Thinking about a tennis vacation to Florida?  My recent tour of resort facilities in the Tampa Bay area reveals a number of options.

Saddlebrook doubles drills on the red clay.

If you’re ready to spend all day on the courts exposed to demanding drills, best bet might be Saddlebrook Resort, where the fitness principles of Harry Hopman, former Australian Davis Cup captain, remain the basis of a rigorous program. (Opening photo: Saddlebrook offers 45 courts on all Grand Slam surfaces.)

Although golf may be king at Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort, the lively tennis schedule supplies plenty of clinics and match play at all levels.

And if you plan to take in the tourist attractions around Tampa, a stay at the Grand Hyatt provides convenient access to downtown as well as hard court tennis right on property.

Tough duty for Saddlebrook
Tennis Director Howard Moore.

My week begins at Saddlebrook, thirty miles north of Tampa’s International Airport just off I-75.  Although the resort does boast an Arnold Palmer Academy and two Palmer-designed golf courses, the heart of Saddlebrook is its famed tennis program.

Tennis Director Howard Moore has us up before 8 a.m. for three hours of stretching and non-stop drills.  Saddlebrook mandates no more than four players to a court under the watchful eye of eye of a pro who works exclusively with our quartet.    Around ten o’clock comes a “fruit and juice break”, later ninety minutes for lunch.  Then it’s back on the clay for two hours of afternoon instruction.  For those still standing, the staff works up such late afternoon diversions as a serving contest or doubles round robin just to keep them limber.

Director Moore was trained under the late Hopman, who emphasized intense aerobic workouts as well as hitting thousands of practice balls to iron out the wrinkles in your strokes.   Saddlebrook offers 45 courts on all Grand Slam surfaces (hard, Rebound Ace, Har-Tru clay, red clay and grass) and, at peak periods, 45 professional instructors to match.  Then there’s the renowned academy, a boarding school with mornings in the classroom and afternoons full of tennis, which draws aspiring junior players from around the world.

Most players come to Saddlebrook for periods ranging from a few days to a week.  Accommodations — 790 units in low rise clusters near the courts or along the golf courses — range from hotel rooms to one or two bedroom suites with full kitchens, multiple TVs, balconies and separate dining areas.

Dempsey's offers great steaks in a casual
atmosphere a few steps from Saddlebrook's courts.

Note that Saddlebrook is also a splendid 480-acre resort offering a 7,000 square foot spa, well-equipped fitness Center and mammoth half-million gallon Super pool nearly large enough to float the Queen Mary.  Dining includes Dempsey’s, touted for steaks, the Tropics Restaurant and T.D.’s Sports Bar.  Most everything is centrally located mere steps from the tennis courts.

Of course you can golf the Palmer courses and bike around the sub-tropical grounds.  Or you might wish to spend the evening hours as I did—relaxing with new-minted tennis friends over a couple of beers at T.D.s  sports bar.  Then its off to bed in preparation for another day of pounding the fuzzy yellow ball.

Innisbrook tennis director Will
Rhame conducts clinics daily.

Onward to Innisbrook Golf Resort & Spa near Tarpon Springs, just a few miles west of Saddlebrook. 

Here I slap on more sun block and settle in for two days of casual doubles play.  Since I arrive solo, Tennis Director Will Rhame hospitably arranges for partners from among other guests and club members who live in the area.

Innisbrook offers 11 Har-Tru clay courts, seven of them lighted for evening play, daily clinics and an ambitious Quick-Start program for youngsters. 

Rhame is an inventive teacher and writer who emphasizes the mental disciplines of tennis.  Honing one’s ability to concentrate, relax and move into a flow of positive thought process on the court is fundamental to his approach.

Competitive tennis can be a keenly pleasurable activity, and the two days of match play and good fellowship at Innisbrook illustrate the point. 

“Have fun!” exhorts Rhame. “But don’t forget to keep your eye on the ball!”  No problem, Will—by this time I’ve got scores of them bouncing around in my dreams.

Admittedly, at Innisbrook golf is king.  The resort covers 900 wooded acres of lush greenery and waterways, a large percentage of which is given over to three championship courses drawing both professionals and vacationers from far and wide.  Six hundred eight spacious rooms and suites, all recently  renovated, are clustered around the fairways, pools and ponds.  The suites include full kitchens and flat-screen TVS.

At Innisbrook golf is king.

I took advantage of Inbada, the full service spa, for an hour-long massage to soothe aches induced by consecutive days of tennis.  

Although I needn’t have wandered off property for dinner — the resort has four restaurants and three bars — curiosity tempted me over to the nearby village of Tarpon Springs, a traditional Greek settlement which offers a number of simple restaurants featuring mousaka, spanakopita and the joys of savory braised lamb.

If you happen to be one of those gladiators quite prepared to enjoy endless hours both of premier golf AND tennis, all without leaving the resort, it’s hard to imagine a happier choice in all south Florida than Innisbrook Golf Resort & Spa.

One bedroom suite at Innisbrook.

This sportin’ life has left little time for sight-seeing, so I spend my last two nights near downtown Tampa. 

Casita suite at the Grand Hyatt.

Quartered at the Grand Hyatt, I can easily access the museum and theatre district splayed along the banks of the Hillsborough River, which flows through the city center.

Situated along the Riverwalk are the new Tampa Museum of Art, a Post-Modern structure, and the impressive Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

Future additions to the complex include a Children’s Museum and the Tampa Bay History Center, currently housed in the nearby Channel District near the Florida Aquarium.  Just across the Hillsborough River on the University of Tampa campus is the Henry B. Plant Museum, a Moorish Revival structure now home to a “hotel museum” preserving the Victorian ambience of the old Tampa Bay Hotel which once graced the property.

Straz Center on the Riverwalk.

Ybor City at night.

For me a Tampa highlight is Ybor City, the old Italian-Spanish enclave once the center of Florida’s cigar-making industry and now declared a National Historic Landmark.  Near downtown, several  square blocks of Ybor’s traditional brick and grill-work architecture have been nicely preserved, providing a glimpse of 1920s Tampa and a colorful venue for open-air restaurants, saloons and small shops which attracts crowds particularly in the evenings and on weekends. 

A streetcar line connects Ybor City with the Channelside, Riverwalk and downtown Tampa.

If the kids are along, surely you’ll want to spend at least a half day at Busch Gardens.  The 335 acre theme park takes visitors through the heart of Africa amid much native wildlife.  Busch is famous for its roller coasters. 

Next door Adventure Island is a popular water park. Also located in the Gardens district, around the University of South Florida, is the fine Museum of Science and Industry. 

Back at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay I find myself intrigued by (what else?) the hotel’s new tennis program.  Affable pro Vince Bernabei  (“I was once ranked number 1574 in the world!”) presides over a pair of well-kept hard courts located off the hotel’s wetland boardwalk.  Vince offers guests both adult and junior clinics as well as private and semi-private lessons.

Poolside at the Grand Hyatt.

Although the Grand Hyatt’s location near Tampa’s close-in International Airport marks it for strong convention business, the 445-room hotel sits along a wildlife estuary on the Gulf of Mexico where egrets, herons and other aquatic birdlife abound. 

In addition to its tower rooms, Grand Hyatt accommodations include 45 waterfront Spanish-style casitas.

The Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay provides
panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico.

Next time:

Grand sunset from Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

Once I’ve plastered up my blisters and recovered from this tennis adventure, I plan to report to you on the opportunities for similar tennis vacations an hour’s drive farther south in the Sarasota-Bradenton area.

Bradenton has its own version of Saddlebrook: the IMG Bollittieri tennis camp. 

And Longboat Key off Sarasota combines some of the loveliest scenery and tennis venues in the United States. 

All this and the Ringling Art Museum! 

For detailed information on the above mentioned accommodations and attractions you may wish to consult the following websites:

— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Tennis Editor. Visit for the Tennis Blog.

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