Located in London’s opulent Belgravia district, The Alfred Tennyson draws a diverse crowd—locals, tourists and passers-by frequent this elegant pub for a meal, conversation and, more often than not, a cold drink. On this day, the day before Wimbledon was to begin some six miles to the southwest, it also attracted tennis royalty.
Fred Stolle and Owen Davidson, owners of a combined 32 Grand Slam titles, were on hand to emcee a welcome dinner, and enjoy a few cold drinks of their own, with guests of Grand Slam Tennis Tours. Two of these guests had made the trip from the United States to England to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Another guest, a rabid tennis fan, had come solo. Others had brought their families. They were a diverse crowd, too, but everyone in attendance made the trans-Atlantic journey because they wanted to experience this year’s Wimbledon tournament from the lower bowl of Centre Court and the first 15 rows of No. 1 Court—rather than on their television screens and mobile devices.
“We’ve been watching Wimbledon all these years, and we said, ‘We’re going to get there one day,’” said one half of the couple now married for half a century. “For our 50th, we did it.”
But before the affable Australians could regale the crowd with intimate stories from their playing days and discuss this year’s Wimbledon contenders, there was the matter of an uninvited guest. At first, he blended in seamlessly, taking a seat at one of the dining room tables with actual guests. But something was off. He kept to himself. He couldn’t confirm what court he had tickets for on Monday. And he gave strange answers to simple questions—“Titanic” was one such bizarre reply to a question about his attire.
Stolle and Davidson’s legendary anecdotes only seemed like tall tales. This interloper actually was one. Before long, the jig was up.
“We’ve had a lot of things happen,” says Andrew Chmura, president of Grand Slam Tennis Tours and Topnotch Tennis Tours, “but never that.”
It was the equivalent of someone cutting hundreds of people in Wimbledon’s famous queue in order to get ahead. But, then again, who could blame the guy? For more than 20 years, Grand Slam Tennis Tours has made attending tennis’ signature events as easy as sitting down to dinner. The Stowe, VT-based company handles the distressing parts of international travel—making reservations, planning transportation, acquiring tickets—leaving guests to enjoy unmatched hospitality, luxurious accommodations and, of course, world-class tennis.
“We’ve got a bucket list—all four majors in tennis, all four majors in golf,” said David Jones, who with his wife Susan attended the first three days of Wimbledon this year. Their debenture tickets—typically sold for a five-year period at £50,000 a seat, according to the New York Times—allowed them watch Andy Murray and Venus Williams from up close, and also granted them admittance to a variety of exclusive restaurants, bars and leisure spaces within Centre Court and No. 1 Court.
“We met playing tennis,” Jones explained to me at Grand Slam Tennis Tours’ Wimbledon Hospitality House one evening, as a jazz trio filled the summer air with soothing sound. Hors d’oeuvres were being passed, and drink glasses were being refreshed. “Tennis paid for my whole college education, kept me in good shape, kept me out of trouble, got to travel to all kinds of places and meet great people.”
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The inherently social element of tennis is built into Grand Slam Tennis Tours’ carefully crafted itineraries. For Wimbledon, a welcome dinner with a pair of Hall of Famers is but a part of the total package. Guests also receive a chartered city tour of London, visiting sites including Windsor Palace and Westminster Abbey, and two hours of grass-court tennis play at The Roehampton Club, the site of Wimbledon qualifying’s tournament.
Alongside Hall of Famers like Davidson, casual and competitive play ensued on the verdant lawn; the wooden net posts having just been rotated to ensure a true bounce and a pristine surface underfoot.
“We’ve always talked about coming to Wimbledon,” my doubles partner, Ginnie Branscome, told me over a sumptuous family-style dinner at Roehampton that included grilled salmon, tandoori chicken and deconstructed bruschetta salad. She had previously won a trip to the U.S. Open via Grand Slam Tennis Tours, and was so impressed with the experience that she and her husband, Jim, purchased a trip to Wimbledon. “We’ve loved this company.”
Then there’s the Hospitality House. At Wimbledon, guests are welcomed to the private home each morning to receive their debenture tickets and are served a Michelin-level breakfast—lamb kofta, smoked salmon, honey and cumin cauliflower, courgette and feta tabouli, and strawberries and cream comprised one such spread. French press coffee, flavored waters and Stella Artois are also available before making the short walk to the All England Club; Centre Court can be seen from the Hospitality House entrance. Throughout the day, guests can pop in and out of the house throughout the day to temporarily escape the bustle, grab a sweater or just to sip a Pimm’s Cup.
After the day’s last match at Wimbledon, the Hospitality House remains open an additional hour for snacks, socializing and nightcaps, along with chartered transportation back to the glamorous Sloane Square Hotel and The Hari Hotel, where guests stay. And depending on the night, guests may find themselves clinking glasses with the pros—Wimbledon semifinalist Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson have been known to stop by the Hospitality House and enjoy the sprawling for their own bit of relaxation.
As GSTT’s website states in bold print: “These are not standard tourism experiences, which is exactly as intended.” It’s a welcome disclaimer for the tennis fan and curious traveler.
In all, about 300 guests attended Wimbledon through Grand Slam Tennis Tours this year; the first week is typically the busiest, and the most affordable option (click here for details). Trips overlap, so as some guests are beginning their stay, others are preparing to depart. Trips to all four Grand Slam tournaments can be customized to fit a specific schedule, needs or desires. And through its sister brand, Topnotch Tennis Tours, the company offers the same packages to a variety of ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier events.
“The group was so good, they treated us so well,” said Jim Branscome. Jim and Ginnie are planning on traveling to Roland Garros in 2018, which put them three-quarters of the way to, in essence, a Grand Slam Tennis Tours Grand Slam.
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Grand Slam Tennis Tours has brought fans to tennis around the world. This August, they’ll also do the opposite, bringing tennis to fans in the United States. The first annual Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic will be held on August 22-24 as a warm-up invitational to the U.S. Open. Confirmed participants include Tommy Haas, Vasek Pospisil, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Frances Tiafoe, Jared Donaldson, Reilly Opelka and Jeremy Chardy. (Tickets go on sale Monday at www.stowetennis.com.)
“There’s a void,” says Kyle Ross, director of public relations at Grand Slam Tennis Tours, who likens the new event in Stowe to what Kooyong is to the Australian Open, and The Boodles is to Wimbledon. “We guarantee three matches per player; it’s a good fit.”
No matter the excursion, event or opportunity—including the first annual Topnotch Fantasy Tennis Camp, held this November at the Wailea Tennis Club in Maui, Hawaii—any trip with Grand Slam Tennis Tours delivers in two ways. First, it delivers what guests expect: incredible food, personalized service, unprecedented access and a unique tennis-viewing experience. But it also delivers what guests don’t expect: to see players on Home Park Road during a walk to the All England Club (as Alize Cornet did last week); to have an Uber called and paid for to accommodate a last-minute change of plans; to mingle with the tennis players and professionals who have made the Grand Slam tournaments the iconic events they are.
If you want to see the pros—and experience a whole lot more while doing do—leave it to the professionals at Grand Slam Tennis Tours.