January 31, 2008

Amateurism: Scotland vs. England?

Why was tennis, which didn't allow professionals to play at Wimbledon until 1968, so much more persnickety about amateurism than golf, whose British Open has been "open" to golf pros since its start at Prestwick in 1860? Was it a cultural difference between aristocratic England (tennis) and tight-fisted Scotland (golf)? Or what?


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6 comments:

Matra said...

It might be class. I don't know anything about golf's traditional Scottish demographic but if it was played by the common man then it might be like rugby where class was the main difference.

There are two rugby codes: rugby union, the international game some Americans may be familiar with; and rugby league, played mostly in northern England and eastern Australia. Union was always a middle/upper class Tory sport and until the 1990s(!) an amateur sport despite being followed by millions around the world. League was played by working class Labour men who needed compensation for playing the sport so it became professional.

Union fans looked down on playing sports for money. Rugby union and tennis were played and followed by the same social class. Few rugby league fans would be caught dead at a tennis match.

Ross said...

I think you're right to identify it as a class thing. However it wasn't the aristocrats, who were secure in their social status, that were the keenest on keeping the plebs out. Rather the upper middle classes whose position was more precarious were the ones who banned professionalism. That's why soccer embraced professionalism very early on, because it was the sport of England's leading schools like Eton, Harrow and Westminster, wheras rugby was played in the less exclusive provincial schools whose pupils were more likely to be the sons of self made merchants than big land owners.

It wouldn't surprise me if golf originally had a more upper class following than Tennis.

Michael said...

No idea, historically. But I've been a fan since the '60s, and it was clear back then that one reason people liked tennis (as players and fans) was because of the amateur gestalt. It was informal, social, human-scale, unlike the big pro sports. At the time, you didn't have to be a monster athlete to compete pretty well -- mid-sized people who were quick and coordinated could be very respectable tennis players. It was a nice place to enjoy a good game away from the tensions and crowds of high-pressure, bruising sports.

It was kind of fuddy-duddyish and amateurish in its nature, or at least it seemed so for many years, kind of like croquet or lawn bowling, only you could work up a sweat.

TV had trouble with tennis for a long time because of its fuddy-duddyishness. They'd try to soup it up and fans would complain - they wanted long shots of players running around, not flashy cutting and angles.

Anyway, the new rackets played a big role in putting an end to all that. Huge athleticism started being important, by then the money was gargantuan for the pros, TV figured out ways to use replays and slo-mo to keep the screen hyper-active ... Oops: crassness, loudness, crowds, brawn ... The old tennis was gone.

I remember visiting the tennis museum in Newport, and my impressions of all this were confirmed. It was an amazingly conservative sport from its inception right up to Bjorn Borg or so. The best guys playing the '60s were playing the same game that the best guys in the '30s were playing. Then, with the big racketheads and funny racket materials, the two handed backhands, the huge topspin forehands, the unreturnable serves, it turned into a very different game. There was more change in the game between 1975 and 1985 than there'd been in all the decades preceding.


To us old fogeys, it can seem like a different game than what we enjoyed back in the day. I gave the game up a few years ago (almost no one plays into the 50s without knee or shoulder or elbow problems). But I still wish someone somewhere would start making wooden rackets again. Even better: start up a wooden-racket tennis tour. The fun of playing the game was going out with friends and whacking the ball around; the fun of watching the game was partly the fact that the top guys weren't all that much different than good amateurs. Today, though ... Well, it's impossible to imagine yourself playing the same game as the pros play. They're a different species of creature. When I imagine picking up tips for my own game, I watch the girls.

IMR said...

Golf has a bigger working-class following in Scotland than it does in England.

The first place I ever played golf was on a course owned and run by Glasgow District Council. For a pound or so you could hire a set of golf clubs for the afternoon (most of the irons seemed to be about the right length for a hobbit).

It also advertised discount membership fees for the unemployed. Being English, I found this surprising, having been brought up to see the golf course as the natural habitat of the stockbroker and the bank manager(this was when bank managers were slightly feared and respected).

Anonymous said...

Not true about rugby union being the "middle class game" in England, more it was a regional game (it rivals football in the South West of England, South Wales, parts of the midlands, even in parts of the North East [see Andy Capp strips where both types of 'football' are played]) whose hotbeds were away from London and the home counties - where it probably could be considered so.

Again, golf is (and I suspect was) a fairly cheap and accessible pasttime in provincial England, the likes of Ian Woosnam hardly came from middle class backgrounds.

Grace Sinjun said...

Cricket is a very interesting game in this regard, because it incorporated both amatuerism and professionalism. There was even an annual Gentlemen vs. Players game, where the separate teams came onto the field of play using different entrances.