For Sal Provenzano, his wife, and two sons the year-end holidays have always been a time for the family to be together. Some dozen years ago, however, it dawned on them being together did not require staying home and suffering through a dreary winter in New Jersey. Already familiar with Wild Dunes near Charleston, SC from previous summer vacations, they decided to pack their tennis racquets and head south, this time in December. They've been continuing to do so almost every year since.
"We all love tennis," he told me, "and we found a connection at Wild Dunes. You can be a very serious player, as my sons are—both have had racquets in their hands since age 5—or you can be recreational, and the resort has something for you. And tennis aside, we love the shoreline, Low Country food, and trips into Charleston."
Barb Kelley and her husband put off escaping winter in Maine until their two sons aged out of a need for Santa Claus. But once they had, they decided to experiment with spending the holidays away, and after alerting their sons that "you're not getting any presents," they settled on the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort in greater Palm Springs, whose three surfaces—hard, clay, and grass—intrigued them. They've been visiting now for more than 20 years, sometimes joined by her brother or other members of the extended family. What has kept them going back—and led to their buying a timeshare there—was not only the ease of finding matches but also the friends they made.
"The same people tend to do the same week every year," Kelley told me. "It's like old home week. There are always six or eight families we already know. My son Tim communicates with one of them and sets up his tennis in advance."
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Each winter, tens of thousands of families like the Provenzanos and Kelleys opt to spend the year-end holidays at a resort rather than at home. Children are out of school, and it's convenient to take time off work since two legal holidays, Christmas and New Year's, fall within a seven-day period. That makes it easy to schedule in advance. Beyond that, there's much to look forward to, chief among them the abundance of recreation—tennis in particular. No one has to prepare meals, do dishes, or make beds. And the resorts themselves get into the holiday spirit, with elaborate decorations, special events for adults and children, holiday dinners, and nonstop festivities. For families especially, Thanksgiving and the period surrounding Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year's can be among the most appealing times all year to visit.
Wild Dunes' tennis director Charly Rasheed ranks Thanksgiving weekend and the weeks leading up to New Year's among the most heavily trafficked of the year, and with numbers comes energy and excitement. "It is a similar vibe to our spring and summer peak season," he told me. Like many resorts, he brings in additional pros to cope with the increased volume and capitalizes on the abundance of families by beefing up the options for junior players.
With their tennis-playing guests in a festive mood, tennis directors set out to further enhance the holiday spirit with a mix of special programs. Wild Dunes adds a social round robins to its weekly calendar. The Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida is bringing in former touring pro John Lloyd for special clinics, private lessons, and a cocktail party. The Four Seasons Resort in Nevis runs a charity event to raise money for the local junior tennis federation and is planning a mass Cardio tennis event this season.
What you're also likely to find more of this year is pickleball activity. The JW Marriott Desert Springs will be holding a "Family Pickleball Festival" on Thanksgiving Day. "We may do something similar for Christmas," says Jim Leupold, the resort's director of tennis. "We want to make it just a fun day with the whole family able to play together, with games and chances to hit for prizes." The Greenbrier in West Virginia, which has five indoor courts, one devoted to pickleball, is thinking along the same lines. "We have lots of families that time of year," notes director Jennifer Tuckwiller. "Pickleball works well for them because it's easy to pickup and the whole family can play."
The Greenbrier obviously won't work for someone looking to escape winter, but no tennis resort looks more like a postcard image of Yuletide warmth. Its 60 days of holiday cheer began November 4, with thousands of lights in its trees, fires in the lobby fireplaces, and a larger-than-life chocolate display, not to mention options for sleigh rides and ice-skating.
There is a Grinch in this otherwise festive image, however. With so many tennis players clamoring for clinics, lessons, and court time, the courts can take on the spirited frenzy of an after-Christmas sale at Harrods. Clinics sell out, and so do private lessons. Old hands at holiday travel not only make room reservations far in advance—sometimes even as they're checking out—but often book lessons and clinics weeks or months before they arrive. Available court time can also be limited, so depending on the resort this may not be the best time to visit if your goal is to spend many of your waking hours playing tennis.
Resorts that know their facilities may be taxed take extraordinary measures to cope with the influx of players, and not just by recruiting additional staff. Dave Wilson, who directs tennis operations at the Four Seasons Nevis, sends a pre-request sheet to all tennis-playing guests ahead of time. "Everyone wants to take their lesson at 9 or 10 a.m.," he told me. "We have everyone send in their requests in advance and then it becomes a big shuffle to work it all out. As much as possible we want to avoid people waiting until they are on property to book lessons a because by then unfavorable times are usually all that remain."
As longtime holiday visitors, the Kelleys know the drill at the JW Marriott. "We have our rituals," she told me. "Our first and last session is with Jim Leupold and we always spend one day on the grass."Going back year after year means everyone in the Kelley family knows what to look forward to, including a warm welcome from the pro shop staff, who recognize them from frequent, past visits. They may not be back in their house in Maine, but they feel at home.
Tennis Fantasies, the annual men's-only tennis retreat at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, TX, has just wrapped up its 31st year. This remarkable gathering draws 100 or so enthusiastic participants drawn by the opportunity to spend a week with a dozen or so legends. Hardy perennials John Newcombe, Roy Emerson, and Owen Davidson were joined once again by Rod Laver (stalwart Fred Stolle couldn't make it) as well as by some impressive new blood in the form of Mark Philippoussis, Johan Kriek, Danie Visser, and Wayne Ferreira. For the sixth time in eight years, Tennis Resorts Online correspondent E.J. "Terry" Kahn III was on had to chronicle the personalities, on-court battles, shenanigans, and world-class trash talk—at least the parts that could appear in print. You can read his engaging dispatches at 2018 Newk's Tennis Legends Week.
Tennis Resorts Online has once again secured four tennis vacations to give away in our annual drawing. Every review you file between now and April 30, 2019 gives you chance a winning one of these great tennis vacation prizes:
In May, The Phoenician, A Luxury Collection Resort, in Scottsdale, AZ debuted a brand-new tennis center. Located on the west drive, the complex comprises seven, generously spaced tennis courts—one of them a sunken stadium, and all with state-of-the-art LED lighting—two pickleball courts, and a half basketball court. These wrap around a new Athletic Club containing an activities center, refreshment area, a retail shop, and second-floor 4.600-foot fitness center with floor-to-ceiling windows on Camelback Mountain and the resort. Ivan Rodriguez, who has more than 20 years' experience coaching and developing programs, heads the operation. He has introduced daily Live Ball drill sessions into a roster than otherwise includes instructional clinics, junior programs for various ages and abilities, player-matching services, and customized group packages.
The U.S. Fed Cup competition returns to Asheville, NC, Feb. 9-10, 2019, taking on Australia in this first-round tie. The U.S. Cellular Center is once again the host site. Tickets went on sale to the general public in early November 2 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com. Two-day packages for both Saturday and Sunday—the best initial ticket value—will be sold at prices ranging from $50 to $250, or $25 to $125 per day. Single-day tickets for Saturday or Sunday will be sold with prices ranging from $30 to $135 per day. Visit usta.com/fedcup for more information. Check out The Omni Grove Park Inn for lodging.
Jonas Ehrlin has returned to the Lodge at Ventana Canyon in Tucson, AZ, as Director of Racquet Sports, a position he previously held from 1995-2002. A native of Sweden, he came to the U.S. to play for Weber State University in Ogden, UT, where he became the all-time winningest player both at his school and in the Big Sky Conference, a distinction that earned him induction into the Weber State University Athletics Hall of Fame. He returned to the university in 2002, this time as head tennis coach. Now back at the Lodge, his twin focus in on members and guests, offering a blend of clinics, camps, weekly round robins, custom-tailored programs, and game matching. One change since his earlier stint: the club has added four permanent, lighted pickleball courts to supplement its eight lighted hard courts..
The Greenbrier's longtime pro Terry Deremer has retired and his former No. 2 Jennifer Tuckwiller, fresh off maternity leave, has taken over. Herself a fixture at the resort since 2007, this graduate of West Virginia University, where she played her college tennis, shepherds a weekly roster of private lessons, intermediate and advanced clinics, and game matching on four of the indoor courts and supplemented now by two pickleball courts set up on the fifth court.