Where's the best locale for tennis vacations?  Some players opt for SoCal.  The triangle connecting Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs is home to a dozen resorts in the top rankings of Tennis Magazine.  Arizona has great clubs and perfect winter weather.  Vermont has great clubs and perfect summer weather.  South Carolina and the Florida Panhandle are clearly on the upswing.

Luxury suite at Longboat Key Resort & Club.

Factoring in criteria like ubiquity of topnotch resort and public facilities, court surfaces, climate, etc., South Florida grades out second to none.  A recent excursion to the Gulf Coast from Sarasota to Naples persuaded me that this 100 mile stretch of coastline may represent la crème de la crème.

For tennis travelers a primary consideration is choice, i.e., a range of options in terms of programs, facilities and lodgings.  "Sar-Nap" has plenty of everything.  Players bent upon improving their games via strenuous regime may enlist at Nick Bollettieri's IMG Tennis Academy in Bradenton.  Those up for luxury accommodation among tennis pals or with family in tow can stop at resorts like Longboat Key Resort & Club, Naples Grande or the Naples Bay Resort.  The budget-minded can find their way as well:  some of the best public tennis courts in the world lie in convenient proximity to a plethora of small inns, motels and modest condo rentals.

The author (left) with Nick Bollettieri
on the indoor courts at IMG. 
(Photo by Jerry Nemanic)

If General Patton had lived beyond WWII and opened a tennis camp, it probably would look something like IMG/Bollettieri:  high walls and gatekeepers to discourage the casual intruder; four covered courts under the roof of a remodeled airplane hangar; fifty outdoor courts of Har-Tru clay and U.S. Open hard court surface.  Then there's the famed 79 year old Bollettieri himself, still striding purposefully among his players and assistant pros.

"Mr. Bollettieri, I'm a senior player and would like to improve my doubles game.  What do you suggest?"

"If I were you, the first thing I'd find is a good partner!"

That's Nick, who recently latched onto his eighth wife.  But these days the brusque critiques are served up with a twinkle.

At the sprawling IMG complex the raison d'etre is the training of young athletes—live-in programs for those pursuing careers or college scholarships in golf, baseball, basketball, football and other sports as well as tennis.  But older touring pros come in to tune up their games, as do many ordinary adult players who find spending a few days with the Bollettieri gang a memorable experience.

Longboat Key

Just across Sarasota Bay from IMG is lovely Longboat Key, which has to be one of the world's most pleasant venues for tennis.  The Longboat Key Resort & Club offers great golf and sumptuous accommodation along the Gulf of Mexico

Longboat Key Club & Resort on the Gulf of Mexico
(Photo courtesy of Longboat Key Club & Resort)

It also is home to the impressive new Tennis Gardens complex which includes a first class pro shop, bar & restaurant as well as 12 Har-Tru clay courts.  The patented new water/drainage system renders the courts playable all but continuously, an important plus in Florida where rainy spells are common.   Tennis director John Woods and his staff do a wonderful job setting up clinics, lessons and match play for guests of the resort. The Sarasota Open tournament is played on these courts each spring.

The superb Tennis Gardens at Longboat Key Club & Resort.
(Photo courtesy of Longboat Key Club & Resort)

For those who enjoy the serenity of Longboat Key yet wish to avoid the tab of a five-star resort, the town's public tennis facility is literally next door to the Tennis Gardens and welcomes non-residents to play on its 12 clay courts or take lessons at a modest fee. 

The casual bonhomie of the Key community makes it easy to find tennis partners, a pleasant dockside meal or even reasonably priced lodgings like the Sandpiper Inn within hailing distance of the courts.  Other opportunities for inexpensive tennis include Payne Park (12 Har-Tru) in downtown Sarasota and newly renovated Bray Recreation Center (8 Har-Tru; 8 hard) in Bradenton.

You may note that the vast majority of Florida tennis courts offer the Har-Tru clay surface.  This is a major plus over the hard courts typical of the western U.S. and elsewhere.  As more statistical evidence about tennis injuries and the effects of long-term play become available, it seems clear that clay surfaces are proving much kinder to joint areas of the lower extremities.

Understandably, young players often prefer fast surfaces and even veterans used to hard courts may experience difficulty adjusting to the slower clay.  Problem:  if you don't live in the humid South it may be hard to find the notoriously thirsty clay courts.  Bottom line: if you wish to prolong your tennis life, whenever possible play on clay.

Beachfront high rises in Naples.
(Photo by Jerry Nemanic)


The 90 minute drive from Sarasota southward to Naples passes through communities like Venice, Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva--all welcoming to tennis players at various locations public and private. 

However, the hive of activity in these parts is Naples, a charming small city where a "culture of tennis" is everywhere evident.

The No. 1 resort is Naples Grande, which features the tennis expertise of Peter Burwash International. 

The Burwash group manages tennis programs at a number of first class resorts around the world.  Their trademark style of attentive service to the client in a fun-oriented tennis atmosphere draws top marks from resort raters like Tennis Magazine and Tennis Resorts Online.

At Naples Grande, tennis director Fabio Vasconcellos will do his utmost to make your stay satisfying with drills, clinics, team training at special rates and a player matching service.  Popular events like the PBI Tennis Cup team/round-robin tournament each winter season attract scads of repeat visitors to the 15 Har-Tru courts. 

Naples Grande, host to a great Peter Burwash tennis facility.
(Photo courtesy of Naples Grande)

If you'd like to participate in the 2011 Cup, scheduled for Jan. 14-16, go to www.Naplesgrandetennis.com for information.

Tennis is king at Naples Grande.
(Photo courtesy of Naples Grande)

There are plenty of other options in Naples.  Naples Bath and Tennis, with its 38 courts and 33,000 sq.ft. clubhouse area, hosts many tournaments.  Affable pro Bill Beverly can set you up with individual and team programs to fit your needs.  (Spain's famed training facility, Academia Sanchez-Casal, has opened a branch at Bath and Tennis, although plans for its winter 2011 programs are still unclear--best inquire at the Academia website).  Naples Bay Resort with six Har-Tru courts has a developing program eager to find a share of the Naples market.

Public courts?  The Arthur Allen Tennis Center, located in the chic downtown area of Naples, offers a dozen Har-Tru courts plus a fine pro shop and staff, which, like the similar operation at Longboat Key, can't seem to do enough to help visiting players enjoy their stay.

The vintage lobby graces the Inn on Fifth.
(Photo courtesy of Inn on Fifth)

The Inn on Fifth, a tasteful vintage getaway in Old Naples, is a short walk from the Allen Center and just steps away from the colorful Fifth Avenue patio restaurants, shops and night life.  

The Inn welcomes tennis playing guests and will gladly call the Center to arrange for passes and court times. 

For the inveterate tennis maven, what could be more pleasant than a delightful weekend at this hacienda-like boutique hotel combined with plenty of court-time and a sunset picnic on the beach? 

Here is all the charm Old Naples has to offer and eminently strollable.

— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Tennis Editor.

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