Many have around six squash courts (also used for racketball) and six badminton courts. Some have indoor tennis courts, although these aren’t usually permanently available, as halls are used for other sports. There are also private clubs for most racket sports, particularly squash and tennis. Court fees are reasonable although annual membership fees may be high. Some private clubs are highly exclusive and it’s difficult to join unless you have excellent connections, pots of money or are very famous. If you’re an advanced player, you may find the level of competition is higher at private clubs than at community leisure centres. Racket sport leagues and competitions are also organised by many companies and schools, and some of the latter have their own courts.
Despite the popularity of tennis as a spectator sport (particularly Wimbledon), actually playing tennis isn’t so popular, largely because it isn’t much fun in the cold and rain. Indoor tennis courts are relatively scarce and prohibitively expensive, and are a necessity in the depths of a British winter. More indoor courts are, however, being built all the time. The cost of hiring an indoor tennis court at a sports centre (if possible) is from £10 to £20 an hour, depending on the time of day (short tennis on a reduced size court can also be played in some sports centres). Most local councils and some private sports centres provide a number of outdoor hard and grass courts (clay courts aren’t common), which can be hired for £2 to £5 an hour (adults) or from around £1 or £2 an hour for under-16s. Some centres have outdoor courts with artificial surfaces which can be used in all weathers and some parks and most sports centres have floodlit outdoor courts. There may be a nominal membership fee of around £5 to use some municipal courts.
If you’re a serious tennis player you may be interested in joining a private club. Costs vary, but can be high, e.g. a £150 enrolment fee plus a £300 annual subscription (or a monthly fee of around £25) for single membership of an exclusive tennis club, with indoor and outdoor courts. Many private clubs also have gymnasia and swimming pools that can be used by members for an increased payment. Special rates are usually available for couples and families. Sports centres and private clubs usually have coaches available for private or group lessons. National, county and local tennis competitions are held at all levels for both sexes. The official website of the Lawn Tennis Association is www.lta.org.uk.
Squash (or more correctly squash rackets) has been declining in popularity since its heyday in the ’80s, but is still widely played and there’s an abundance of courts in sports centres and private squash clubs in all areas. England has a larger number of players and courts than any other country in the world and boasts the current world no. 1 player, Peter Nicol (who recently ‘defected’ from his native Scotland!). Private clubs usually cater exclusively for squash, and clubs combining squash and tennis (or some other sport) are rare. Many private squash clubs have a resident coach, providing individual and group lessons.
The cost of hiring a court in a sports centre is from around £5 to £7 for a 40 or 45 minute session or £6 to £10 for an hour. Off-peak (before 5pm) fees may be around £3 or £4 for 45 minutes (students and the unemployed are entitled to use council facilities for half price during off-peak hours in some areas). Annual membership of a private squash club varies from around £50 to £120 a year; off-peak, family and junior membership may also be available. Court fees are usually around the same or a little lower than for municipal courts, although there may be an extra charge for guests.
Racketball, an ‘easy’ version of squash, is played on a squash court and rackets and balls can be hired from most squash clubs.
Squash is an energetic sport and you should think twice about taking it up in middle age, particularly if you’re unfit, have high blood pressure or a heart or respiratory problem. Around 50 per cent of all sports deaths in the UK occur on squash courts! Players of any age should get fit to play squash and shouldn’t play squash to become fit. Doctors recommend that players don’t take a sauna after a squash game, which can be dangerous, as it increases the heart rate and body temperature. Tennis or badminton are better choices for the middle-aged as they aren’t as frenetic as squash, although singles badminton can be a hard slog. Useful websites are www.squashplayer.co.uk and www.englandsquash.com.
Badminton, with an estimated 2.5 million players, is more popular than tennis. Most badminton facilities are provided by public sports and community centres, and private clubs are rare. The cost of hiring a badminton court in a sports centre is around £5 to £8 an hour or around £4 an hour at off-peak times.
Court costs for all racket sports are usually cheaper before 5pm during the week and after 5pm at weekends, although lunch-time periods may be charged at peak rates for some sports, e.g. squash. Courts in public sports and leisure centres can be booked up to two weeks in advance, while private clubs may allow bookings to be made further in advance. You must usually cancel a booked court 24 or 48 hours in advance; otherwise you must pay for it if it isn’t re-booked. Rackets, shoes and towels can usually be hired (or purchased) from public sports centres and private clubs. Most centres and clubs organise internal leagues, ladders and knockout competitions, and also participate in local and national league and cup competitions. For information from the sport’s governing body in England see www.badmintonengland.co.uk.
Table tennis is popular and is played as a serious competitive sport and as a pastime in social and youth clubs. Most sports centres have a number of table tennis tables for hire for as little as £2 an hour and bats can be hired for a small fee. If you want to play seriously there are clubs in most areas. Costs vary, but it’s an inexpensive sport with little equipment necessary.
Many private sports clubs hold residential coaching holidays throughout the year. Visit Britain publishes a leaflet about residential badminton, squash, table tennis and tennis holidays in the UK, and information can also be obtained from travel agents and Tourist Information Centres. To find the racket clubs in your local area, look in the yellow pages, enquire at your local library or contact the appropriate national association.
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.