Those contemplating a winter tennis vacation in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area can be sure of one thing — perfect weather.  Daytime temperatures in the 70s predominate, combined with the sunshine and low humidity which make for tennis Valhalla.

Looking to splurge on a luxury resort with tennis?   The local scene offers an array of options.  Tennis night and day?   We’ve found that too, as well as superb public courts that welcome visitors for a nominal fee.

In the luxury category a top choice would be The Boulders Resort and Spa (opening photo), a half hour drive from Sky Harbor airport in semi-rural Carefree.  Now under the Waldorf-Astoria banner, The Boulders maintains an extensive acreage of pristine Sonora Desert.  The low-rise guest casitas, full service spa, golf courses and hiking trails have been designed to blend seamlessly into their desert surroundings.

Relax with the "Boulder Spirit".

Tennis at The Boulders is top notch.  Eight courts offer both hard and clay surfaces.  The teaching philosophy of tennis director Dale Light is much in keeping with an overarching “Boulders spirit” which emphasizes a holistic approach to exercise and good health.  Dale has incorporated extensive experience in China, both teaching tennis and absorbing techniques like Tai Chi into his lessons.

“Balance” is a key word of his “Light Touch” approach to all sports.  Don’t be surprised to have Dale suggest that you try playing barefoot (to become more aware of your footwork) or going through drills with a bean bag on your head (as an aid to proper equilibrium).  Great fun!   

Other big ticket resorts with excellent tennis programs include the Fairmont Princess and Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain.  Still others — e.g., The Phoenician, Arizona Biltmore, Hyatt Gainey Ranch — maintain first class court facilities albeit with less structured activity.

The Fairmont Princess Resort in Scottsdale.

The Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale, once a venue for professional tournament tennis, has launched an ambitious program to raise its tennis profile.  Resurfacing of the seven hard Plexi-Pave courts and renovation of the pro shop is ongoing through late 2011.   Meanwhile adult, junior and group tennis programs are in full swing.

The large Fairmont Princess resort (649 rooms) incorporates a graceful Spanish Colonial style replete with fountains, internal courtyards and recently refurbished lodgings.  Golf, fine dining and a magnificent spa are among the amenities.

Over the years Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain may have scaled back its tennis offerings from 17 courts to 5 Deco-Turf US Open acrylics, but this one-time glamor showcase for the sport continues to offer solid direction from veteran pros John Abelardo and Horst Falger.

The Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain.

The era of tennis impresario John Gardiner has passed into history — he once welcomed Hollywood stars and big-name politicos onto these Sanctuary courts for celebrity matches — but the dramatic backdrop of Camelback Mountain remains within the context of an exquisite spa-centered resort.  A spectacular infinity-edged pool and gourmet restaurant are among the features of this intimate (c. 100 casita lodgings) hillside property.

The Phoenician Resort courts.

The famed Phoenician Resort off Camelback Road is still synonymous with posh.  Its “Tennis Garden” is just that — a verdant setting for eleven courts (10 hard, one grass) and elegant pro shop.  The Phoenician is presently searching for a new director of tennis, so don’t expect much just yet in the way of programming.  The same relatively low profile for tennis holds true for the venerable Arizona Biltmore (seven hard courts) and Scottsdale’s Hyatt Gainey Ranch (four hard courts).

If you’re bent upon vacation with a heavy dose of tennis and physical training, think about Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club.  The tennis-playing Hing family has operated a racquet club on this Indian Bend Road property since 1971. Over the years they’ve added a large fitness facility with 50 meter lap pool, 85 room resort layout and Asian-themed spa designed by Rebecca Hing, the founder’s daughter.  The popular OC Seven restaurant is adjacent to the tennis courts.

At Scottsdale RAC tennis is king.  Eleven newly resurfaced hard courts provide the venue for daytime and evening clinics from tennis director David Critchley and staff.  Serious players at all levels abound.  The annual Fiesta Bowl Senior Open tournament is played here each December. 

Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club.

The resort’s well-appointed guest rooms and suites, many with full kitchens, fire-places and laundry facilities, are perfect for the incoming tennis athlete en famille or with team members geared up for a Custom Adult Tennis Retreat, one of the club’s group-oriented programs.

The aforementioned properties have one element in common — they provide excellent tennis within the framework of a resort.  But two further options exist for the vacationer: 1) the private racquet club which welcomes non-members for a fee and 2) the public tennis facility.

The comfy Kimpton Firesky.

For example, I recently stayed at Firesky, an intimate resort in downtown Scottsdale with no tennis courts.  Yet I found it easy to arrange for play at two nearby racquet clubs—Scottsdale RAC and the Village on Camelback Road.

Once I’d learned that Kimpton Hotels had taken over Firesky it wasn’t long before I figured out a way to visit. 

“Never met a Kimpton I didn’t like,” to paraphrase Will Rogers.  Personal service combined with tasteful luxury is what Bill Kimpton created years ago in San Francisco, where he opened his first boutique hotel.

Firesky does have 204 rooms and suites, full service spa and two luxurious pools, but its well-trained staff provides the unique services of a much smaller inn.  The complimentary cocktail hour — a trademark of Kimpton hotels — features fine wines and along with lovely trays of fruit and prosciutto.

Kimpton’s concern for the environment pervades everything from restaurant menus to linens and the paper products used in their hotels.  And I love their inventive offers.  To encourage mass transit, for example, they offer a 20% reduction of the hotel tab for anyone traveling in or out of town by train! 

So I simply liked the idea of staying at a delightful inn walking distance from the shops and restaurants of central Scottsdale.  But I did want to play some tennis.  The concierge at Firesky was happy to arrange for day passes, and even shuttle transport, to either of the racquet clubs just a few minutes away.

The public courts in Surprise, Arizona.

As for public tennis courts, best bet is the new Tennis & Racquet Complex in suburban Surprise.  This 25 hard court layout is one of the premier public facilities in the world.  The stadium court seating 6,000 already has hosted a number of tournaments, including Fed Cup matches.  This lively operation welcomes out of town visitors at a nominal fee.

Although Surprise TRC is a forty minute drive from central Phoenix and Scottsdale, completion of the adjacent spring training complex shared by the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals has resulted in several new lodging options.  Relatively inexpensive hotels, including a Residence Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn and Hampton Suites, have located near the stadium.  Clearly, Surprise TRC represents an attractive budget option for tennis in the Arizona sun. 

Other outlying opportunities include CopperWynd Resort & Club in suburban Fountain Hills, northeast of Phoenix.  This small resort has just 32 rooms but sports nine hard courts and a solid instructional program.

Wigwam Resort near the multi-stadium complex in the West Valley, twenty miles west of Phoenix, offers two red clay among its nine courts and plenty of action by way of tennis director Carlos Hassey.   Former Phoenix Suns/Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo bought the 331 room Wigwam in 2009 and has gone to work on a major facelift of the 80 year old desert hideaway.

Finally, if you are fond of the mountain landscapes surrounding  Carefree and The Boulders, a relatively inexpensive alternative with good tennis is the Carefree Resort & Convention Center.  Tennis Director Glenn Gerbino aims to resurrect the program with five resurfaced hard courts.  Three-hundred fifty rooms and villas have recently been upgraded as well.

For more information on all the resorts and tennis operations mentioned in this story, consult the following websites:

— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Tennis Editor.