In This Section
February 9, 2023

A Q&A with Haven Pell ’64


Haven Pell on court

Haven Pell ’64, author of “Around the World in 50 Courts” began his quest to play on all 50 of the world’s court tennis courts in 1999. He spoke with formmate Jim Schutze about the journey — and the definition of “all.”

How did you discover court tennis?
It was a game that my father had played and my grandfather had played. At a certain point when I was coming home from St. Paul’s for vacation or even before that when I was in school in Switzerland, I would be taken to play this odd game at the house of a man called John Hay Whitney, who was the owner of the New York Herald Tribune and was the ambassador to the Court of St. James. He had his own court. I played there. It stuck, and I liked it.

Protrusions and obstacles, varying court sizes, rules that require you to defer to your opponent on questionable calls: the sport sounds like a recipe for frustration. What’s the appeal in it for you?
The glib answer is overcoming the frustration.  There is a part of the court in which, if you hit it, the ball scoots off a 90-degree angle. If your opponent is there waiting for the ball to come to him and suddenly it goes off at a 90-degree angle, that has got to be fairly frustrating. On the other hand, if he gets good at it, he can figure out whether it’s going to hit that part or not.  I would say it’s insanely difficult to play it really well, but it’s probably not wildly difficult to play it at a sort of average level. Once you learn how to hit the ball over the net, you could begin to have a nice time.

So you achieved your goal of playing on all 50 courts — sort of.
Yes. There is a chapter in the book in which I discuss what is the meaning of “all.” I couldn’t play in a court that was destroyed at the time of the French Revolution. I basically played in every court that you could get to and that you could play in when I was doing it.

The final court in your book is one you and a group of friends caused to be built at the Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Virginia. How did it feel to set foot in that court?
There were a group of five of us who had carried the water to get this thing built. We decided we were going to hit the first ball simultaneously and that it would forever be a tie for who had hit the first ball. So we all get out there. We have a ball in our hand. And we go, one, two three. And the other four of them stopped. I struck the first ball because it was the way they wanted it to be. It was very touching.