By Nina Gunasingham
On Friday 23rd February the Club hosted a lunch for Mr. Wee Choon Hee, the tennis pro who has been a familiar figure around the Club for the past forty years. You’ve all seen this weather beaten, energetic man who always stops to say hello and offer you one of his ever-present stock of bananas. I caught up with him to reminisce about how tennis at the Hollandse Club has evolved over time.
Mr. Wee’s father came from China as a sixteen year old and later returned to China to bring his bride back to Singapore where Mr. Wee was born. Mr. Wee senior worked at the Civil Service Club in Tessensohn Road, off Balestier Road, and Mr. Wee junior also worked there as a ball boy as well as clearing and setting up tables for mahjong games, surviving on four hours sleep a night even though he was still going to school. He learned tennis by observing the members play and occasionally was able to borrow their racquets for a few hits while they took a break.
Although he joined the Hollandse Club forty years ago in February 1978, he also coached tennis at other institutions; for instance at the Singapore Island Club until he resigned, along with other members of his family, because SICC coaches were not happy. He coached at the Hollandse Club along with his cousin, who has since retired. Now, apart from teaching individual lessons, he helps Scott, Mike and Aymeric out.
Mr. Wee married in 1975. His wife, who is Singaporean, was a hairdresser but now works at Isetan. He has three children; Liang Ping, his daughter, is a music instructor in Singapore, Liang Meng has a PhD in bioscience and works at the University of Berkeley and Liang Boon, also in Singapore, supplies vending machines to businesses and is also a part-time tennis coach.
Mr. Wee has remained at the Hollandse Club for forty years because he likes it so much; it’s his family, his home. His first manager was Phillip Sim when the Tennis Convenor was Mr. Hopman and Mr. Bruinsma. Mr. Wee coached the Bruinsma sons, Frank and Robert; Frank is the owner of Savitar and has been the Club’s partner in tennis till the end of 2017.
In 1978 the Club had two red gravel tennis courts which had lots of fruit trees growing around them. Mr. Wee coached Irene Bronsveld, wife of then President Bert Bronsveld. One of the two courts was reserved for the committee to play on. This was when the Club had only 700-800 members. Membership at the Hollandse Club rose to around 3,000 but then many members left to join the British Club when it opened in the late 1980s.
About ten years later the Club gained two more courts and all the courts were surfaced in Matéflex. However, this was changed to artificial grass when players complained because it was very slippery, they got cut easily when they fell and in hot weather the friction created a lot of static electricity.
In the 1980s the Club used to hold the ITF (International Tennis Federation) Tournament, for which players earned ranking points. Players came from all over; New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and sometimes Japan. There were some big-name players including Davis Cup coaches and Ian Barclay (who coached Pat Cash). They played men’s singles up to 45 years old, up to 55 years and up to 65 years as well as ladies’ singles up to 40 years and up to 50 years. The Committee helped with the tournament which was was sponsored by Philips Singapore for the first ten years, Panasonic for three years and by DHL for three years. The champion got $2,000, the runner up got $1,000 and the semi-finalists got $500. Mr. Wee played, but was knocked out in the third round, as a quarter-finalist.
The Club Davis Cup was introduced in 1983 and sponsored by Philips Singapore and Wilson, who supplied equipment like tennis racquets and balls. It was played over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of two weekends with the format of a men’s singles, a ladies’ singles, a men’s doubles, a ladies’ doubles and a mixed doubles. At that time there was a lot of support for the teams which created a great atmosphere, but now Mr. Wee feels that the atmosphere and the challenge has been lost.
There was also the Club Championship – for members only – played by the same format, a Parent-Child tournament and the Tom Okker Family Championship – Tom Okker was a very good doubles player. Now there is the Singapore Lawn Tennis Association (SLTA) Interclub League with men’s A, B and C teams and ladies only have one team and play for the Martha Young Challenge Trophy. Martha Young was a member of the Hollandse Club, amongst others, and the owner of Robertson Wilson, a company which made racquet products but no longer exists.
In 1995, Monica Bosma, started the Monday morning Ladies’ Social as well as the Saturday morning Junior Social for which she called all the parents to exhort them to bring their children to play. It took four courts and played from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.
Mr. Wee remembers that as well as tennis there was hockey and football at the Club (played off premises). The Queen’s birthday was celebrated at the end of April with live music from Holland for which Members could invite their friends. Once it was held in a tent in the car park. Every Friday night was music night with the music played by a Members band with two female singers. In the time before the Terrace was roofed over, Bert Bronsveld, then Club President, had a special seat under a tree where he would sit every Thursday night. He would clap his hands twice to call the attention of staff and if they didn’t come, he would complain to the Captain. But Mr. Wee remembers that he was a nice man. We wish Mr. Wee many more years of wonderful memories at the Hollandse Club to come.