I had watched the televised Wimbledon matches, which begin July 1, for decades before ever setting foot on a grass court myself. But once I did, I was hooked. Cool, green, and soft under foot, the game's first surface instantly became my favorite, the one I'd happily play on all the time if only that were possible.
The problem is that grass courts have become scarce. Many of those that remain huddle behind the privet hedges of old-line clubs like The All England Lawn & Croquet Club, Longwood Cricket Club, Germantown Cricket Club, Orange Lawn Tennis Club, and the West Side Tennis Club, accessible only to members and their guests. One major exception is Newport Casino, the site of the first-ever U.S. Tennis Championships. Its fabled lawns welcome the public, and since this is also the site of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, avid tennis players have ample reason to find their way to Newport, RI during the May-to-September, grass-court season.
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Curiosity about the game's original surface motivates most of us to set foot on a grass court, but Ryan Harry, the head tennis professional at Newport Casino, feels that satisfying that curiosity is only the beginning. "It's very nostalgic, and it changes how you see Wimbledon." he told me. "The surface itself doesn't create as much friction as a clay or hard court and keeps that ball low. You begin to understand how difficult to compete on grass,"
Tackling grass pays dividends in other parts of your game. "The biggest thing for me is it keeps you focused," he continued. "On the grass you're going to have bad bounces, more so even than on clay. You have something that can shoot up or down or right or left, and you have to be prepared at all times for that. I believe that if you play on grass and then onto a hard court your focus is going to as sharp or sharper than it's ever been before."
The quality of the grass courts at Newport may spoil you for other venues. Years ago I interviewed the groundskeeper, who told me that the playability of a grass court depends on the soil underneath. The degree to which it will compact flat and firm influences how well the court will play, and that seemed to explain why at Newport even longer rallies on grass were possible. Yes, you'll get an occasional bad bounce, and the footing can a bit more slippery. On the other hand, the surface rewards pushing forward, attacking the net, serve-and-volleying, all while letting you glide around on a soft carpet of natural greenery.
Since Newport is also the home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, it belongs on every avid tennis player's bucket list. But until you can make it there, we've put together a list of other grass-court venues in the U.S. and abroad. Break out the strawberries and cream and stage your own private Wimbledon.
Set in the stunning Green Mountains of Vermont, The Cliff Drysdale Tennis School at Stratton Mountain Resort offers tennis programs that are suited for players of all ages and levels. Adult camps start from just $120/day or $200 for our Weekend Getaway package. Kids camp and an Academy are also offered weekly this summer. Sign up now and play on the red clay courts of Southern Vermont! For additional information or to make reservations, please call 802-297-4230, send an email to email@example.com or visit us at us at www.stratton.com/tennis
Newport Casino, Newport, RI. Newport's 13 grass courts are part of a complex that includes 6 hard and 1 clay court (not to mention an historic indoor court tennis court). Open court time and private lessons are available; however, there is also a weekly roster of clinics, strategy sessions, and a Thursday evening Wine Gathering Round Robin, also open to non-members. Meanwhile, there are several significant events on the summer calendar: the International Tennis Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend, July 19-21, during which Yevgeny Kafelikov, Li Na, and Mary Pierce will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame; the International Tennis Hall of Fame Open, July 14-21, the last professional grass-court tournament held in the U.S. (Steve Johnson is defending champion); and the USTA National Open Grass Court Championships, Aug. 12-18, a men's and women's singles and doubles and mixed doubles event.
Cost: $120/hour singles; $230/hour doubles.
Mission Hills Country Club, Rancho Mirage, CA. Twice the host site for Davis Cup ties, one of them on grass, Mission Hills has copious amounts of cachet to go with its impressive 33 hard, clay, and grass tennis courts. As a private club, it restricts access that most historic of surfaces; however, there are several ways for the general public to get to play. The simplest is to book one of the Champions Club Villas, which confer member privileges along with a place to sleep. A second option is to sign up for sessions with the Reed Anderson Tennis School, which takes place at Mission Hills, since that also allows you the option to test yourself on grass later in the day. And finally, Mission Hills is the venue in March for the Tennis Channel USTA National Husband Wife Combined Age 100, 120 & 140 Grass Court Championships, so signing up to compete means you'll not only play your matches on grass but has access to the lawn courts in advance to practice.
Season: Year-round except for a few weeks in fall, when the courts are overseeded with winter rye.
JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, Palm Desert, CA. Boats leave from the atrium lobby of the hotel at the center of the property, bound for restaurants, the spa and fitness center, the golf clubhouse, or simple sightseeing. Although the watercourse does not extend to the tennis complex, what you find when you get there (on foot or by terrestrial shuttle) is an impressive campus with 20 courts comprising all three Grand Slam surfaces. Two of those are grass, sunken into a grassy hollow bordered by trees and flowers. You do not have to be a guest to play here, nor to join one of the seasonal (early Nov. to mid-Apr.) Grand Slam round robins that take place on the hard, clay (Har-Tru), and grass courts.
Season: Year-round except for three weeks in fall, when the courts are overseeded with winter rye.
Court Fees: $20/hour, mid-May to mid-Oct.; $32/hr mid-Oct. to mid-May.
Sand Valley Golf Resort, Nekoosa, WI. The most astonishing tennis-resort development of 2018 was the opening of three grass courts in of all places in a town most of us had never heard of in Wisconsin. Adding to the surprise was a promise of as many as a dozen more grass courts by 2019. Sand Valley is on track to deliver on that promise by the time the grass-court season gets under way in mid June, and they've further demonstrated that they're taking tennis seriously by bringing in Cliff Drysdale Tennis to manage the courts. Under CDT's Rob Wright, the resort will offer daily clinics, weekly tennis mixers (including a Wimbledon wooden racquet competition June 28), and a couple of special grass court tennis camps in July and August.
Season: Mid June to mid Aug.
Court Fees: Free to guests, otherwise $20/hour; ball boys/girls available—and recommended—at $10/hour.
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica. Monkeys sometimes crawl along the fences that border the four lighted Har-Tru courts at this luxury resort on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. That core complex perches atop a hill, where it has been handsomely tricked out with lava-rock walls, teak furnishings, red and pink hibiscus, and papaya trees. And yet for all its allure, it's the fifth sibling that attracts the most attention: a single, serene grass court bordered by soft fencing and set so as to have views across the golf course's 18th fairway. It plays phenomenally well, and to keep it that way both Peter Burwash International pro JF Robitaille and the golf course manager are parentally protective, carefully limiting the hours it can be used in order to ensure the best possible experience, both visually and competitively, for everyone who ventures to try it.
Season: Open 10-noon and 3-5 p.m., Nov.-Aug., weather and maintenance permitting.
Court Fees: $50/hour.
Rustico Golf & Tennis Club, Prince Edward Island, Canada. However unlikely, this family-run resort on Rustico Bay on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, has six grass courts, available to anyone who wants to use them. Originally the courts there were hard. "PEI winters destroyed them each year," Martha Langdale told me. She and her husband John have owned the resort since 1980 and eventually decided to give up on the hard courts, saying "The transition to grass was a natural move as we already had similar surfaces on the golf course and all the equipment to maintain it." There is neither a pro nor any sort of organized tennis. There have been tournaments in the past but none are scheduled for this summer. But in the relaxed setting it doesn't take long to meet others who play, which, says Langdale, is the point. "We just like to see our guests enjoy themselves whenever they want to play."
Season: Mid May to closing in Sept., weather permitting.
Court Fees: Free to guests; otherwise $20/hour.
Saddlebrook Resort, Wesley Chapel, FL. Walk by the two grass courts bordered by a white wooden fence at Saddlebrook and for much of the year you'll see Wimbledon quality lawns bereft to two crucial features: nets and painted lines. This discourages the scores of avid tennis players on property at any given time from impulsively testing their mettle on the fabled surface and leaving it battered and bruised. This does not mean, however, that the lawns are unavailable. For much of the year they are open for play only on request. Prime demand for these courts comes during June and July and roughly coincides with the the televising of the Wimbledon matches.
Season: Year-round, with Oct./Nov. closure for overseeding.
Court Fees: $100/hour.
Baha Mar, Nassau, Bahamas. Grass courts are sufficiently rare that having even one, as is the case at Baha Mar, pretty much guarantees attracting attention. Not that a resort with three hotels (comprising more than 2,300 rooms), a 100,000-square-foot casino, 3,000 feet of white sand beach, a Jack Nicklaus golf course, ESPA spa, and more was in any danger of flying under the radar. That single lawn is part of a handsome, flower-bedecked 9-court complex unusual for having not just grass but hard and Har-Tru courts as well. Peter Burwash International pro Minos Marinakis directs, offering private lessons for those unfamiliar with grass and open-court time for those who want to test their mettle on the sport's original surface.
Season: Year-round, with 1 week closures in late spring and late fall.
Court Fees: $50/hour.
Fisher Island Club & Resort, Fisher Island, FL. Set in Biscayne Bay off Miami's South Beach, Fisher Island was once the winter estate of the William K. Vanderbilt II family. Accessible only by ferry or private yacht, what is now a resort/residential community retains an aura of exclusivity and privacy. Although there are 700 residences, there are a mere 15 luxury vacation cottages, courtyard villas, and guest house suites with amenities like in-ground Jacuzzis and private courtyards. All that has made it a favorite place for a Who's Who of tennis professionals to train, especially during the Miami Open tennis championships. It isn't only that no one bothers them; what draws them to the island is a beautifully laid out complex of 18 hard, red-clay, Har-Tru, and grass courts connected by terracotta walkways. Tall hedges frame a pair of grass courts, all but cutting them off from prying eyes.
Season: Year-round, with seasonal closures in late spring and late fall.
Court Fees: $25/hour weekends, $20/hour midweek.
Stoke Park Country Club, Spa & Hotel, Buckinghamshire, England. Although the mansion at the heart of the Stoke Park resort is a more than a century old, it has been attentively renovated to reflect its historic roots, becoming in the process a luxurious 21-room hotel now supplemented by 29 more contemporary accommodations in The Pavilion. Given its heritage, grass courts, of which there are six, seem mandatory (there are also four artificial red clay and three indoor). The lawn courts, which meet Wimbledon specifications, are available to guests except in the lead-up to All-England Championships, when Stoke Park stages what amounts to a fabulous lawn party anchored by The Boodles, an international grass-court exhibition that will take place June 25-29, 2019. Last year's field included Alexander Zverev, Juan Martin Del Potro, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Grigor Dimitrov, and Nick Kygrios.
Season: May to Sept. from 11 a.m. daily (weather permitting)
Court Fees: Free to guests..
Pickleball is increasingly becoming an element in the resort landscape, so Tennis Resorts Online plans to begin offering a synopsis of resort's pickleball programming. We're in the process of collecting that information now; however, you can already begin to review your experience with pickleball as part of your overall review of a resort. Visit Review a Resort or Camp to check out our new rating form.
Wild Dunes Resort has hired Carlos Lozano as director of tennis. All-American graduate of Brigham Young University, Lozano is originally from Mexico, where he was a five-time National Junior Doubles Champion. He replaces Charly Rasheed, who is now the Director of Adult Tennis at the Family Circle Tennis Center. Lozano had previously directed operations at the Topspin Racquet & Swim Club in Lexington, SC, and was head professional and junior director at Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island. In 2014, he was named USTA Southern Pro of the Year and the USTA South Carolina Pro of The Year. He also coached the 2018 Southern Junior Cup USTA SC Championship Team. … Former ATP Touring Pro Roy Barth has been inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Men's Hall of Fame. A two-time All American at UCLA, Barth went on to compete professionally, reaching the round of 16 at the U.S Open and a singles ranking among the Top 50 in the world. Upon leaving the tour, he became the founding director of tennis at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, a position he held for 41 years before retiring, though he remains active in an emeritus role. In other Kiawah Island Golf Resort news, the resort has announced the creation of the Barth-Hawtin Tennis Academy to focus on the development of highly competitive junior tennis players. The program merges the Barth Tennis Academy, founded in 2015 by former touring pro Roy Barth, and the Tennis Academy at River Run Country Club in Charlotte, NC headed by Bruce Hawtin. … Nicolas Almagro, who rose to No. 9 in the world, has joined La Manga Club in Murcia, Spain as director of its tennis academy. A clay-court specialist, he won 13 ATP titles, 11 ATP World Tour 250 tournaments, and two ATP World Tour 500 titles. At La Manga he'll be in charge of the tennis academies at this 28-court club. … Cliff Drysdale Tennis has just signed on to manage the tennis at Chateau Elan Winery and Resort in Braselton, GA, 40 minutes north of Atlanta. According to the press release, programming, which has already begun, will run year round with Matt Kirkham as Director of Tennis; however, the hotel is undergoing major renovations that should be completed this Fall. Once they are, the Drysdale Tennis expects to offer tennis packages, which will include Wine and Tennis weekends as well as custom CDT camps. … Meanwhile, in other Cliff Drysdale Tennis news, Andrew Reiley replaces Rob Wright at the Inn at Perry Cabin after Wright shifted to Sand Valley Resort (see the Grass Court feature in this issue).