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6 Top Tennis Resorts


Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
Cliff Drysdale Tennis School

The resort has always paid more than the usual attention to its tennis. For 29 years, the 23 Har-Tru courts at its Racquet Park were home to the annual Bausch & Lomb Tennis Championships, a major stop on the women's tour (the event has since been dropped from the calendar). Attractively and spaciously laid out among the moss-bearded live oaks, the courts border a large pro shop and a splendid indoor fitness center—complete with a lap pool in a greenhouse-like enclosure. Wicker chairs await on the outside decks, providing a place to relax and watch the action on the nearby courts. One of these is the Stadium Court, an intimate venue framed by a few rows of terraced seats. It is available for any guest who wants to play on the same court where the pros used to compete each spring.

Otherwise, Amelia stands out for its multiple dimensions. Lodging options include the 404-room Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, a hotel that Omni refurbished and expanded both to provide better lodging for the adjacent conference center and to give vacationers the option of full hotel services as an alternative to a condominium rental. The resort also has three golf courses within its borders —all of them certified Audubon bird sanctuaries. Kids can look forward to their own island, home to a well-run children's program. There is also an excellent nature program, miles of bike lanes to supplement its free on-property shuttle, Segway tours (those one-person motorized pair of wheels), and a gourmet market and a dozen or so shops in the village at the entrance and adjacent to The Spa. That attention to tennis is only one aspect of its appeal.

 

Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

 

Situated off the Atlantic Coast 21 miles south of Charleston, the Kiawah Island Golf Resort occupies virtually all of the 10,000-acre island from which it takes its name. The Sanctuary at Kiawah IslandCharles Fraser, famous for his sensitive development of Sea Pines Resort, laid the original plans for the resort, which opened in 1976. Roughly half of the island is to remain in its original state, and the variety of vegetation, some native, some planted, is impressive. Much of the development clusters near two resort villages—dubbed East Beach and West Beach—at the narrower western two-fifths of the island. Each of these villages contains restaurants, shops, a tennis complex, and a golf course—though East Beach ups the ante by also having an elegant beachfront hotel, a Frobes Travel Guide 5-Star winner called the Sanctuary, and a spa, also a Forbes 5-Star winner, all just steps from a court complex named for the resort's longtime tennis director Roy Barth. The island's eastern end, by contrast, embraces many private houses and the two most famous golf courses, Osprey Point and the Ocean Course. An on-property shuttle makes going from place to place easy, so does an extensive network of bike lanes. The resort itself is close enough Charleston to make forays into the historic city easy—driving time is about 45 minutes—yet far enough removed that the island feels like a complete sanctuary.

Kiawah has two tennis facilities, the Roy Barth Tennis Center in East Beach and the West Beach Racquet Club, which ensures that none of its hotel or villa guests will be very far from a court. Both are under the direction of former touring pro Roy Barth. West Beach lies half hidden by trees. It has 10 Har-Tru courts, one of which can be used as a stadium, and a new swimming pool and snack bar. The Roy Barth Tennis Center, farther down the island, sits amid a halo of tennis villas four minutes on foot from the beachfront Sanctuary hotel. It has an even dozen courts altogether, 9 Har-Tru and 3 hard. It was here that the Fed Cup matches were played in the spring of 1998, as were the U.S. Clay Court Championships in 1990. It has the larger pro shop and is further distinguished by having one of its hard courts dedicated to a self-feeding ball machine capable of spewing balls at a rate of 1,200 per hour. At both clubs, however, the courts form a semicircle around the weathered wood pro shop, whose decks provide a comfortable place to watch the action. Winding paths through pine trees lead to courts variously bordered by palmettos, pampas grass, oleander and flowers. Each pair of courts has access to a awning-covered patio offering shade, benches, and an electric water fountain.

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Rancho Valencia

Rancho Santa Fe, California

 
 

For a tiny resort it has remarkable breadth of dimensions, not only the tennis but a spacious outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, a 10,000-square-foot spa, a croquet court, and putting green. The nearest golf course is immediately adjacent, though guests have privileges at half a dozen in the area. And all of the rooms are just short walk from the resort's award-winning restaurant.

Rancho Valencia underwent an extensive renovation in 2012, remodeling all 49 of the suites, expanding the spa, and enhancing the reception, dining, fitness, and meeting spaces. The tennis complex remained open throughout the renovation, and now that the hotel has reopened, there is a new tennis director: former touring pro Robin White. White won the U.S. Open Doubles title with Gigi Fernandez in 1988 and the U.S. Open Mixed Double Championships with Shelby Cannon in 1989, as well as a dozen other doubles titles and three singles titles. On my last visit, she sat down with me to talk about how she came to be at the resort and plans for the future. A video of that interview follows, along with some history of the resort's tennis enthusiasm and photos of the resort.


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Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Kohala Coast, Hawaii

 
 

The Mauna Kea has what even a local cab driver describes as Mauna Kea Beach"the best beach on the island." This long crescent of white sand, fringed with obligatory palm trees, follows the outline of a shallow cove anchored by lava-rock promontories. The hotel sits atop one of those rocky outcrops in a garden of exotic flowers and trees accented with Oriental sculpture. Off to one side a terraced hillside holds 11 tennis courts, the lowest of them so close to the sea that you can hear the sound of waves breaking on the black-lava rocks.

Tennis almost never snags such prime real estate, and several years ago previous tennis director committed the unthinkable act of taking a chainsaw to some of the tennis complex's exuberant foliage, which goes wild in the tropical heat and fertile soil, in order to open up those sea views. If that means coping with a bit more wind on some days, it seems like a reasonable trade off since it means being able to gaze at the ocean at changeovers and perhaps spot a whale sounding just offshore.

Though now owned and managed by Prince Resorts Hawaii, the hotel was Laurance S. Rockefeller's original foray into luxury resort development. In 1965 he looked at a black-lava desert miles 25 miles north of the town of Kailua-Kona and envisaged a luxury golf and tennis resort. Everyone thought he was crazy; he proved them wrong by attracting a wealthy international clientele, who actually liked the fact that there were no telephones or televisions. Mauna Kea became the first in a series of Rockresorts and a synonym for the ultimate resort vacation.

Both the traveling public and the resort have changed over the intervening decades: guests today have flatscreen televisions, phones, and high-speed Internet access in their rooms, and the Mauna Kea shares this coast with more than half a dozen resorts, all of them carved out of the black lava. None affords a more beautiful setting for tennis or has as much on-court activity. Somehow Tennis magazine left the Mauna Kea off its list of Top 50 U.S. Resorts in 2010 and again in 2011—an unconscionable oversight given that this resort is not only No. 1 in the Hawaiian Islands but a frequent Top 10 finisher in the Top 100 ratings we compile annually based on vacationer reviews.

 
 
 

Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt
PBI Tennis Camp

A-6353 Going am Wilden Kaiser, Tirol Austria

 
 

A family-run hotel at the foot of Austria's dramatic Wilder Kaiser mountains seems like an unlikely location for Bio-Hotel Stanglwirtone of the most successful tennis camps in all of Europe. Yet Peter Burwash International has been running camps at Stanglwirt since 1978. Originally dubbed the Kneissl Tennis Camp the program has since evolved under the multi-lingual staff to become the PBI Tennis Camp.

Over those decades, owner Balthasar Hauser has found innovative ways to enhance not only his once tiny guesthouse but also its place in the tennis vacation landscape. Today, it is a 175-room resort and spa with fourteen tennis courts, six of them indoors, which allows tennis to operate year-round. Its location an hour and a half from the Munich airport and an hour from Salzburg makes it easy to reach from much of central Europe (and the U.S., for that matter), and it attracts a local following particularly from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and, increasingly, Great Britain. 

Ordinarily when choosing which side to start on in a match you take factors like sun and wind into consideration. At Stanglwirt, guests joke that the south side is worse, because there you face the distracting view of the soaring Wilder Kaiser mountains, a gray wall of jagged limestone peaks rising steeply to more than 7,000 feet. If that backdrop undermines concentration, it nonetheless adds immeasurably to the pleasure of playing here. So do the superbly maintained red-clay courts.

When I first read about this camp I was frankly a little disappointed that it encompassed only two hours a day of group lessons. Not until I attended did I realize that organized tennis continued after those group sessions ended. And not until I visited did I realize that for an American at least the lure of the mountains would be as strong as the lure of the courts.

Except during the busiest months of April, July, and August, the group lessons take place from 10 a.m. to noon (during very busy times, there are two sessions: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.). The student:pro ratio never exceeds 4:1 and in fact when I visited during a light week in late September it was 2:1.

 
 
 

Four Seasons Resort Nevis

Pinney's Beach, Nevis, West Indies

 

When the Four Season Resort Nevis opened in 1991, it surprised me by building what remains the second largest tennis complex at any Four Seasons worldwide: a 10-court, hard and red-clay facility that wraps around the central plaza of the Sports Pavilion. As at any other Caribbean resort, tennis had to compete with the beach—a battle it will almost always lose between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.—and it also shared center stage with a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. golf course laid out on the slopes of the 3,232-foot dormant volcano of Nevis Peak directly behind. Nevertheless, this has emerged as one of the foremost tennis destinations in the Caribbean.

A tiny volcanic island, St. Paul's Anglican Church, ca. 1680, Charlestown, Nevis, West Indiesroughly 8 miles in diameter, Nevis lies just across a shallow channel called The Narrows from its sister island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles. The name derives from the Spanish "Nuestra Señora de los Nieves," which means "Our Lady of the Snows," presumably for the white clouds that often shroud the top the Nevis Peak. In the 18th century, its sugarcane plantations generated so much wealth for its then British inhabitants that it came to be known as the "Queen of the Caribees". Old sugarcane mills still dot the landscape, and several of plantation greathouses have been converted to inns. Elsewhere, Georgian stone buildings survive in the capital city of Charlestown and in several of the island's numerous churches, including St. Paul's Anglican Church, shown above, which dates to 1830.

Ultimately, though, what I remember most from my visits to Nevis are the warm, genuinely friendly people. And one place to meet them is on the tennis court. Peter Burwash International has managed this tennis facility since the resort opened, most recently installing Chris Myrold, who had previously overseen the operation at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay in Hawaii, to direct the program. Almost since the beginning, the PBI pros here have sought to involve the hotel's management and staff in tennis, and to encourage local participation, with the quite practical goal of having a diverse stable of players to draw on when guests come looking for matches. "We're getting a lot of players, both locals and guests," Myrold told me, "and a lot of those guests chose to come here specifically because of the tennis."

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