By Roger Cox, Editor
The 410-acre The Resort at Longboat Key Club straddles the southern tip of a long, narrow barrier island opposite Sarasota. It consists of two developments: Islandside, which borders the beach and Gulf of Mexico, and Harbourside, a primarily residential enclave, which faces Sarasota Bay. Hotel guests bed down in the 218 rooms and suites in a cluster of midrise towers just behind the beach on Islandside, where there are eight Har-Tru courts, a spa, fitness center, and 18 of the resort's 45 golf holes. However, the focal point of the resort's tennis activity can be found at the $4.5 million Tennis Gardens, three miles away along Sarasota Bay in Harbourside. This handsomely designed facility has 20 Har-Tru courts, one of which is a stadium with seating for 500 spectators, as well as a clubhouse with a restaurant and lounge to encourage players to come early and hang around after they finish. The USTA named it Facility of the Year when it opened in 2009, and it has since become the host site for the Sarasota Open, a men's professional tournament.
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There are a lot of factors that can go into the success of a tennis program, among them the longevity of the tennis director. John Woods has been in that position since 1976, giving him more than the usual insight into the needs of both the local members and the hotel's guests. He brought strong credentials to the position: He played for Texas Tech and then traveled with the Laver-Emerson camps for three years between stints at the Houston Racquet Club and the Country Club of Sarasota, among other venues. But the physical venue matters as well, and the thoughtful design of the Tennis Gardens—with its viewing decks, cafe, and bar—makes it not only a inviting place to play but also an appealing place to linger, before and after heading to the courts. Not surprisingly, tennis activity has increased since the Gardens opened.
Tennis Programs. Like Palm Beach, Sarasota has a social season from November to April when seasonal residents return and activity on the courts intensifies. During that period, having the eight additional courts at Islandside helps meet demand for the desirable morning time slots. To help shift that demand, Woods began offering more programs in the afternoons, in the way of Cardio tennis, singles strategy, doubles strategy, live-ball drills.
"These are activities people can just drop in on," he notes by way of explaining their success. But he also points to a change in demographics: "We have a younger membership now so the kids are in school so they come out in the afternoons," he continues. "And I think the facility has a lot to do with it also. You can come in right afterwards and grab a beer or soda." During the summer and major holidays, he adds junior clinics to the mix. He also praises his staff, which includes Sammy Avila, a near legend on Longboat Key for his years with the Bollettieri tennis academy and then the now sadly shuttered Colony Beach & Tennis Club. Woods has also taken great pains to hire stellar tennis concierges, a position now held by Amy Larson. She grew up in a tennis-playing family in Montana—her father played professionally—and hung around the courts where her father later taught. In a way she's still hanging out, though now at the Longboat Key Club's Tennis Gardens, where she spends her days matching guests and members with appropriate opponents or drafting them into round robins. Courts & Fees. There are 20 Har-Tru courts at Harbourside Tennis Gardens, another eight at Islandside, and one at the Marina. Court fees: None for hotel guests.
Spa & Fitness
Beach. The resort lies near the southern end of the 14-mile-long white-sand beach that lines the Gulf of Mexico coast of the island of Longboat Key. The dunes remain intact at this end, so to reach the beach you use any of several walkways. Once there you'll find lounge chairs and cabanas.
Golf Courses. The resort has 45 holes of golf.
Islandside Course: Water hazards come into play on all 18 holes of this 6,792-yard, Par 72 course laid out along the Gulf of Mexico. Pink and white oleander and more than 5,000 palm trees line the fairways, which trail through a bird sanctuary. Harbourside Course: Willard Byrd of Atlanta designed the three nine-hole courses—Red Hawk at 3,323 yards, White at 3,426 yards, and the Blue Heron at 3,386 yards—that make up Harbourside These were later configured by designer Ron Garl, who added more contour and elevation and improved the putting surfaces. Situated on the Sarasota Bay side of the island, these 27 holes trail through stands of live oak, sabal palms, palmetto, and southern pine. Playing here is a different experience from Islandside, at once more open and more trap riddled.
Spa & Fitness Center. The 4,000-square-foot Fitness Centre stands just a short stroll from the Islandside lodging at one end of the building containing the golf pro shop and the cafe Spike'n Tees. The fitness center consists of an aerobics room with windows on three sides and a mirror on other and views of the Islandside golf course. There are two adjoining rooms, one with about a dozen pieces of Cardio equipment, the other with freeweights. Personal trainers are available, so are a variety of daily classes. It adjoins the Island House Spa, a 9,000-square-foot building containing 12 treatment rooms.
And ... There is a beachfront swimming pool at the Resort Center, where they occasionally screen movies outdoors. There is also a 291-slip marina on Sarasota Bay in the Harbourside development.
During the summer and major holidays, the resort Camp Loggerhead, a Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Kids Klub. It offers a variety of educational activities including nature walks, and field trips as well as on-property recreation, arts, crafts, and water sports.
The resort lodging consists of a cluster of seven white concrete towers rising from four to 10 stories and constructed in a halo around the Resort Center just behind the dunes lining the Gulf of Mexico beach. Their unprepossessing appearance is deceptive: The rooms themselves turn out to be very spacious—none smaller than a suite—with broad deep balconies or terraces and handsome interiors. The best have views of the beach; the rest overlook the lagoon or golf course. All have full kitchens, washer-dryers, and wired and wireless Internet access.
The several dining options. The hotel at Islandside has Sands Pointe, which merges Florida, Mediterranean, and European culinary traditions (e.g., pan-seared black grouper, veal chop with mushroom sauce, Kansas City strip loin) from its perch overlooking the beach. There is also poolside dining at Barefoot's Bar & Grille and breakfast, lunch, and a weekly evening barbecue at Spike 'n Tees, which overlooks the Islandside golf course. Within Harbourside, the choices are Portofino Ristorante and Bar for northern Italian cuisine overlooking the marina, the Tavern and Whiskey Bar in the Harbourside golf clubhouse for farm-to-table fare, and Court 21 Café & Lounge at the Tennis Gardens, which serves light fare at breakfast and lunch.
If you like the sound of the The Resort at Longboat Key Club, also check out:
Lodging ranges from guest rooms to suites, some as large as two bedrooms.
Visit the website for current rates
Seasons. Year-round, however busiest from November into April.
Travel Instructions. The nearest airport is Sarasota Bradenton International (SRQ), which is 9 miles away and accessible on several national and commuter airlines as well as Canadian Airlines. The alternative is to fly into Tampa International Airport (TPA), 72 miles to the north. Rental cars and shuttles are available at both airports.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau website or contact them at 655 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236; (941) 957-1877 or (800) 522-9799, or the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau website or contact them at P.O. Box 1000, Bradenton, FL 34206-1000; phone (941) 729-9177.