for several years before her involvement in the West Highland Championships began. Mary first served as a committee member from 1983 prior to operating as a referee and organiser for the past three decades.
Mary said: “My love of tennis inspired me to get involved in the tournament many years ago and being able to attract quality players to the West Highlands has brought me great satisfaction. We encourage players to join in all the social events and aim to make their visit to Oban one they will remember, with many continuing to return annually which makes all the organisation and hard work worthwhile.”
Andy Murray First Won Wimbledon
“I’ll always remember the atmosphere in the clubhouse the year Andy Murray first won Wimbledon. I suspended play so players could watch the nerve-wracking conclusion to the match and the roar when Andy won was unbelievable. Our singles final that year was won by Alan MacDonald who knows Andy very well, which made the occasion even more special.”
The West Highland Championships has always attracted an outstanding calibre of player across its illustrious history, with renowned Davis Cup team captain David Lloyd the first winner of the men’s competition following its return in 1971. Since then, a host of Scotland’s top tennis talents have been crowned champions, including Commonwealth Games gold medallist and current GB National Tennis Academy Lead Performance Coach, Colin Fleming, Tennis Scotland’s Head of Performance, Karen Ross, and coach Judy Murray.
A Great Competitive Environment
Tennis Scotland Chief Executive Blane Dodds, also a winner of the competition, said: “The West Highland Championships was seen as one of the best events to play in Scotland and for many of the years, it attracted many players across Great Britain. The event always successfully blended a great competitive environment on the court with the best Scottish hospitality off the court, a key element of the appeal and camaraderie that made the event so special. I have so many happy memories at the event with some great people. This would not have been possible without Mary McLean and all those that supported her through the years. Congratulations and thank you to Mary. What an amazing job she and all involved have done over many years.”
Entries for the 50th West Highland Championships are being accepted until Thursday, 17th June. Players can enter the Grade 3 competition, scheduled to be held 1st – 4th July, here.
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