To those who ask “What is Barbeque Tennis?” I answer that it is similar to “Barbeque Golf”. (Opening photo is of the BBQ pit at The Salt Lick in Driftwood.)

BBQ is on the Texas menu
before or after Texas tennis.

Of course while the BBQ tennis player swings at a fuzzy ball with a racquet, the BBQ golfer flails at a dimpled orb with a club.  But the meat of the matter — barbeque — remains the same.

How to play.  Set aside several days, preferably a week.  The rules are few: 
1) play as much tennis as you wish;
2) eat as much barbeque as you can;
3) hydrate with generous quantities of liquid refreshment.  Repeat. 

It might be argued that such a regimen is senseless, if not potentially catastrophic.  I can only testify, having gone to the mountain and back on this one, that Barbeque Tennis lends itself to a certain primal rhythm.

“I Sing the Body electric!” rhapsodized Walt Whitman (and prophetically too, since he penned this sentiment some 25 years before Edison invented the light bulb).  Yea, primal rhythm and a celebration of the bodily fluids.  Sweat. Digestive juices.  A modicum of fermented grain in watery solution, which passes through the body and is forever transformed.

Where to play.  Anywhere, really, but for the traveler attuned to American history I suggest the birth place of lovingly rubbed, wood smoked and slow cooked beef: Texas. 

Admittedly, Texas is vast.  Its varieties of barbeque are available in every corner of the state.  But let me pinpoint a location which includes the three ingredients necessary for Barbeque Tennis (good tennis, tender meat, ample beverage).  That would be Austin.

“Austin” conveys not only the confines of town celebrated — or cussed — for its progressive politics (the city motto is “Keep Austin Weird”). 

For the purposes of Barbeque Tennis, Austin stretches westward through the Hill Country to German settlements like Fredericksburg and south along the Guadalupe River towards the Gulf of Mexico.

It includes serious tennis venues: Barton Creek, Lakeway World of Tennis, Horseshoe Bay and Newk’s Ranch.   It covers BBQ shacks in dusty cow towns: Taylor, Lockhart, Luling and Driftwood.

Spectacular Hill Country views from Austin area resorts  

Tennis is approached hereabouts with typical Texas gusto. Austin boasts a wealth of court complexes swarmed over by players year round, including the hot, dry days of summer when temperatures may hover near 100 degrees for weeks on end.

In the tennis resort category let me recommend the following triad:

Barton Creek Resort & Spa.  Convenient to downtown Austin, this gem features four championship golf courses carved into four thousand acres of Texas Hill Country.   Accommodations are cushy—panoramic views, flat-screen TVs and high-speed internet.

The tennis center at Barton Creek is first class.

Tennis at Barton Creek offers a dozen Laykold courts lighted for night play.  These hard-surface courts are medium fast, excellent for the young or middle-aged club player alike.  A staff of four headed up by tennis director Monte Williams runs ambitious junior and adult programs. For guests they’ll set up match play with Barton Creek Country Club members, who make up roughly 80% of the players at the complex.  Most mornings the courts are alive with ladies league competition.  Bottom line: tennis is a big deal here; be prepared to reserve courts in advance for the popular hours.

Click the photo to book the Lakeway Resort

Click the photo to book the beautiful Lakeway Resort & Spa.

Lakeway Resort & Spa is folded deep into the Hill Country, about twenty miles northwest of Austin.  On the shore of Lake Travis, this resort features all manner of boating in addition to three large swimming pools and full-service spa on property.

Lakeway guests who play tennis are offered access to one of the Southwest’s top private club facilities--the nearby World of Tennis.  Here the best have competed--Jimmy Connors, Rod Laver, Billie Jean King, local hero Andy Roddick and plenty more.  A first class fitness facility is an integral part of the operation.

World of Tennis, with its 16 superior outdoor hard courts and two indoor courts, represents the closest thing to tennis heaven in the state of Texas.  Tennis director Dennis McWilliams and his staff will work with you to set up match play, arrange for clinics, drills and private lessons. 

Click photo to book the Horseshoe Bay Marriott

Click photo to book the awesome Horsehoe Bay Marriott.

The Spa at Horseshoe Bay Marriott.

A third option among Austin area resorts is Horseshoe Bay Marriott, roughly an hour’s drive northwest of Austin.  The resort itself is a water wonderland offering 349 rooms rising over Lake LBJ and the limestone hills.

Since Horseshoe Bay hosts a large clientele of senior tennis players from the community, court surfaces have been tailored to their preferences.  Six red clay courts allow for longer rallies and minimal stress on the lower extremities.  The two synthetic grass courts are equally well cushioned.  Eight Laykolds provide a slower, more comfortable surface than traditional hard courts.

Tennis Director Michelle Stallard and her assistants provide a full program for adults and juniors.  In addition Horseshoe Bay Resort is home to the first USTA courts designed specifically for children.  The three reduced sized “Andy Roddick Kids’ Courts” help youngsters learn the game more quickly.

Speaking of Andy Roddick, the top American pro is as responsible as anyone for the surge of tennis popularity in Texas. But the growth of Austin into a vital metropolis has boded well for the game as well.  The Capital Area Tennis Association lists two dozen public and private club facilities offering nearly 300 courts for year round play.  The majority of these are open to the public.  In contrast to the southeastern U.S., where clay is favored, more than 95% of the Austin area courts are hard surfaced.

Getting hungry?  Before moving on to the victual phase of “Barbeque Tennis” we need to recognize the one traditional tennis camp still going strong in the Austin area:  John Newcombe Tennis Ranch.

Junior programs are big at
John Newcombe Tennis Ranch.

In the late 1960s Newcombe, the Australian tennis star, opened this rambling facility outside New Braunfels.  Programs are geared to a range of athletes from live-in juniors bent on tennis careers to adult club players looking to improve their doubles strategies.  Newcombe himself and Aussie mates like Roy Emerson are on hand for several weeks each year to join in fantasy camps, offer instruction and mingle with the campers.
Although the instructional schedule dictates robust workouts for several hours each day (28 courts, 4 indoor, 4 clay), après tennis provides an opportunity to socialize with tennis lovers from around the globe.  A typical adult stay runs from Sunday through Friday but can be tailored to longer or shorter runs.  Although lodgings are not luxurious, condos equipped with full kitchens and flat screen TVs are quite comfortable.  Nearby New Braunfels, with its German festivals and watersports along the Guadalupe River, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in south Texas.

Enough exercise already!  Where’s the beef?

This requires a bit of strategic planning and a road map.  The map is necessary because we ain’t hangin’ around no citified barbeques!  We’re headed out along pot-holed rural byways into jerkwaters like Taylor (pop. 16,000 ), Lockhart (pop. 14,000), and Driftwood (a post office plus maybe 300 souls).

The problem:  how to connect up all of our fancy tennis clubs with the Barbeque Trail?    Allowing for no more than a short drive between baseline and brisket, here’s a plan.

Louie Mueller's BBQ in Taylor since the 1930s.

Slicing your backhand at Barton Creek?  Have the lads at Louie Mueller’s in Taylor slice you off a pound of fatty brisket.

After three grueling sets at World of Tennis or Horseshoe Bay it’s “roll down the windows, grandpa.  We’re cruising over to The Salt Lick in Driftwood for a combo plate of smoked turkey, short ribs and home- made sausage.”

Newk’s Tennis Ranch is hailing distance from three fabled pork & beef emporia: City Market in Luling (pop. 5,000 ) and the famous dueling BBQs of Lockhart — Black’s and Kreuz’s.

You won’t require street addresses.  Just look for smoke drifting over the rooftops and follow your nose.

Arrive early at Mueller's
(before they run out of brisket).

The ritual of small town Texas BBQs is time-honored.  Stroll up to the counter, usually a few feet in front of the smoke pits, and order your meat by the pound:  beef brisket (moist or dry); beef ribs; pork ribs; beef shoulder; beef steak; chicken; turkey; sausage (plain or spicy).   If you are lunch hungry, order a sandwich of these meats.  Supper hungry folks may add sides—slaw, beans, potato salad, mac & cheese—or a fruit cobbler dessert.

The meat will be served to you on butcher paper.  In a grudging nod to the fastidious, occasionally there will be a tray underneath or even a plate to catch up the drippings.  But as a rule: paper holds meat; Styrofoam bowls hold sides; glasses hold Lone Star or Shiner’s beer; forks are useful for sides, but knives serve little purpose since fingers are perfectly adequate to tear apart and devour the hot, steaming meat.  Napkins aplenty.

I refuse to argue about whether it is right to accompany meat with some sort of barbeque sauce.  “Live and let live.”  Also “There is no accounting for taste.”  Douse the viands with ketchup for all I care. God bless you.

But to summarize: you can play tennis every day for a week and eat barbeque right along with it.  Or you can vary the diet with schnitzels and liver dumpling soup at restaurants in old German settlements like Fredericksburg.  Don’t forget the famous Tex-Mex food all around Austin, chariots of fire like Chuy’s, Texas Chili Parlor and El Rancho. 

Historical mural at New Braunfels
features German immigrant heritage.

Beyond the groaning board, the Hill Country is alive with history.  Austin Overtures offers ninety minute orientation tours of the city and environs in vans which leave from the downtown Visitors’ Center several times daily.    First class museums are clustered on the University of Texas campus.  Well worth a visit are the Texas State History Museum, Harry Ransom Center (literary collections and displays) and the impressive LBJ Library.  Within walking distance is the Texas State Capitol building modeled on the US Capitol in Washington.

Johnson City and the LBJ Ranch are located in the Hill Country along the Pedernales River about an hour’s drive west of Austin.  Both sites are dedicated to honoring the legacies of Lyndon Baines and Ladybird Johnson.  A few miles further west is Fredericksburg, which in addition to its lively German biergartens claims one of nation’s best historical museums—The National Museum of the Pacific War---here in the hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz.

Austin City Limits?  The town is renowned for its country music.  If the long days of tennis haven’t left you toe blistered, break out a two-step at The Broken Spoke in Austin, or maybe at Gruene Hall, that ramshackle cathedral of twang just outside New Braunfels. 

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