In between the jokes, pranks and general chit-chat, we were practising our serves, forehands, backhands and playing tactics at Windmill Hill Place in Sussex, a residential club that takes people of all abilities who want to improve their tennis or golf. You are also offered healthy food and a convivial atmosphere.
The main house provides most of the accommodation. With its whitewashed facade and fountain, it looks a little like a health farm as you approach it from the drive, but inside the atmosphere is remarkably relaxed. New arrivals get to know each other over a drink before dinner; there are no restrictions on alcohol, nor are there calorie-reduced diets.
Some of the rooms on the ground floor are a little cramped, but mine was spacious, comfortable and overlooked landscaped gardens, lawn tennis courts and the Sussex Downs. The 20 acres of grounds also offer a heated outdoor pool, a nine-hole Teaching Academy golf course, plenty of parking space and four indoor tennis courts.
The one drawback to the weekend is the early morning start (for the less fortunate this is at 8.30am, the lucky ones begin at 9.30am). After a hearty cooked breakfast (to build up stamina) the group training sessions begin. Each person is graded according to his or her ability and there is a coach for each group. The morning session lasts for three hours with a mid-morning coffee break. The sessions are hard work. Everyone is involved in what might be described as tennis house- party games that encourage you to practise your strokes without being overwhelmed by boredom or a sense of failure.
Demonstrations and explanations by the coaches are clear, concise and mercifully brief. Great emphasis is placed on the sessions being fun. Surprisingly, even the daunting prospect of being videoed while you are put through your paces is not as bad as it sounds (you are only videoed for specific strokes and advance warning is given). While the videos are played back you have the chance to sit down with a drink, and the coaches are tactful enough to point out defects in the style of the best players as well as the worst ones.
It is much easier to understand why you are missing the ball if you can see yourself doing it. By the end of the morning you feel you have earned the right to indulge in an enormous helping of the delicious buffet lunch (to build up stamina for the afternoon session).
Those with any energy left by tea-time can get up a foursome and play some games. You can also doze away the rest of the aftemoon beside the pool, enjoy a cream tea on the terrace or wander round the grounds. The coast is only a few miles away if you feel like a swim in the sea, but none of us had the energy to get that far.
The coaches are mostly young (in their twenties or early thirties); several have played on the international circuit and all the rest have played county-level tennis. Their enthusiasm and sense of fun soon breaks down any age or social barriers. There were 20-year-olds among us struggling to keep up with some remarkably active 60-year-olds.
Some people had come in a group, some in couples and some on their own. One foursome in their early thirties, who looked to the rest of us like two long-established couples, had only met up the week before. They had decided to come together because they all had the weekend free. Sometimes whole families come as a group (special coaching is provided for the children), but several husbands and wives, who want a break from domestic life, come on their own.
Discussions are not all about tennis or golf and I did not hear one snide or critical comment. Was that because we were all making fools of ourselves together?
Windmill Hill Place Tennis and Golf Resort (0323 832 552), East Sussex.Reuse content