September marks the climax of the United States Tennis Open at Flushing Meadows, but this summer also saw another historic tennis milestone. On July 23rd, the venerable Seabright Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club in Rumson hosted the Rockaway Hunt’s visiting Long Island team on the 100th anniversary of their sporting rivalry.
Lawn tennis in this country started in the fall of 1875, when a tennis set was imported from England by the now defunct Staten Island Cricket & Tennis Club for installation on their grounds. When this new apparatus reached the customs officials in the Port of New York, they did not know just how it should be classified, so it was admitted duty free!
Only a few months after this, the residents of Seabright became interested in the game, and placed orders for equipment. On July 25, 1878, the first formal meeting of the Seabright Tennis Club was held at the residence of Mr. Robert Rutherford.
Seabright Club house architect James Renwick (1818-1895), was one of the foremost architects in the United States, responsible for the design of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Grace Church in New York, as well as the Smithsonian and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. The Seabright Club house, though slightly altered from the original Renwick design, has survived as a rare example of the shingle-style casino-club house, a type of building which functioned as a gathering place for social activities and recreation. In 1992, it was designated by the Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark.
The Rockaway Hunting Club, organized in 1878, is the oldest country club in the United States—although originally not a country club in today’s sense. Its focus was on the horse, especially fox hunting and steeplechase racing. Rockaway’s early fame came from polo, and its longtime rivalry with Meadowbrook on Long Island. The Rockaway team won national championships in 1901 and 1902. Today, the club features a recently renovated seaside links with seven spectacular water holes, 18 lawn tennis courts, and seven har-tru courts.
The Seabright-Rockaway Hunt match dates to 1916, by far the oldest continuous inter-Club tennis match in the country, and has been a sterling example of amateur sport for 100 years.