Is there tennis beyond the pearly gates?  I hope so. 

Assuming I’d be allowed access to the grounds, infinity might be required to work out the holes in my backhand. (Opening photo: The Sanctuary Resort on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.)

Until then I’ll settle for Kiawah Island Resort.  Here five-star amenities verge on the celestial and the T Game is big.  Well, at least royal consort to King Golf, which has fathered five layouts across these South Carolina marshlands.

The white sand Atlantic beaches beckon.

Tennis Online has anointed Kiawah No. 1 Tennis Resort in America. This prompts the resort to claim similar status “in the World” and why not?

Numero Uno es muy fabuloso, except that now the only potential movement is downward.  Let Tennis Director Roy Barth and his staff worry about that.  Meanwhile, Kiawah Island is simply a wonderful place to play the T Game.

Start with two dozen immaculate courts—mostly Har-Tru clay—divided between a pair of Tennis Villages a few miles apart on a barrier island covered with semi-tropical forests and wetlands opening onto miles of Atlantic beach.   Lovely.  And tranquil.

Clubhouse at the famous Barth Tennis Center.

Try to come out for at least a week.  Rent a tennis villa with balcony overlooking a leafy court complex.  Rates are reasonable for these privately owned condos where sounds and sights of the T Game echo all the live long day.

Or you could stay at The Sanctuary, an ocean-side hotel offering 255 sumptuous guest rooms and suites only minutes away from the tennis venues.  This elegant property, which has obtained Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond ratings, crowns a 10,000 acre island resort now considered one of America’s finest.

Final hole & clubhouse at the renowned Ocean Course.

Among The Sanctuary’s amenities count the top-rated Spa & Salon, tendering “Low Country” features such as trickling waters, natural woods and slates to impart the sense of a grand Southern porch and garden.

Posh aside, a satisfying tennis resort experience comes down to well organized activity, thoughtful instruction and spirited competition.  This is what Roy Barth, a former pro circuit regular, has aimed to provide over his tenure at Kiawah.

Antiques give The Sanctuary lobby an elegant feel.

Roy Barth, Kiawah tennismeister.

Since arriving in 1976, when a smaller Kiawah Island Resort opened with half as many courts, Barth has steadily refined an instructional method which emphasizes simple verities:  watch the ball-racquet point of impact; relax your grip; move your feet.  Repetition weaves one skill into another, back and forth into a seamless whole.

You should come away from a week at Kiawah with the sense of having better integrated and focused your approach to the game.  That ought to gratify any seeker after the tennis grail. 

Barth has put together an impressive schedule of programs for all age groups at all levels.  On the instructional side, during high season (March to October) you’ll find plenty of clinics, drill sessions, mini-camps, and private lessons as well as opportunity for game action via round-robins and, if needed, a match-play service for those seeking partners.  Roughly two-thirds of tennis group business at Kiawah is represented by women players who arrive year-round for special outings—and at reduced group rates—from all parts of the country.

Listen to the pro.

Both tennis sites include a pro shop, the larger one at Roy Barth Tennis Center (East Village) displaying an extensive an array of gear—racquets, shoes, courtwear, etc.  East Village also devotes a special hard court to a self-feeding ball machine capable of shooting 1200 balls per hour, i.e., a ball flying your way every three seconds.  Perfect for the individual aerobic workout!

Along the coast of South Carolina, Kiawah Island is Big Daddy among numerous resorts featuring tennis.  There’s plenty of action from Myrtle Beach in the North (Grand Dunes, Litchfield Resort, Wachesaw Plantation Club) southward through the Charleston area (Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, Wild Dunes) down to Hilton Head Island, which offers more than a dozen tennis resorts and camps.

Tennis villa at Kiawah.

On the tournament front, the Family Circle Tennis Center on Charleston’s Daniel Island hosts a number of stellar events in its 10,200 seat stadium, including the annual WTA Family Circle Cup.  This facility with nineteen top-flight courts is open for public play.

As for Charleston itself, a sojourn of any length at Kiawah Island should involve at least a day trip to that charming Southern town just twenty-one miles from the resort.  Charleston’s colonial core, street upon street of graceful homes and secluded gardens nestled in the shade of ancient live oak, represents one of America’s most delightful urban landscapes.

Back in 1861 Charleston Harbor was, of course, scene of the firing upon Union-held Fort Sumter, casus belli for the five year long civil strife still referred to in these parts of the War of Northern Aggression.

Har-Tru clay courts in a bucolic setting.

Boat tours to the battle sites of Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are a fundamental part of the Charleston experience, as are visits to a handful of residential museums, such as the John Calhoun Mansion, aiming to preserve the atmosphere of gracious living which all but disappeared after the Civil War.

In recent decades Charleston has retrieved its cultural eminence, hosting a number of annual culinary and arts showcases.  The Spoleto Festival USA, one of the world’s most prestigious performing arts festivals, is held over a 17 day period each spring.

For further information on tennis and tourism in the Charleston/Kiawah Island vicinity you may wish to consult the following websites:

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