Greater Palm Springs has become the tennis capital of the world. Scores of resorts, private clubs, and condo complexes offer courts on a variety of surfaces (hard, clay, grass). Local stadia host annual tournaments ranging from high profile stops on the pro circuit (Pacific Life) to showcase venues for the up and coming young divas (Easter Bowl Juniors). I suspect California's Coachella Valley is the only place on the planet where tennis pros outnumber plumbers in the Yellow Pages.
Shadow Mountain is famous for Tennis!
All this is good news for tennis nuts. I'm actually a kind of tennis nut nouveau. Retirement will do that to people, as witness "golf nut”, “bridge nut", "completely-rewire-the-house nut", etc. I live in Las Vegas now and play tennis most every day. Sometimes I play all day long. My wife approves, hoping it will keep me away from the craps tables.
Anyway, I have a theory about regular workouts. It goes back to the '53 Plymouth my father drove for decades. "Just keep her runnin'", he said. "Let her rest two weeks, and most likely she'll never start again."
Hanging around middle-aged tennis bums will net you advice on a number of topics. A couple of these characters hazarded the opinion that I might profit from one of the tennis clinics in Palm Springs. Apparently professional counsel could do wonders for my "pussy backhand".
The fountain at Shadow Mountain.
So I went. The four hour drive from Vegas is a desert idyll—pleasant journey, that is, if you opt for the back roads through the Joshua trees of Mojave National Reserve rather than the speedway of I-15, mobbed with truckers hell-bent for LA.
The tennis resort cum clinic I chose for a three-day stay had come highly touted by cronies of the courts. Well, I'd see about that. Their backhands were no better than mine!
The place is called Shadow Mountain Golf & Tennis Resort, a cozy venue near downtown Palm Desert which indeed nestles into the shadow of the Santa Rosa Mountains. It rents out about 90 of its 167 condos—from studios with kitchenettes up through two and three bedroom villas—for periods ranging from a few days to months at a time. The majority of guests make common cause—they want to play tennis, lots and lots of tennis from morn to night.
Relax at the clubhouse.
I was settled into a ground-floor studio which the absentee owner had decorated just to my taste—bright-patterned blankets and den furniture. There were mounted photos of Pancho Segura leaping fiercely into a two-hand backhand and Bob Hope, next to the shower, grinning at me from under his golf cap.
Shadow Mountain Condo Units.
From my patio I could hear the gentle thwack of ball meeting racket, which meant that I needed to walk scarcely a minute across the grass and through the bougainvillea to reach the tennis clubhouse, where they'd already set me up with a string of matches and clinics to fill out the coming days.
Right away I discovered that the hallmark of Desert Tennis Academy at Shadow Mountain is a positive attitude projected by the professional staff—from tennis director Michael McFarlane on through the teaching pros to the tennis coordinators who arrange matches geared to your level of play. Quite simply, the staff is there to help you. It helps shape your game with daily three hour clinics (from 9 a.m.-12 p.m.), additional afternoon clinics if you want them, and private lessons for adult players at all levels. It helps you match up with other players—hotel guests or club members—with the goal of providing as much singles and doubles play as you could possibly wish for. And finally, through creating an atmosphere of friendly competition, it helps make your tennis experience both challenging and enjoyable.
e author (left) with Tennis
Coordinator Karen Haase
and Director of Tennis
The good vibes at Shadow Mountain seem to radiate from the familiar aura of the place, a kind of seasoning rendered by time. General Manager Cindy Calquhoun, who worked her way up from secretary, has been at Shadow Mountain for 18 years. The 38-year-old McFarlane, a specialist in group tennis instruction, has been here for ten years; his head pro John Randolph (they grew up together in Palm Springs) has been around for six. Tennis coordinators Karen Haase (20 years at Shadow Mountain) and Bob Kneiding (7 years) know everybody around on a first name basis and gently coax you into the mix from the moment you arrive.
And speaking of "seasoning", Shadow Mountain proved perfect for my particular game and needs. A profile of the average Shadow Mountain player: age 40-50 (I'm 65 but am told that I sport the calves of a much younger man); playing level of 3.5-4.0; women players outnumber men about 60%-40%. There are not many junior players, except at holiday periods when they may be in visiting residents (who, by the way, average about 50 years of age with grown children living elsewhere).
Pro shop and clubhouse restaurant.
Some of the tennis instruction program on the 16 courts (13 hard surfaces, 3 clay) is geared to U.S. Tennis Association and other teams who come in for several days of coaching by the staff. Special team tennis/accommodation packages are offered throughout the Academy season, which runs from October through May. And for guests who come in individually, note that all tennis court time (exclusive of clinics and lessons) is included in the room price. (Measure that against the $20-$30 per hour at many resorts in the Palm Springs area.)
for the entire family.
Shadow Mountain and its Desert Tennis Academy is ranked among Tennis Magazine's top 50 tennis resorts and top 25 tennis academies in America. Of the 16 tennis courts, 6 are lighted for night play. The club sponsors its own USTA and inter-club teams at all levels of play. Local residents can also become club members, enjoying tennis, pools, spas, etc., at affordable rates ranging from $500 to $900 per year.
As for my "pussy backhand" let the gang in Las Vegas be informed that the pros here refer to it as a "slice" which, although somewhat unorthodox, is a perfectly legitimate shot. Sometimes.
Shadow Mountain Club was built by developer Cliff Henderson in conjunction with celebrities like Leonard Firestone, Edgar Bergen, and Harold Lloyd. Back in 1948 it opened to great hoo-haw amidst then remote desert sands between Palm Springs and Indio. The Club's signature figure 8 pool, hyped as "the biggest swimming pool in the desert", is still here. Ladies and gentlemen, you can now splash in the very same pool once graced by the water routines of Esther Williams! On the diving board were once spread-eagled the likes of Bing Crosby, Candice Bergen, and countless Hollywood stars. Alas, the diving board is long gone. By the way, whatever happened to diving boards?
The celebrated figure 8
pool at Shadow Mountain.
Since you have a kitchenette (or full kitchen, if you've rented a larger unit) you can stock up at the nearby Jensen's gourmet store or other supermarkets within a few blocks of Shadow Mountain. Breakfast, lunch and refreshments are available on site at the Courtside Café and Bar.
Bougainvillea in bloom
at Shadow Mountain.
Shadow Mountain is walking distance from downtown Palm Desert, including the chic El Paseo shopping district, so there's no end of dining choices. A few that I enjoyed, willy-nilly, include the great kosher-style Sherman's Deli on Country Club Drive. They offer a breadless corned-beef sandwich wedged between a pair of latkes (potato pancakes), which is a new one on me. Of course they also serve it up on rye with latkes or cabbage soup on the side.
Being a connoisseur of greasy spoons, I found my nose leading me to an ancient local diner called Keedy's, which bills itself as a subscriber to the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of culinary art. Nuff said.
Sherman's and Keedy's are great places to replenish body salts, which you'll need after a few hours of tennis under a desert sun.
A tad more refined—al fresco dining on elegant El Paseo—is Augusta at Plaza Robergé. Here "continental food collides (sic) with art, wine, music, patio gardens, laughter, and romance!" Let's just say the signature dishes (sea bass, poached pears with Stilton cheese) outstrip the ad copy. At lunch time an engaging fellow plucks his harp on the patio.
Down the street is bustling Café des Beaux-Art, where you can practice your French with the waiters at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The French onion soup is indeed merveilleuse! Be informed that at breakfast entreés are served with "lightly toasted baguette". Apparently if you prefer your bread thoroughly browned you'll have to on head over to Keedy's.
I could mention other great attractions just minutes away from Shadow Mountain: the 1200-acre Living Desert Zoo and Gardens; the splendid McCallum Theatre; Vegas-style casinos like Agua Caliente and Fantasy Springs. But after all that tennis, like me you may be too tired to go visit them. So stay a couple of extra days to relax by the pool. Keep in mind, however, an admonition born of experience: no tennis, no latkes.
SHADOW MOUNTAIN: THE NITTY GRITTY
Particularly notable is the affordability and family friendliness of this gated resort. Guest room prices range from $105 (summer) to $165 (winter high season). Occasionally even lower rates are offered in slow periods. All rooms are non-smoking and have patio or balcony views of mountains, pool, fairway, or garden. Free internet is available. Parking is gratis. Rates and reservations for various types of accommodation, up through three bedroom villas, at the website www.shadow-mountain.com or call 800-472-3713.
Two bedroom condo
at Shadow Mountain.
Club facilities include the heated figure 8 pool, three additional heated cluster pools, and five spas. There is an exercise room and saunas. Massage treatments are available both in-room and at the massage studio. Volleyball and basketball courts are featured in addition to ping-pong and bicycle rentals.
The conference center offers 6,000-square-feet in four meeting rooms which can accommodate and cater groups from 10 to 200.
Add in golf at the
Shadow Mountain course.
Golf privileges are available at the adjacent 5,800 yard, 18-hole Shadow Mountain Golf Club, designed by Gene Sarazen, and at other local courses. Tee times can be arranged at the front desk.
Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Tennis Editor. Most photos by Donna Nemanic.