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Serving Tennis: Cliff Drysdale Tennis and Peter Burwash International

Roger Cox, Editor

If you're trying to decide where to go on your next tennis vacation, chances are your research will turn up properties overseen by Peter Burwash International (PBI) or Cliff Drysdale Tennis (CDT). They are the two largest tennis management companies, with a combined portfolio of 80 tennis resorts, tennis clubs (some private), and health and fitness facilities in the U.S. and abroad. The pros at both companies go through an extensive training program, focused not only on teaching but also on club management. Yet the experiences at their respective resorts can be very different. That's partly attributable to the professionals they attract, partly to differing teaching styles, and partly to the format of their signature programming. With that in mind, here's an overview of the two companies.

Kiawah Island Golf Resort

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Peter Burwash International

Former Canadian Davis Cup player Peter Burwash started Peter Burwash International (PBI) in 1975. His travels as a professional brought him in contact with resort and club managers who convinced him that there was a pent-up demand for a company that could offer tennis management services, one that could supply qualified teaching pros to service guests and members as well as handle every aspect of a tennis operation, from running tournaments to merchandising the shop. With PBI, he set out to meet that unaddressed need.
He started out with a single location in Hawaii but eventually expanded internationally. Today, he operates 49 properties in 17 countries in locations as disparate as Dubai and French Polynesia (for an overview of all his venues, visit PBI Locations). "I never had this big dream of having a global operation," he told me. "It just kind of evolved as people would call us from different parts of the world."
In those pre-Internet days, he recruited pros by placing classified ads in World Tennis magazine, then the dominant tennis publication. He wasn't looking for the usual suspects. He cared far less about playing background than character: in particular, humility and enthusiasm. He told interviewees, "If you're humble you listen, if you listen you learn, and if you learn you'll be able to teach." In return, he offered the opportunity to work in exotic parts of the world and to have a stable career.
Today, new hires need playing skills, too, and go through a rigorous 450-hour training program. It focuses, in part, on the core principles and even the vocabulary of Burwash's approach to tennis teaching. When Peter Burwash talks about hitting a tennis ball, he steadfastly avoids cliches like "get your racquet back" and "watch the ball." Instead his vocabulary consists of phrases like "contact zone," "balance," and "control." His basic premise is that players cease to improve because they lack a common-sense understanding of the game. "Tennis is a game of emergencies," says Burwash. It isn't perfect form that determines who wins a tennis match but knowing how to respond when an opponent has you in trouble.
Burwash summarized his approach to tennis in his best-selling book "Tennis For Life" and set about traveling the world for as much as 300+ days a year introducing the joy of tennis in the most improbable places: Third World countries, prisons, and mental hospitals. He was also greatly in demand as a motivational speaker, on topics ranging from tennis to leadership and service and health and fitness, in particular the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. His boundless energy has convinced many of his pros to themselves become vegetarians.
In 2016, he promoted René Zondag to President, giving him responsibility for global growth and operations of the company while remaining in an advisory capacity as Founder and Chairman. Zondag had joined PBI in 1997, after a career as a tennis coach and club manager in his native The Netherlands. He soon focused on giving PBI a more public face.
"For many years PBI has been the best-kept secret," Zondag told me. "My intention was to create something to give us more access to people and thus to share what we have to share as a company." PBI had a history of staging successful tennis camps dating back to 1977, when the company ran what was originally called the Kneissl Tennis Camp at the Bio-Hotel in Stanglwirt, Austria. Zondag introduced World Camps, launching them on selective dates at eight venues in North America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Middle East. Typically four-day affairs, these bundle 19+ hours of group clinics, doubles play, and social tennis events with lodging, awards, and gifts. "The World Camps have turned out to be quite successful," he continued. "We've focused on making them an intimate, caring, and bonding experience and these have been very well received."

Silverado Resort & Spa, Napa, California

The secret Zondag wants to expose is the consistency that prevails across the entire PBI landscape. Because every PBI pro is grounded in the same methodology, a guest taking a lesson from a PBI pro at, say, the Mandarin Oriental in Kuala Lumpur can smoothly transition to a lesson at California's Carmel Valley Ranch, where Burwash now lives, and pick up where he left off. In fact, the pro is likely to know exactly what the guest was working on because, notes Burwash, "We use the same terminology and we have a record of everybody who takes a tennis lesson with us."
From the beginning Burwash has been a proselytizer for tennis, a man dedicated to preaching the joy of the game, one worth pursuing for a lifetime. Zondag continues to promote the same philosophy: "I judge a pro on how many people they keep in the game."

Cliff Drysdale Tennis

Cliff Drysdale founded Cliff Drysdale Tennis (CDT) with Don Henderson in 2001. His background as a former Top 10 player (he reached the finals of the U.S. Open in singles and won it in doubles) and noted ESPN tennis announcer brought instant name recognition, to which he added a reputation for designing exceptional tennis complexes, most notably at Fisher Island Club & Resort in Florida. His first venture was the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, whose Tennis Garden he had also designed. From there he expanded into management not only of such resorts as the Omni Amelia Island Plantation in Florida, Omni Rancho Las Palmas in California, and Stratton Mountain in Vermont, but also of public and private clubs, fitness centers, and public facilities, mostly in the U.S., though he has one each in Bermuda and Costa Rica. (For an overview of all his venues, visit CDT Locations.)
Looking back on his decision to start a company, Drysdale reflected, "Originally for me it was just a matter of improving the management of tennis facilities." But he soon came to realize that there was a significant opportunity to grow the business by promoting tennis vacations, so he began to seek out "places where people could enjoy tennis in some of the greatest places in the world" with a plan not simply to run the tennis facility but also to stage what he calls the "Ultimate Tennis Experience." To that end, he began to offer both basic tennis camps and such specialized getaways as luxury ladies' retreats, doubles boot camps, VIP camps like "Tennis With the Stars," and tournament packages to the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
He also made a decision about the kind of staff he'd need to pursue that goal. "The first thing I look for is whether they want to make it a lifetime occupation. The ones that are most attractive to us make a commitment to the tennis-teaching profession. Good pros are not that easy to find but when you do find them that's the key to the whole program." He recruits from the major tennis colleges and from the resorts and clubs he manages. His pros go through a training regimen, either under one of his established pros at one of his clubs, or at headquarters in New Braunfels, TX, but he doesn't impose a specific teaching philosophy. "There's not a specific Drysdale method. It's more about the fun, the learning, the competition—those three things in equal parts, but we are not saying that there's only one way to hit a forehand or backhand or serve. You've got to look at stroke production, so that's part of it but there's also the fun part." He looks for pros who are both knowledgeable and personable. "For me the all-rounded tennis pro knows how to generate enthusiasm, excitement with a learning component and a competitive component. The key to their success is constantly learning ways to make the sport more fun to play."
The enthusiasm of the pros aside, there are other characteristics that define a CDT program. Though they'd like you to be happily tired at the end of a session, theirs in not a grind-you-into-the-ground format of drop-dead drills. Much of their on-court work in camps consists of fast-paced, point-simulation drills couched in a game or competitive format to make the repetition more fun. "Dark Alleys," for example, is a doubles drill that encourages trying to poach because the doubles alleys are out of play, or the pros will create pressure by starting games at deuce. "Dingles," another doubles game, uses two tennis balls. Players rally cross-court until one misses, at which point anyone can yell "Dingles" and then you play out the remaining ball. There are dozens of such drills all accessible to every Drysdale pro on the CDT database. So while Drysdale says he has no single teaching method, there is nonetheless a consistent approach that underpins every CDT program.
Drysdale sold the company to Troon®, the leader in golf-club management in 2018, so his role with CDT is now primarily as an advisor. But he feels that the merger laid the groundwork for an even greater tennis expansion. "It's going to make tennis much more available at the properties that they have," he continued. That does not mean that CDT will take the reins at every tennis complex at a Troon-managed golf course, but he believes that Troon's significant clout can help tennis grow the game. "It gives us access to so many people who are in the tennis/golf world," he added, referring to the combination of Troon's extensive database of golfers with CDT's own roster of tennis players. "The Troon people want tennis to succeed. It's in their interest to help us which is why I was so enthusiastic about this whole sale: it's going to help tennis."

COVID-19 Update

Wilson Triniti: A Recyclable Container

Wilson Triniti tennis ballsAll tennis balls have to conform to certain specifications with respect to weight, size, rebound, and deformation, so it's no wonder that the tennis ball you played with last week probably hadn't evolved much from the one your parents (or perhaps, you) played with 40 years ago. Enter the Wilson Triniti. Using state-of-the-art materials, the innovation hub Wilson LABS has produced a revolutionary tennis ball that lasts four times longer than the traditional Wilson ball and yet does not require pressurized packaging to maintain its liveliness. This new design utilizes a plastomer material for the core which by being lighter than rubber allows the core to have thicker walls. Wilson then overlays that with STR felt, which enhances durability and is 50% more flexible than traditional tennis-ball felt. This blend of new core material and flexible felt allows this ball to maintain enough liveliness to exist outside of a pressurized can. Rather than being packaged in plastic container, the Wilson Triniti comes packaged in an eight-sided cylinder made from recycled cardboard. And in a further step toward eco-consciousness, Wilson uses 5% of the profits of Triniti sales to support Wilson Sporting Goods worldwide sustainability efforts.

Inspiring Women: Billie Jean King Barbie Doll

Billie Jean King Barbie dollMattel's Barbie brand now has its first female sports figure: Billie Jean King. The legendary player and social activist is now being honored as part of the Inspiring Women Series of dolls, a line that pays tribute to women who made history. Along with King, Mattel has just released two other dolls: the jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale. They join civil rights hero Rosa Parks, artist Frida Kahlo, and astronaut Sally Ride. King's doll comes with an outfit, Wilson-logoed Billie Jean King tennis racquet, glasses, and sneakers reminiscent of the gear she wore when she famously defeated Bobby Riggs in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes." Mattel's Inspiring Women Series "pays tribute to incredible heroines of their time—courageous women who took risks, changed rules, and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before."

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The U.S. Open is changing its court surface from DecoTurf, which it has used since 1978, to Laykold. The Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati will also switch to Laykold. This was also the surface adopted by the Miami Open, both when it took place at Crandon Park and more recently when it moved to Hard Rock Stadium last year.

Vacation Sweepstakes

Tennis Resorts Online has once again secured four tennis vacations to give away in our annual drawing. Every review you file between now and September 1, 2020 gives you chance a winning one of these great tennis vacation prizes:

Courtesy Swann Galleries
  • Cliff Drysdale Tennis at Chateau Elan Winery & Resort: The lucky winner can look forward to two days of tennis camp for two people (3 hours each day) taught by the Cliff Drysdale staff on the hard or clay courts in racquet park in the North Georgia picturesque foothills. The prize also includes two nights of accommodations in a Deluxe Inn room and access to all the recreation and amenities this winery and resort, near Atlanta, Georgia, has to offer. Valid from May 1-December 30, 2020.
  • New England Tennis Holidays at Sugarbush: This long-running and consistently highly rated tennis camp parlays a setting in Vermont's Green Mountains with a solid five-hour-a-day program run by experienced pros. The winner can look forward to two days of tennis camp (five hours a day) on Har-Tru courts and lunch both days, for two people (lodging is additional) Valid for 2020/2021 season.
  • Saddlebrook Tennis: Although the tennis program is renowned as one of the planet's most intensive, the setting is pure multidimensional resort with golf, a lake-sized pool, and spa as complements to the on-court work. You could win a two-day tennis package for two, consisting of five hours of intensive tennis instruction each day (for both people) along with video analysis at this world-renowned resort in Wesley Chapel, near Tampa, Florida (lodging and meals not included).
  • Saddlebrook Junior Tennis: Rate any junior camp and you're eligible to win a one-week junior camp at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, FL. The 6-day/5-night session includes 5+ hours of daily instruction, shared lodging in a junior suite, and all meals.

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