Joining a tennis club can be a great way to get involved in the local community. Gill South hunts for a suitable club.
One of my favourite sounds in summer is the rhythmic "thwock" of a tennis ball being struck on a sleepy summer afternoon, accompanied by cheery yells of , "nice shot!" or "sorry!".
Tennis has always been one of my favourite sports. I remember going through a grumpy stage when I was 11, refusing to hit backhands, acting up in John McEnroe-style outrage when anyone dared to hit one to me. I recovered and joined a tennis club in my teens.
Now my kids seem to have caught the tennis bug too. They have had lessons at the West End Lawn Tennis Club so it could be time to take action and have a family club membership somewhere. Although West End would be happy to have us, I want our tennis club to be a bike ride away so the kids can pop down and have a game with their mates whenever they like.
For many families, the local tennis club is part of their social scene. In some clubs you have three generations playing, with grandmothers bringing their grandchildren along.
Almost 100 tennis clubs are listed on the Auckland Tennis website, so you are spoiled for choice.
Robyn Kiddle, CEO of Tennis Auckland, strongly supports people joining their local tennis clubs rather than travelling for miles. She adds: "A checklist for the club that is right for you and your family should include a well thought-out programme with local events, tournaments and activities, access to a coaching programme and, definitely, a club social night where you can play at your level of tennis and meet other members."
Local parent Sue Ranum's teenage daughter Ellen is a member of the Mt Albert Tennis Club and her son Nick has decided to take a break from cricket this year and give tennis a go.
With two sporty, competitive kids, Sue looks at tennis as something they can do casually.
"We do it in a very social, low-key way," she says. "There's no pressure. They go along, they have a game of tennis, it's a bit of fitness, they learn some skills, it's light fun and entertainment."
Mt Albert Tennis Club's coach, Jason Magerkorth, hosts Friday nights where high school-age kids turn up to play some tennis and have pizza.
The coach says the unusual thing about Mt Albert is that the club, which has five courts, owns the land it is on. This leads to reasonable fees of just $400 for a family. "The beauty of Mt Albert is you can always get a court - they are never full," adds Jason.
Another local option for us is the Pt Chevalier Tennis Club. The Brown family have been going to Pt Chevalier Tennis Club since their 12-year-old daughter Elsie was 8.
Lanu and Pascal Brown sent Elsie along because of the coach, Josh Constantine. And he certainly did something right because Elsie is now number three in Auckland for the 12 and under age group, and has just won a wild card to compete at next year's Australian Open.
Though Elsie is now coached by Tennis Auckland, she and her younger brother Noah play at their local club on Friday nights. They either scooter or bike there.
"We just want the kids to get out rather than sit and watch TV," says Lanu. "We have made a lot of good friends through tennis."
As a basis for comparison, I talk to some other tennis clubs around Auckland. The club of the year is Glendowie Tennis Club.
Coach Campbell Cramer-Roberts, who has been there for 20 years, says some people start as non-members, have coaching at the club, and then join once they feel comfortable.
Though the club has achieved a lot competitively, Campbell is proud of the community fundraising it has done.
"Being community-minded, we organised a fund raising tournament for Glendowie Primary School which lost some classrooms in a fire," he says.
Campbell thinks tennis is popular because you only need one other person, a racquet and some balls. Most sports call for more people.
"You can do it quickly, with minimal expense," he says.
Campbell's advice for children is if they keep chipping away at their technique, by the time the "strong years kick in at 14, 15 and 16" they can be playing very well.
The Glendowie coach says some members are so loyal that even if they move to the North Shore, they still keep coming to the club. But for those not willing to make the drive over, Campbells Bay Tennis Club is one of the most popular clubs on the Shore, with a membership of 500.
"It's a very social membership as well as competitive," says coach Graeme Thomson. The club is in the scenic grounds of Centennial Park and 500m from the beach.
The coaches are good role models for the kids, says Graeme.
His son Adam, head assistant coach, who qualified as a tennis coach in America and Kyle August, a top tennis player, both inspire the kids.
"These guys are very good. The kids love being around them, hearing their stories."
Sunnyhills Tennis Club in Pakuranga, a lesser-known club but one with its own personality, is targeting families and winning a strong reputation for its juniors thanks to its association with St Kentigern College.
"The beauty of the club is kids can just ride their bikes down here. We are family-based, we have a very strong junior club and that brings the mums and dads down," says club president Jane Tye.
The club also offers social memberships where a parent can join for $100 and get a key to the club so they can come down and have a hit around with the kids.
Though Mt Albert or Pt Chevalier make sense for us location-wise, I am attracted by what I hear about the Blockhouse Bay Tennis Club. Club administrator Wayne Molloy tells me it has five indoor and five outdoor courts. The club membership is 450. You can play all year round.
Wayne reckons it's only 10 minutes drive from Mt Albert. He's right, I Google it and it's 11 minutes away. Tempting. But that's 11 minutes drive, not cycle.
* Family memberships range from $400 to $700-plus, some will include group coaching for the kids but individual coaching is extra
* Coaching fees cost on average for individuals between $50-$60 an hour or $10-$15 per person for groups.
* Racquets range from $40 for children to $200 upward for adults, but there are always discounts.
* Tennis shoes range from $100 for adults, $60 plus for kids
* A four-can of Slazenger tennis balls is $20
* Diary note: The annual West End Cup will be held at the West End Lawn Tennis Club, December 8-11. Four members of the NZ Davis Cup and Federation Cup team have signed up and this year there is a new Junior West End Cup. The event will include the Lindauer Jazz Hour with a live jazz band on the Saturday. The tournament is free to the public.
Useful websites: Tennis Auckland Clubs
North Shore tennis clubs are administered by Tennis Northern, which has 23 clubs including one in Whangaparaoa.
Link for clubs: Find a club here.