When Rancho Valencia opened in Rancho Santa Fe, California 1989, it reflected then owner Harry Collins’s passion for tennis. Not only did it have a huge number of courts—18, for what even now is only 50 rooms—but it also brought in the John Gardiner organization to run their special brand of luxury tennis retreats. It instantly took a place among the top tennis resorts in the country, offering that special blend of programs for avid tennis players on court complemented by exceptional creature comforts off.
Although the John Gardiner organization is no more, and Harry Collins has since sold the resort, all 18 of the original courts remain and tennis continues to receive full attention, as evidenced by the recent hiring of former U.S. Open Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles champion Robin White. She returns to what for her is familiar territory.
“I used to train here when I was on the circuit back in the early ‘90s. This was my home base,” she told me as we sat beneath an umbrellaed table beside one of the two show courts that frame the tennis clubhouse as a worker tended to the lush landscaping that framed the setting. Years later, after leaving the tour and, among other things, working as a National Coach for the USTA, she returned to Rancho Valencia, this time as a staff pro, until the resort closed to complete its recent renovations.
“I like to tease people that I left when the jackhammering got a little too loud,” she quipped, “but when the opportunity came for me to come back here as director, for me it’s my tennis heaven job. It’s where I ultimately wanted to be and I feel very, very at home here.”
She came back on board in November 2012 just as the resort reopened following a $33 million renovation of the rooms, restaurants, and public areas. All 18 courts were resurfaced as well, though planned work on the tennis clubhouse has been put off until after the busy summer season. She had only been in the director’s chair a few months when I visited but had already worked to beef up the social programming, for members and guests alike, and to institute Cardio tennis–“It’s a little bit different from our typical daily clinics, a little more intense on the footwork. I don’t think the players really realize how important that footwork is”–and to hire additional staff, among them former tour players Todd Nelson and Amanda Fink.
Her right-hand man in all of this remains head pro Eduardo Sanchez, who was a key player in the Gardiner team that opened the resort and has been teaching here ever since.
“He is a legend,” she says of Sanchez. “He knows everything backwards and forwards about this place, he’s experienced so, so much. He is a phenomenal teacher. Any beginner I ever have, that’s where they go, because he’s patient and I know they’re going to walk away with good foundation. When you’re introducing someone to the game that’s so important.”
But there’s more to it than just tennis.