A Graceful Racquet
Present day Grace Park Hawthorn Club (GPHC) is a smart, modern complex that is part recreational facility, part social club and part working museum. The 135-year-old club continues to welcome new members, all while celebrating its long and illustrious past.
The foundation of GPHC in Hilda Crescent, Hawthorn, dates back to the birth of the late-19th century tennis craze and survived the sport’s waxing and waning popularity from then on. The land on which it sits was originally purchased in 1848 by eccentric Irish hotelier, Michael Lynch; the same man who near-by Lynch street is named for. In honour of his wife, Julia, née Grace, Lynch bestowed the name Grace Park upon his sprawling 40-hectare tract of land.
The first build on his land was the church of the Immaculate Conception, which adorns the corner of Glenferrie and Burwood Roads to this day. Before being subdivided, the remaining acreage was resplendent with game such as deer, pheasants and
grouse. Lynch, a gourmet cook and avid hunter, would throw lavish feasts, enticing guests with his home-reared game banquets.
But it was thanks to Lynch’s son, who disregarded his father’s request for the land to be ‘retained in perpetuity’ after his death, that eventually led to a portion of it being repurposed as a sports precinct. In 1884, Michael Lynch Jr leased out Grace Park Estate to Henry Moore, who subdivided it into 300 lots. This was a boom time for development in Hawthorn, whose population nearly doubled in three years from 9,500 in 1887 to 16,500 in 1890.
By then, tennis was fast becoming a popular sport among the upper classes and Moore, seeing an opportunity to boost land sales around Grace Park, established plans for a recreation club. In 1889, two tennis courts were commissioned and by the end of the year, the club’s membership comprised 35 men and 29 women. By the start of 1890, the club had already begun entering teams in local competitions, and went on to win its first premiership in 1899.
In more recent history, the club has been a second home to two giants of local tennis; head coach Terry and his partner Sandra Stone, who, after 43 years of devoted service, have announced their retirement. The couple have worked together building the club’s reputation as an inclusive space for kids who just want a ‘hit and giggle’ through to more serious competitive types. Terry, who estimates that he has coached about 153,000 kids in his time, feels he and his wife are “going out on a high”.
“When I started, there were no junior tennis teams, now we have 14 individual teams.” He states, “But I am most proud of being involved with coaching the students from Rossbourne School.” Rossbourne’s students experience learning difficulties and are neuro-diverse. Terry has seen these kids overcome personal barriers and develop a genuine enthusiasm for the sport.
Although a local icon, the club has had an uneven past with tennis’ popularity experiencing a slump in the 1980s. “We rode it out, but you know, Grace Park has its squash courts also, and that sport has been very consistently popular here.” The saving grace of GPHC, as Terry sees it, was “amalgamating with the Hawthorn Club and making the Club a great squash club and a great tennis club. Prior to this we only had one squash court and a couple of squash teams.”
One thing that has remained consistent is the club’s illustrious membership in competitive tennis. Luminaries such as Paul McNamee, Pat Cash, Frank Sedgman and Margaret Court have all carved, loved and deuced at GPHC on their way to victory. Terry has personally “nurtured the champions of the future”, with one of his pupils even qualifying for the Australian Open.
Although such successes add up to an impressive cluster of feathers in GPHC’s cap, Terry says “watching the children I have coached grow up and bring their children to lessons gives me the most pleasure.” In retirement, Terry and Sandra have no plans to hang up their racquets. “No way. It just means more time to play tennis with friends!” Terry enthuses. The GPHC has appointed a new head coach, Adam Hubble - a former Australian professional tennis player - who will be assisted by his partner Miranda Poile. Terry’s parting words serve as a beacon of encouragement for Adam and Miranda. “It is a wonderful, friendly club that has been a tremendous pleasure to be a part of.”