Lawn tennis at J.W.
Marriott Desert Springs.

I find myself grinning a good deal — even whistling a happy tune — as I ramble about J.W. Marriott's Desert Springs Resort & Spa.  All this blithe spirit could simply reflect sun splashed winter days in Palm Desert, California, but I've decided it's more than blue skies and bougainvillea.

Call it "fascinatin' rhythms" dancing about the place---fascinatin' for me because here I've found one of those rare resorts that suits my idea of the perfect long weekend.  Luxurious accommodations, impeccable service, and, above all, lots and lots of tennis.

The oasis of J.W. Marriott Desert Springs

The PBI Tennis Show on
a Saturday afternoon.

Of course Desert Springs Marriott is far more than a pleasant venue for whacking balls over a net.  It has superior golf, a sumptuous new spa, an enticing array of restaurants and much more. But I have launched a Quest (at age sixty-five perhaps a tad ripe for knight errantry) for the Grail of a consummate tennis resort.

Apropos, I'd heard good things about Peter Burwash International, a tennis management company ensconced at some fifty resorts around the globe from Hawaii to the Republic of Maldives.  The Burwash forte, so I'd heard, was creative instruction coupled with running a shipshape resort tennis facility.

Here at Desert Springs, Burwash has teamed with J.W. Marriott; the luxury component of Marriott International, which itself has garnered a considerable reputation for first-class operations underpinned by an emphasis on service and attention to detail.  That sounded like a pretty good combination.  And so it proved to be.

The author (left) with
tennis director Jim Leupold.

How not to play the net
during the PBI Tennis Show.

I arrived on a Thursday for three days with the primary idea of getting in some good tennis.  For a club player like me (rated 4.0 on my best days, in reality something less on too many others) there is always work to be done.  So I wanted the whole schmear--clinics, match play and a bit of one-on-one instruction.  Tennis director Jim Leupold and his staff of young pros eagerly obliged.

First there were 90 minute morning clinics (intensive semi-private instruction, really, since Burwash mandates no more than four players per court).  Each clinic focuses on a discrete aspect of tennis:  serve; return of serve; lob and overhead; backhand; volley and net play; ground strokes; mid-court game; doubles strategy.

For 4.0 or better players, there are afternoon drills which can be tailored to individual weak points.  For me that meant plenty of reps on the net game: drop shots; cross-court volleys; rounds of "mini-tennis", which utilizes only the service court area and helps develop "touch" with the racquet.

Admittedly, no one has ever accused me of displaying finesse, let alone grace, on a tennis court.  Or anywhere else.  I doubt that any number of drills is going to change that!

Marriott Desert Springs is on 450
land- and waterscaped acres,

Desert view rooms for
relaxing after tennis or golf.

The Burwash method is hilariously illustrated by the "PBI Tennis Show", a Globetrotter-like routine staged Saturdays at Desert Springs for the amusement and instruction of its guests.  Leupold and his staff of merry pranksters show how players get themselves in trouble being too "form-conscious" on the court, e.g. striving to emulate a Pete Sampras serve or Steffi Graf forehand.  Then comes an appearance by "Macho Man", who slams every ball a hundred miles an hour, usually into the net, the backstop or off an opponent's skull.  You can see Leupold's gang perform their antics weekly from mid-December through April.  They have also been invited to perform at the U.S. Open in 2007.

The point made is that the Burwash instructional template--formulated by former Canadian Davis Cupper Peter Burwash himself--emphasizes function over form.  Each player is unique in terms of combining speed, height, weight, build, hand size, age, etc.  Thus each player's effective game will look somewhat different.  Instead of robotic attention to pre-conceived ideas of good form (proper grip, racquet arc, footwork, etc.) the common sense Burwash approach aims to discover what actually works to help win points, games and matches.  All that's required of you is an open mind and the desire to improve your results.

I've now played lawn tennis
and the lawn won.

Just off the lobby the
boats wait to ferry guests.

Another impressive feature at the Desert Springs operation is the courts themselves: fifteen hard surfaces (six lighted); three clay; and two grass.  For me, it was the first chance ever to play on a grass court (although as a boy in Minnesota I did play on a rolled dirt surface which, after rain showers, did have green stuff trying to sprout up out of it).  Let's just say I've now played lawn tennis and the lawn won.

Six hours a day on the tennis courts doesn't leave a whole lot of time for sampling the myriad amenities of Desert Springs Marriott.  But when you've determined to focus your vacation on a particular resort offering--be it tennis, golf, spa treatments, or just relaxing around the pools--you can become quite clearly aware of what you don't get.

What you particularly don't get at any Marriott facility is indifference.  From J. Willard Marriott Sr.'s first root beer stand in Washington, D.C. back in 1927 right down to the current collection of world-wide luxury properties the hallmark of Marriott has always been assiduous attention to the customer.  From room service to valet parking to the guy who sweeps and waters the clay tennis courts this cardinal rule is faithfully maintained.  Thus is the guest invited to leave petty irritation behind and concentrate on his heart's desire.  In my case a better cross-court volley.

Cruise on Venetian-like
waterways to enticing restaurants.

Ted Robinson-designed 18 hole championship golf courses.

Marriott Desert Springs, an oasis situated on 450 landscaped acres, opened in 1987 and has recently undergone extensive renovation of its atrium lobby and spa.  Venetian-like waterways literally begin in the lobby, where boats await to ferry guests along to on-site restaurants and afternoon tours of the lushly landscaped grounds.  The resort offers 884 deluxe accommodations, including 51 suites ranging from 900 square foot hospitality suites to two 3,150 square foot chairman's suites.

With over 200,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting and banquet space, two large ballrooms, and state of the art communication technology it’s hardly surprising that Desert Springs has become one of the region's most sought after convention and conference venues.

The resort features half dozen restaurants, ranging from gourmet Italian to casual pool-side dining and Starbucks. There are 17 specialty shops and boutiques off the lobby, a lively atrium bar and even a popular night club, Costas, which appeals to guests and locals alike.

On the activity side, in addition to the tennis complex there are two Ted Robinson-designed 18 hole championship golf courses and an 18 hole putting course. The 38,000 square foot new spa, which will commence full operation in the summer of 2007, includes suites, water features, gym, exercise classes plus every imaginable device for pampering its clientele. The Oasis Pool area has three swimming pools.  You can even play basketball or a cut-throat game of lawn croquet (no wagering, please).  There is biking and hiking about the grounds.  Families traveling with children should note the extensive kids program as well as child-sitting services.

Indoor or outdoor meeting
and ballroom banquet space.

Specials available for the sports-minded include packages for golf, tennis and sport/spa combinations.  Head tennis pro Pat Dennehy and tennis director Jim Leupold can fix up a deal for your USTA or other team to come in for several days of drills, strategic coaching and match play tailored to your specifications.  Tennis clinics and lessons are offered to all age groups and at all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.  Although the tennis schedule is somewhat curtailed in the off season from mid-May to mid-October, the Pro Shop and tennis facility at Desert Springs is open all year round.

Indeed the greater Palm Springs Valley, with its hundreds of courts and great pro tournaments like Pacific Life each March, has become the closest thing to Camelot in the tennis world.

Click for the Tennis BlogAm I ready to say that Desert Springs Marriott represents that cherished Grail of all my tennis dreams?  Well, I've come to suspect that any worthwhile Grail Quest has more to do with seeking than finding.  So,I'm off on fresh trails.  Courtside reports to come.

For tennis information email Jim Leupold at or phone 760-341-1893.  For more on Peter Burwash International visit the website at or call 800-255-4707.

— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Tennis Editor; photos by Donna Nemanic and J.W. Marriott Desert Springs.