IRTA objects to demolition of real tennis court in Scotland
We received an email telling us of the plight of a real tennis
court in Troon, which although currently not in use, was home to
an active club in the '80s. The background of the case was given
to us as follows:
- The planning application is in respect of Sun Court Nursing Home, 19
Crosbie Road, Road, Troon. The applicant is Sun Court Limited, in
the person of its Managing Director Mr. Richard Johnstone.
- Sun Court Ltd. applied in 2004 for listed building consent to
demolish the real tennis court (and build more nursing home
bedrooms in its place). It also applied for planning consent to
build 24 sheltered housing units in the garden of the nursing home
— these do not, or should not, affect the real tennis court.
- The 2004 listed building application was due to be considered by the
Planning Committee on 6 July 2004. However, on reading the
Planning Department's report recommending unequivocally — that
the application be refused on planning grounds, Sun Court
Ltd. asked that it be removed from the Committee's agenda. The
application was not withdrawn, but left pending while the
applicant sought further arguments to support the case for
- Sun Court Ltd. then approached the T&RA, hoping that the game's UK
governing body would agree that it was not viable to restore the
court to play. But the T&RA's Court Development Consultant,
together with a group of local real tennis enthusiasts which I
have been leading, visited the court and concluded that in
principle it would be perfectly viable to restore it and operate
it as a club. Our group offered to work with Sun Court Ltd. to
carry out a full survey of the building, provide/raise the
necessary finance for restoration, and operate the court as a
- Our group pointed out repeatedly to Mr Johnstone that this would be
very advantageous to him, since it would relieve him of the
obligation to meet the substantial cost of repairing and
maintaining his listed building. We asked for his agreement in
advance to accept the findings of our own full survey, and to
allow us to proceed with restoration work based on these findings.
However, despite initially describing our offer as "highly
generous", he has since insisted (a) that we accept his own
advisers' estimates of the restoration costs (which we consider to
be inflated), and (b) that every individual member of our group
must give him a personal financial guarantee for the total amount
of these restoration costs plus professional fees before we can
begin the restoration work. He has also said that Sun Court
Ltd. can make no financial contribution at all to the restoration.
These conditions are of course absurd and unacceptable.
- In other words, the applicant has no interest in seeing his listed
building restored. His sole aim is demolition. Since 2004 the
court has of course deteriorated physically, due to its deliberate
neglect by the applicant.
- SAC received 250 letters of objection to the original listed
building application in 2004. While these objections are still
valid, in 2007 there is even less reason than in 2004 to allow the
court to be demolished — since a group of real tennis enthusiasts
working with the encouragement of the T&RA has now offered to
restore and operate the court at little expense to the owner.
- As a listed building, the Troon court is a an excellent example of
Edwardian real tennis court construction. It was built by the
renowned Joseph Bickley in 1905. It was operated very successfully
by previous owners of Sun Court in the 1970–80s, with a large
membership, high court usage, and a very active resident
- Troon is the only standard real tennis court in Scotland (the court
at Falkland Palace is a precious historic building, but differs in
many ways from a standard court). Sun Court is thus a unique part
of Scotland's architectural and sporting heritage.
- Assuming acceptable restoration costs, there is every reason to
suppose that the court could be operated profitably. Real tennis
clubs throughout the UK (also in the US, Australia and France) are
attracting increasing levels of membership and court usage, as the
game becomes more and more popular. The Troon court already had a
history of success until closed following a change of ownership in
1990. Since then, the finances of real tennis as a sport have
continued to improve enormously.
- There is therefore absolutely no reason to allow the present owner
to demolish the court and build commercial nursing home facilities
in its place. It is a listed building which should be used for its
sole purpose — the playing of real tennis.
We sent our letter to the relevant planning authorities:
RE: Planning application in respect of Sun Court Nursing Home, 19
Crosbie Road, Troon.
I am writing on behalf of the Irish Real Tennis Association in
connection with the above planning application, which we understand is
due to be considered shortly by South Ayrshire Council. We wish to
place on record our strong objection to the proposed destruction of the
Real Tennis court.
For the past eight years the Irish Real Tennis Association have
been campaigning to persuade the Irish state to restore the Real
Tennis court in Dublin, given to the state in 1939 with the
intention that it be used for Real Tennis. This wish was
regrettably not followed, and so our activities have been divided
between lobbying at government level, and raising public awareness
of the sport. In this latter regard, we are part of a recent
international resurgence of interest in the sport, and have lead
many trips to the UK to play, to introduce new players to the game,
and to hold our Irish Championships. Our membership now numbers
nearly 200, and is growing as more Irish people discover Real
In the context of this international Real Tennis revival, we urge
the Council to deny permission to demolish what we understand to be
the only standard Real Tennis court in Scotland. The number of
thriving clubs around the world, including some founded recently,
provides ample evidence that Troon Real Tennis court could be viably
operated for its intended purpose — the playing of the sport
of Real Tennis. Indeed we understand that Troon was a successful
club in the '80s. We urge the Council to allow the Troon Real
Tennis court's purpose to be fulfilled, and to deny the planning
Our committee members would be delighted to answer any questions you
may have; please find contact details below.
Mike Bolton, for the IRTA.