To make that easier, I've outlined the essential aspects of the tennis and vacation experience for each of the seven major properties. Each links to my more extensive review and the reviews of vacationers who've been there.
The Sea Pines Resort
- Overview: The first and largest of the Hilton Head Island resorts at 5,000 acres, Sea Pines stretches across the entire southern tip of the island, giving it a feel of seclusion even as it encompasses virtually every amenity you—and your family—could possibly need in a beach resort. Chief among those is the Sea Pines Racquet Club (SPRC) adjacent to the marina, shops, and iconic lighthouse at Harbour Town. Former world No. 1 Stan Smith, the resort's touring pro since 1971, had a hand in designing the broadly appealing, adult and junior programs, including the eponymous Stan Smith Tennis Academy, a 3-hour-a-day weekend or midweek adult tennis camp (Smith himself conducts a special Thanksgiving holiday session that includes dinner at his house). SPRC was also the first on the island to lure people to the courts by instituting weekly (in season) demo days and an exhibition and happy hour, the latter often featuring high-performance juniors from the on-site Smith Stearns Tennis Academy (whose programs are open to ranked vacationing juniors as well).
On the other hand, if you're looking for a variety of opponents, SPRC is not the best choice since it has no membership to draw on as fodder, and to the chagrin of staff, the pro shop continues to be housed in a triple-wide trailer, the victim of delays in finalizing a master plan for the courts and adjacent swimming pool and golf clubhouse.
- Courts: 23 clay
- Recreation: beach, pool, 3 golf courses, two marinas, equestrian stables, bike trails, nature preserve, watersports, fishing, kayaking
- Other Amenities: Children's programs, many shops and restaurants, live entertainment, sightseeing cruises, fishing charters
- Lodging and Cost*: Inn at Harbour Town (a boutique hotel), villas, homes; $$, which includes 2 hours/day of court time; team/group packages available
- Recommended for: Families, groups, couples
Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort
- Overview: Sea Pines's chief rival as HHI's most complete resort, Palmetto Dunes has adopted a rather different footprint, beginning along a 3-mile beach and extending across Hwy. 278 to Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina. Although it has two beachfront hotels, most of the lodging in the form of villas (some in towers) and homes can be found along the beach, golf courses, and lagoons in quiet gated neighborhoods to either side of the entrance corridor. That also concentrates other amenities along that central spine, including the tennis center.
On any given day, there seems to be more going on on the courts at Palmetto Dunes than any other club on the island. That's a testament to the variety of programs—including those Cardio sessions, daily round robins, conscientious game matching, a weekly exhibition, and spring and fall tournaments—and their active recruitment of groups and teams. Although they do not offer a tennis camps as such, where you're with the same people for several days, they do offer their daily clinics and drill sessions back to back, allowing you to schedule as little as an hour or as much as 4½ hours a day of group instruction. They also run the junior programs at the same hours as the adult programs making scheduling time at the courts convenient for families—one of several reasons, along with its abundance to activities, that it rates so highly as a family destination. That said, the resort is less than half the size of Sea Pines, and thus does not have the same depth of diversions or amenities—restaurants in particular.
- Courts: 23 clay, 2 hard
- Recreation: beach, pools, 3 golf courses, marina, bike trails, lagoon, watersports, fishing, kayaking
- Other Amenities: Children's programs, shops and restaurants, live entertainment, sightseeing cruises, fishing charters, spa (at the Marriott)
- Lodging and Cost*: 2 hotels (a Marriott and a Hilton), villas, homes; $$-$$$; team/group packages available
- Recommended for: Families, groups, couples
Port Royal Racquet Club
- Overview: Although Denny and Tanda Bianco work for the golf company that owns the racquet club, their warm, friendly personalities make this feel like a family-run affair. In their 25+ years there, they have specialized in catering to groups (they host some 50 each year) by custom-designing programs. At the same time, they care for individual vacationers by providing essential tennis services, including fast-action drills and game matching. Many of those groups (and individuals) stay in the adjacent villas (some of them very economically priced) for the convenience of being able to walk to the courts, while others opt for the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa on the beach a quarter mile away for its oceanfront location and hotel services, among them a spa. Not the best choice if you need a lot of on-site amenities, but worth considering if tennis is the focal point of your holiday, especially if you're coming with a group or team.
- Courts: 10 clay, 4 hard
- Recreation: beach, 3 golf courses
- Other Amenities: Pool, spa, kids' club (all at Westin); limited on-site dining
- Lodging and Cost*: hotel and villas; $$-$$$; team/group packages a specialty
- Recommended for: Groups, couples
South Beach Racquet Club
- Overview: Another family-run affair, this handsome Low Country club adjacent to the South Beach Marina in Sea Pines Resort is a hot bed of tennis activity, much of it round robins and arranged matches. Don and Rachel Sigmon built the club to be a place where tennis players would come to hang out, installing rocking chairs on porches overlooking the action and encouraging drop-ins. Their active membership welcomes the fresh blood of vacationing players, and once a month or so the club stages a special event like a Margarita Mixer or Chile Challenge, posting photos on their Facebook page. The summer calendar includes several daily junior clinics.
Lodging (economical), restaurants, shops, and the popular Salty Dog Cafe—a bar overlooking the marina—are just steps away, while it's about 300 yards to the beach. The club also rents bikes to take advantage of the extensive network of bike paths throughout Sea Pines.
- Courts: 13 clay
- Recreation: Marina, bike trails, watersports, access to golf
- Other Amenities: Shops and restaurants, fishing charters, nature tours
- Lodging and Cost*: Rooms and villas; $$-$$$; team/group packages available
- Recommended for: Groups, couples
Van Der Meer Shipyard Tennis Resort
- Overview: Shipyard has the most residential feel of all the resorts reviewed here. It does have a beachfront hotel—the Crowne Plaza Hilton Head Island Beach Resort—but as you drive through you see little other than trees, golf fairways, homes, and clusters of villas. The racquet club stands just across the parking lot from the Crowne Plaza, where the Van Der Meer organization has special rates, though not everyone stays there since there are other options inside and outside the resort—some of them very inexpensive.
What draws both groups and individual tennis players to this resort are the solidly run 3-day and 5-day adult clinics which take place virtually every week year-round. Interspersed through the schedule are special sessions devoted to particular themes like "Drill and Play," "Senior" (for those over age 60 wanting a fitness component and supervised match play), or "Advanced" (for 4.0-4.5 players). Although meals are not part of the package, this is one of the best choices for someone traveling alone, simply because you'll be with the same people for 3+ hours/day for several days running (something also true of the Stan Smith Tennis Academy at Sea Pines). There are also daily programs for those not in the Van Der Meer program—including clinics, drill sessions, twice-weekly Cardio tennis, a daily round robin, and a weekly exhibition—and three indoor courts as backup in case of inclement weather. Like Port Roayl, however, Shipyard has only a limited selection of on-site diversions and dining options.
- Courts: 13 clay, 7 hard outdoor (3 of them indoors)
- Recreation: Beach, golf course
- Other Amenities: Limited on-site dining; pools and children's programs (at Crowne Plaza)
- Lodging and Cost*: Hotel and villas; $-$$$; team/group packages available
- Recommended for: Couples, groups, singles
Van Der Meer Tennis Center
- Overview: Set not in a resort but residential neighborhood, the Van Der Meer Center focuses primarily on junior programs, both long-term and short-term, resident and day. In summer, they supplement their Academy program with a series of midweek commuter camps for players ages 8 to 18 of all skill levels. As an adult, you can sign on for midweek stroke and drill sessions or, in summer, a weekend round robin, but in general you have better options at Shipyard unless you want to remain on site while your kids take the junior program. As with the Shipyard program, the Van Der Meer organization has arrangements for a variety of discounted lodging, some of it very economical and some of it adjacent to the Center.
- Courts: 17 hard (4 of them indoors)
- Recreation: Access to public beach
- Other Amenities: Fitness center
- Lodging and Cost*: Hotel and villas; $
- Recommended for: Juniors
Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis Resort
- Overview: It isn't posh, but if all you need is a beach, some courts, a large oceanfront swimming pool, and a one- or two-bedroom villa with a kitchen and a balcony, then check out the Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis Resort. The tennis is in transition, as Eric Wammock, former head pro and club manager at Sea Pines Resort, takes over what has been a solid program from former director Clint Van Aswegen. But "transitional" doe not mean lacking. Particularly notable is the variety of summer junior programs, a reflection of how popular the resort is with families. Whether you have a 4-year-old, an elite tournament player, or anything in between, HHIB&TR has a program geared to their needs and skill level. As summer ends, Wammock expects to focus on bringing in teams and groups for custom-designed tennis holidays, while still taking care of the individual vacationer.
- Courts: 10 hard
- Recreation: Beach, pools
- Other Amenities: Casual restaurant, limited fitness center, bike rentals, children's programs
- Lodging and Cost*: Villas; $$; team/group packages available
- Recommended for: Families, couples, groups