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Tennis, St. Augustine

The Outing Magazine


So varied are the climates of the United States, so widespread the votaries of lawn tennis and so fashionable its gatherings, that one is not struck with the sense of incongruity at the announcement of a lawn-tennis championship progressing at St. Augustine in weather that is pleasant to the eye and grateful to the senses, while in the Northern States one is battling against the bitter spring winds.

Everything conspires to mark St. Augustine for lawn tennis' own. Its climate is perfection alike for players and spectators; there is little or no wind, and the temperature, while not too hot for exercise, is sufficiently high to be enjoyable to outdoor spectators. Its company is the most appreciative, being largely gathered from sections of society which in the ordinary summer season of the North are themselves contestants in many a local battle. And just so much as St. Augustine and the sunny courts of Ponce de Leon are specially adapted for winter lawn tennis, so lawn tennis exactly meets the requirements of Ponce de Leon. Its environments are all that luxury, good taste and refinement can require. The opportunities it offers of enjoyment are not restricted to the contestants or to age or sex. The proverb that the spectator sees the most of the game is more than verified in lawn tennis, for the spectators not only see more but enjoy more of the game than the combatants. It is especially the ladies' game, too, and its tournaments afford just those occasions for social intercourse and pleasant gatherings which tend so much to bring out the happiest and pleasantest sides of human nature.

Furthermore, the St. Augustine tournament comes at a time of the year when it holds the field with undisputed sway. At other times—from the opening of the season late in May or early in June at Flushing, until it culminates in the glories of Newport—there is always a choice; one can pick and choose. The Middle States championship, or the Western States, or the United States or some college tournament in which one is interested is always then either approaching or is in progress, or has just passed; for, with all the care which authority and mutual arrangement exercise to prevent the national events in lawn tennis from actually competing with each other in dates, it is impossible to prevent them from conflicting in interest.

On the other hand, the Tropical Championship at St. Augustine has a season to itself, and it is the premier season, too. It comes like the flowers in the spring, a welcome harbinger of the greater glories approaching, but doubly welcome on that account. The contestants are not left with the pleasant satisfaction only of being for the week the lions of society. The prizes which mark their practical skill are more tangible and perhaps more alluring; for to the title of Tropical Champion was added, by the generosity of Mr. H. M. Flagler, of New York, in 1888, a beautiful and massive Sterling silver trophy, representing in design the ancient city gate of St. Augustine, and he who first wins the championship the fourth time, not necessarily in succession, will become its owner; and for the next in succession of merit the defeater of all comers except the champion—there is annually provided a magnificent silver pitcher.

Although, up to the present, the giants of the courts, Messrs. H. W. Slocum, Jr., and R. D. Sears, have not entered the lists at St. Augustine, it has had attractions for men in the highest ranks of lawn tennis, and, seeing that Mr. 0. S. Campbell, a foeman worthy of the steel of the mightiest, has already scored two victories toward the four which will make him the owner of the St. Augustine trophy, it may rather be expected that new contestants will next year enter the field. One drawback only exists, it can be called—the soil of Florida does not admit the cultivation of good grass courts and asphalt has been adopted. But this slight drawback weighs little in the balance against the many countervailing attractions, and year by year since 1887, when the Tropical Tournament was first held in the private grounds Moorish Villa Zorayda of Mr. Franklin W. Smith, it has grown in public favor until it has gathered round it more and more a galaxy of social enjoyments. Riding, driving, boating and fishing supplement the tournament, while this year a tennis german was in the programme.

It is no wonder, then, that under such circumstances, with such surroundings and honors, the entries in the courts picturesque Alcazar Casino have increased and have attracted players from both sides of the Atlantic. Lord I brother of the Duke of Newcastle; Hon. Maxwell Scott, of historic Abotsford Hope, and Mr. Garrett, have all at one or another been tempted into its arenas, but the honors have always stayed at home.

In 1888 Mr. H. G. Trevor, of New York, after a five-set match, in the final round defeated Mr. Beckwith, of Cleveland, and thereby became the first of the tropical champions and Lispenard Stewart, C. E. Garrett, L. H. Dallas and George Worthington were then among the entries.

The spring of 1889 witnessed a large accession of Northern experts, including the youthful, slight-built O. S. Campbell, of Colombia College, who took there for the first time his racquet and his mascot straw hat; Mr. Deane Miller, Mr. I. Stuart Smith, Mr. A. E. Thomson, of New York city; Mr. R. V. Beach, of Yale College, and Mr. A. E. Wriglit, of Trinity College.

The courts, which had up to that time been of wood, were then asphalted, and good tennis resulted. Wright won over Miller after a brilliant match of five sets, but was defeated by Campbell, who won the silver pitcher in the final all-comers' match by three sets to one, and followed that by taking three sets and the championship from Trevor, while Wright and Campbell won the doubles and Beach the second prize in singles.

This year the numerous attractions of climate, society, pastime and competition brought to St. Augustine on March 17 fourteen players, the most prominent among whom was again 0. S. Campbell, his old opponent and erstwhile champion, H. G. Trevor, Air. T. S. Beckwith, who stood at the head of Town tennis in St. Augustine in 1887, the year preceding the establishment of the formal championship tournament, and R. V. Beach.

The weather was favorable throughout the whole week, with the exception of an occasional shower-of trifling consequence, for the asphalt courts soon dried and the porches of the Alcazar Casino, made more picturesque by their fair occupants, afforded shelter.

This year's tournament was of exceptional interest. Trevor, the champion of 1888, played a brilliant match with Beach and lost it. Beach in turn suffered defeat at the hands of Beckwith, who had been the champion of 1887, and in that way Beckwith, by the laws of the survival of the fittest governing the tournament, became the runner up or challenger to single handed combat of the holder of the championship, 0. S. Campbell. Beckwith is a brilliant but inexperienced player in tournaments, and the result gave Campbell again the championship honors.

The red-letter day of the tournament was not, however, the final in the singles, but the final in the doubles, which was played on Thursday morning between Campbell and Smith and Beach and Trevor—a day which may well mark the high-tide point of the social pastimes and pleasures of St. Augustine's lawn-tennis season.

Excerpt from "The St. Augustine Lawn-Tennis Tournament" The Outing Magazine, 1890.


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