John Newcombe Tennis Ranch
New Braunfels, Texas
By Roger Cox, Editor
There is a lot of shouting going on in the Billabong Bar. Some 60 of us have turned up at Newk's on a balmy October weekend, and after introductions to the pros, an hour of lively drills, and a dinner of steak, salmon, scalloped potatoes, sauteed vegetables, salad, and chocolate cake we've reconvened in the bar, divided now into two groups, Team Australia and Team USA, for a pep talk with our respective captains and camp co-directors, Chris Jacques and Mitch Joyce. The actual Davis Cup-style competition won't take place until tomorrow when we gather as teams in two separate bleachers to cheer on our respective captains and their partners in a pro doubles exhibition. Tonight, however, we're being introduced to the fine art of "barracking," which consists chiefly of shouting loudly to support your team coupled with hurling insults at the opponents. And for those of us on Team Australia that also means a rehearsal of the classic cheer: "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy." The team meetings over, many of us grab a drink at the bar and head outside to a pavilion and firepit for s'mores, entertainment by the Grand Slams—an informal band comprised of several of the pros—and a chance to get to know more of our fellow campers.
They don't make tennis camps like Newk's tennis ranch anymore. It is the last of a breed, a vestige of the tennis-boom era when days of banging balls were followed by nights of hanging out with the pros and new-found tennis mates. Everybody played together all day and then gathered together again for dinner, merry-making, and maybe a beverage, and entertaining one another with songs, stories, and conversation. The unwritten assumption was that anyone who loved tennis enough to spend five hours a day doing drills must be worth getting to know.
Former world No. 1 John Newcombe opened the ranch in 1968 with former Trinity University coach Clarence Mabry. Much of the teaching methodology continues to be based on the techniques Newk learned from legendary Australian Davis Cup coach Harry Hopman and on those Mabry employed when he helped launch the careers of Dick Stockton, Brian Gottfried, and Chuck McKinley. As principal owner, Newk spends as much as six weeks a year at the Ranch, including two Fantasy events (see Calendar below and Terry Kahn's report about his visits during Legends week). Historic photos and magazine covers of Newk decorate the walls of the main lodge, as do posters of Australia. His influence permeates the camp.
The property was, in Newk's words "a run-down dude ranch," when he and Mabry first looked at it, but its location in the Texas Hill Country, 20 miles north of San Antonio and 30 miles south of Austin, appealed to Newk who wanted a retreat from the circuit when he was in the U.S. Today the ranch has 31 courts, four of them indoors and another four that are clay. The original ranchhouse has a pro shop, dining room with tables for eight or more, and the Billabong Bar. Behind the ranchhouse stretches a terraced deck with picnic tables in the shade of several large live oaks—a camper favorite for lunch on pleasant days—just steps from an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub. From there it is a short stroll to the adult accommodations, which consist of a mixed bag of rooms, cottages, casitas, and one- and two-bedroom condos. As the ranch has grown, so has the town of New Braunfels, so the spread no longer feels so rural and isolated as it did when I first visited—particularly given that John Newcombe Estates, a housing development and country club, has spring up on the adjacent 200 acres. Still, I surprised a couple of deer on campus as I walked to breakfast one morning and another camper spotted a javelina.
Pro Shop: 830-625-9105
Chris Jacques (JACKS) is the more senior of the camp directors, having joined the Ranch in 2004. A Top 20 junior in his native Australia, he played satellites and Futures as a teen, then Division I tennis at Eastern Kentucky University before returning to Australia to graduate from the University of New South Wales and coaching its women's tennis team. His American counterpart, Mitch Joyce, first experienced the Ranch as a junior camper in summers and later went on to play tennis for Colorado State University in Pueblo, to work for the NIKE Tennis Camp in Boulder, Colorado, and to coach his local high school team in his home town of Roswell, NM, before returning to the Ranch in 2012. They head a staff of more than a dozen additional, mostly young pros, among them their assistants Adrian Bolido and Nelson Parker.
Tennis Programs. In the adult camps, each day begins with a basic overview of the strokes on the day's agenda, generally focused on basics of technique. From there it's out to the courts and a mixture of drills, half of them with the pro doing the feeding, the other half live ball sessions, pitting campers against each other or one or more pros. There is often one or more pros who rove, pulling aside individual campers for specific advice on improving a particular stroke. Each of the morning and afternoon sessions lasts 2½ to 3 hours and often conclude with some sort of informal doubles competition. Midweek sessions add videotaping to the mix.
Courts & Fees. 27 hard courts (4 covered) and 4 Har-Tru courts. Court fees: None.
Fitness Center. Although it is hard to imagine why anyone who spends 5 hours on court would feel the need for a fitness center, the Ranch does in fact have one in a cinderblock building near the covered courts, principally intended for the full-time junior academy students but available to adults who feel a need for it. It has the usual weight machines and Cardio equipment along with a battery of devices intended for tennis specific exercises, including medicine balls and balance platforms. It may also come into play, as it did during my visit, in the case of rain, sending part of the group to the covered courts, part to the fitness center for an overview of tennis-specific exercises. There is no spa; however, there is a massage therapist on call.
Campers can choose from a variety of accommodations, all clustered around or near the courts. These range from simple rooms with two double beds to one- and two-bedroom condos, the latter with fireplaces, full kitchens, and washer-dryers.
Oct. 19-24, 2014: 26th Tennis Fantasies Week
www.tennisfantasies.net Phone: 800-874-7788
John Newcombe himself heads a cast of Legends that includes Roy Emerson, Mark Woodforde, Marty Riessen, Guillermo Vilas, Fred Stolle, Owen Davidson, Charlie Passarell, Dick Stockton, Brian Gottfried, Rich Leach, Geoff Masters, Ross Case, and, for the first time, Rod Laver for this four-day camp of clinics, team matches (with pros as team coaches), exhibitions, and competition against the amateurs. The pros are constant fixtures, on court, at meals, and for cocktail parties and entertainment nightly. Curious to know more? Read E.J. Kahn III's blog about his experiences in 2012.
If you're looking for an all-day tennis camp with lots of social atmosphere, also check out:
- NIKE Amherst Tennis Camp, Massachusetts Summer only
- New England Tennis Holidays at Sugarbush, Vermont
- Total Tennis, New York Liveliest summer and early fall
Rates and Reservations
Rates vary seasonally at Newk's, reaching lows from November through February, when they offer a lot of 2-for-1 specials. All packages include accommodations, tennis instruction, and all meals. Prices are quoted per person assume double occupancy. Single-occupancy rates are also available.
November 2013-February 2014
Weekends: $314-$362/person. 5-day: $814-$945/person
Weekends: $345-$405/person. 5-day: $860-$1,012/person
325 Mission Valley Rd.
New Braunfels, TX 78132
Web Link: John Newcombe Tennis Ranch
Seasons. Year-round with the lowest rates available from November through February.
Travel Instructions. By air: The nearest airports are San Antonio, roughly 30 minutes to the south, and Austin, roughly 45 minutes to the north. By Car: The ranch is on Highway 46 in New Braunfels, Texas. From San Antonio, take I-35 North to Loop 337. Exit and turn left following Loop 337 to Highway 46 West. Exit, turn left (west), and drive approximately 2 miles then turn left at the large water tower marked "Newks Resort." Follow the signs to the Main Lodge.
General Tourist Information. For general information about vacationing in Texas, visit the Texas Tourism website or contact them at 800-888-8TEX.