In our series on “traveling and tennis” we’ve covered wonderful locales like Florida’s Gulf Coast and Palm Springs.  An area less known for tennis but every bit as attractive is the Napa Valley of northern California. (Opening photo: Tennis might be considered a garden sport in the leafy confines of Meadowood.)

"Acceleration tennis" on
the courts at Meadowood.

Of course Napa is synonymous with vitis vinifera.  Annually, more than four million tourists, most of them thirsty, visit the Valley bent on sampling the great Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and other varietals at some 450 wineries.

But the same conditions that allow for the cultivation of quality grapes happen to be perfect for tennis — plenty of sunshine and mild temperatures almost year round.

Since a tourism infrastructure is already well developed, that means plenty of resorts, hotels, B&Bs, fine restaurants and interesting attractions to choose from up and down the Valley.

Among the resorts, two luxury properties offer great tennis programs.  Silverado Resort & Spa lies at the south end of the Valley in Napa.  A few miles further north, just outside St. Helena, sits Meadowood Napa Valley.

Over the years Silverado has been known for its pair of 18 hole golf layouts.  Golf legend Johnny Miller and his investment group recently purchased the property with an eye to renovating both the golf courses and resort amenities.  Peter Burwash International, the top-flight tennis management company, has been engaged to revitalize the tennis program.

Golf has always been king at Silverado with its two
36 hole courses and fabulous backdrops.

Peter Burwash International has taken over
the active tennis program at Silverado. 

The thirteen acrylic all-weather Plexipave courts will be resurfaced — some perhaps in Har-Tru clay.  Plans also call for a new pro shop.  PBI will pursue active cooperation with the US Tennis Association, which means hosting tournaments, offering lodging packages for players in search of clinics and supporting junior tennis.

“We try to play to our strengths here,” says tennis director Jacob Hansen.  “Our tennis clientele is largely made up of resort guests—many of whom come to sample the wines and natural beauty of the region — plus our local Silverado Country Club members, some of whom are involved in the wine business.  We bring these people together at tennis events, which often include wine and cheese samples as well as round robin doubles and other match-ups.  Everybody has a great time.”

The resort offers 435 classic hotels suites of varying sizes, each of which houses a wood-burning fireplace and view of the golf courses, courtyards or swimming pools.   The 16,000 sq. ft. spa includes fitness equipment, sauna, steam plus a full range of treatment and salon services.

The Ante-bellum style Mansion is the
centerpiece of Silverado Resort & Spa.

A half hour drive up the Silverado Trail, vineyards covering the hillsides along both sides of the roadway, brings us to the 250 acre estate and resort called Meadowood Napa Valley.  This  gorgeous mountainside retreat features 85 luxurious cottages, suites and lodges in a forested setting. 

A luxurious Estate room at Meadowood Napa Valley.

Fruit of the local vine plays a big
part of the Napa Valley experience.

Tennis on seven Plexipave courts--nestled into a lush bower of oaks, maples and firs--is a primary attraction for the sports minded.  There is also a nine hole golf course, immaculate croquet lawn, hiking, swimming, fitness and spa.  Looking to indulge the palate?   Add courses in wine education and a Michelin three-star restaurant.

Tennis director Doug King utilizes both three-day camps and individual lessons to promote an innovative system he calls “acceleration tennis”.  Simply put, the “acceleration” part refers to creating maximum force and velocity at the key part of a tennis stroke—the instant when racquet meets ball.  King thus works to avoid a traditional emphasis on step-in footwork and long, looping swings.

The group camps (up to 12 players) are offered from May through September.  Of course there is plenty of opportunity for individual match play with other guests and players from the active St. Helena tennis community.

Which brings us to the second focus of our story — the overall tennis environment of the Napa Valley.

The proximity of metropolitan areas — San Francisco and Sacramento - with strong tennis traditions has contributed to the growth of the sport in the Wine Country.  That coupled with great weather, active community involvement and a populace with leisure time for sports has combined to produce a robust tennis scene for visiting players who prefer an inexpensive public court option.

Guest rooms at Silverado have a Wine Country touch.

The Napa Valley Tennis Association has built an excellent facility with eleven hard courts adjacent to Vintage High School in Napa.  NVTA sponsors a USTA league and tournament program which has helped generate local participation in the sport.  Vacationers are encouraged to arrange for court time and seek out willing partners among regulars who frequent the courts.  Nearby are a number of modest hotels and other lodgings which accommodate tourists in the Wine Country.

St. Helena has a similar complex and program run by the St. Helena Tennis Association.  The courts are just off Highway 29 in Crane Park. 

The Spa pool at Silverado..

Croquet at Meadowood Napa Valley.

The garden city of Santa Rosa, a half hour drive west of St. Helena, also has a lively tennis community.   Famed botanist and local resident Luther Burbank called the climate of Santa Rosa “the most perfect on earth” (of course he was thinking of roses rather than sporting venues, but nonetheless….) 

There are good public courts in Galvin Park, where an extensive tennis program is run by the city.  At several private athletic clubs, viz. Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club; La Cantera Racquet Club; and Wikiup Swim & Racquet Club you can arrange to play on excellent hard courts for a reasonable fee.

A note for winter visitors:  the Napa Valley is subject to rainy spells, albeit with relatively mild temperatures, at this time of year.  The northern end of the Valley, around St. Helena, tends to be a bit drier and less windy. 

For further information on the resorts, tennis facilities and tourist activities of the Napa Valley consult the following websites:

— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Tennis Editor; photos courtesy of the resorts.