By Roger Cox, Editor
Ordinarily, the number of courts a resort has is a key to its passion for tennis. More is obviously better. But Hidden Dunes, a 27-acre beachfront enclave of condos and cottages in the Florida Panhandle, proves that every rule has its exceptions. Tucked away amid some trees near the front of the property is a complex of six clay courts. Guests who opt for Hidden Dunes seem to regard tennis as almost as essential amenity as the white-sand beach.
The reason that's can be traced directly to the engaging staff in that tiny clubhouse. Renee Broxson took over direction of the program in August 2011 after six years as head pro. She had played tennis for the University of West Florida and went on to become assistant coach its women's tennis team and to postings elsewhere in the Panhandle, before settling here. She inherits a well-run program so rather than make changes she plans to build on the foundation that had already been laid. "We're known for our customer service, especially our game matching," she says, "so we plan to build on that." In particular, she hopes to lure more small groups and teams and to expand the Quickstart program she began even before the USTA's campaign began. She has hired George Cobia, the former tennis director at the Pensacola Athletic Club, as head pro and Quy Tran as shop attendant and resident game matcher.
Broadly speaking there are two seasons: winter (from November through Spring Break) when the snowbirds come down often drawn by the tennis, and summer (from March through October), when families predominate. Activity at the tennis center alters with the season. In winter, the calendar lists weekly round robins and clinics and the clientele is likely to be older; in the height of summer, there are drill clinics, and clinics for kids. During the shoulder season, the club often gets more tennis teams.
During any season, if you walk into the pro shop you will get a warm reception and an offer to find some way to get you on the court. Game matching is one of their strongest services because the staff draws not only on members and guests but also on a stable of local players. "It's a small quaint little place, " says Broxson, "and people like that it's laid back, relaxed."
Pro Shop: 850-269-2590
Courts & Fees. The six clay courts are arrayed around a tasteful wood-frame pro shop with patios and umbrella tables and an upper viewing deck covered by an awning. The courts have weathered wooden fence posts and see-through screens. One has some terraced seating set off by latticework.
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The choices include midrise condos on the beach, cottages with private porches, and 3- and 4-bedroom villas, many of the last on the lake.
If you like the sound of Hidden Dunes also check out:
The resort has 1-to-4-bedroom condos and cottages available for daily or weekly rentals.
Visit the website for current rates
Travel Instructions. By Air: Although there are regional airports in Fort Walton Beach (VPS) and Pensacola Regional (PNS), the new major gateway—it opened in late May of 2010—is Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), roughly an hour's drive to the east in Panama City. Rental cars are available at all three.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council website or contact them at 800-822-6877.