By Roger Cox, Editor
Set of the campus of a 160-year-old college in central Massachusetts, Amherst is one of the oldest and best run of the nation's summer tennis camps. The formula is simple: rather than pay big bucks for posh accommodations and food, campers hole up in dormitories and eat in the dining hall, which means the largest part of their fees go to the tennis itself. At Amherst that means roughly five hours a day of well-oiled group instruction plus one or more private lessons and the option of as much additional play as you can handle.
You may not be able to handle much. While not a boot camp, this is one of the more demanding programs, partly because of the sheer number of hours spent on court, partly because of the intensity of some of the drills. At the same time it is one of the most social. Big tables in the dining hall foster easy camaraderie, tennis shorts or skirts and T-shirts are the uniform of the day, and there's some sort of tennis activity—typically a round robin—scheduled every night plus a weekend "Dorm party" and informal gathering at a local pub in town.
On my last visit, campers ranged in age from late 20s to more than 60. Many had come alone or with friends, though so had numerous couples.
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Tennis Staff. Reiny Maier has run this camp for close to 40 years. He played No. 1 for a Wisconsin State University at Whitewater and was a teaching pro at Nick Bollettieri's original junior tennis camp in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He later worked with Harry Hopman, who was one of the co-founders of the original Amherst Camp program. He's assisted by Maureen Rankine, who has herself taught at Amherst for more than 30 years. They head a staff of roughly a dozen pros, a few of whom have been a part of the Amherst program for more than 10 years. Most are or have been college players; a least a few teach school during the rest of the year, as Maier did until he retired.
Maier chooses pros based on their ability to communicate and on their people skills, and then works with them to ensure that everyone teaches the same methodology. So you are not going to get the pro on one court telling you something significantly different when your group changes instructors. Maier variously roams from court to court, supplementing his pro's expertise with his own, or takes charge of teaching one of the courts so that several groups get to hear his take on what they need to do to improve. He has a well-honed ability to quickly find and assess technical problems in strokes.
Tennis Programs. This is essentially an all-day program, with solid group instruction running from 9:00 a.m. (after a brief stretch) to 11:30 a.m. and then again from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Student:pro ratios never exceed 4:1, and campers change instructors every 25-40 minutes. Everyone also gets one or more ½-hour private lessons (the number depends on how many days you've booked) and a written evaluation by the pro covering all the strokes, not just those you work on in privates. After camp ends (and before it begins), the courts are available for pick up tennis, and a few driven individuals always seem to show up early or stay late to play or hit as if they weren't getting enough opportunity in the clinic. After dinner every evening there is some sort of gathering, whether a cocktail party, lecture, or round robin. Campers themselves have been known to organize their own pub crawl.
Courts & Fees. The college has two banks of courts arrayed above and below the soccer fields in the northeast corner of the campus. Once juniors and adults attended during the same weeks; but the college has eliminated all the clay courts and 10 of the hard courts, so the seasons for both juniors and adults have shortened significantly. See the dates below, but essentially adults sessions now take place over two full weeks and two long weekends. There are also three indoor Supreme courts (a type of rubberized carpet) at Amherst. Court fees: None.
Spa & Fitness
Fitness Center. The college's pyramid-shaped athletic center is open to students who haven't had enough work on court. It houses an indoor lap pool, squash courts, running track (which circles the three indoor courts), and an extremely well equipped two-floor fitness center with windowed rooms variously devoted to free weights, cardiovascular equipment, and weight-training machines.
And ... There are nature and bike trails near the campus and a local golf course.
There are no children's programs; however, there is a concurrent junior tennis program.
Lodging consists of aid-conditioned dorm rooms, with en suite bathrooms, very close to the courts. Alternatively, you have the option of staying instead in a local inn and enrolling as a day camper, but then you don't get breakfast or dinner, both of which are social occasions.
Rather than having a restaurant, Amherst feeds campers cafeteria style in its dining hall. The food there is better and more varied than you may expect. Choices change nightly but can include turkey stuffed with rice, beef teriyaki, or fettuccine with chicken primavera sauce. There are pastas and vegetarian choices every night, as well as a salad bar, cooked vegetables, fresh fruit, ice cream, and other desserts. Drink choices range from juices and sodas to coffee and tea. No alcoholic beverages are served, so forget lingering over dinner with a glass of wine. During my last visit, campers rated the food "quite good," for the most part, only complaining of occasional inconsistencies—one night the choices were hamburgers or deep-fried veggie cutlets—and of the unusually early dinner hour, which is usually scheduled 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The most obvious comparison is with the other college-campus programs or selected intensive camps:
And finally, compare it to the classic boot camps:
Amherst offers flexible, arrive-any-day packaging for its summer programs. The instruction consists of two 2½-hour sessions daily, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Essentially, you pay $180 for each session you book and that comes with lodging and meals (or pay $145/session as a non-resident). Or book one of their packages, which bundle accommodations and cafeteria meals, 5 hours of tennis instruction and one or more ½-hour private lessons. You may also opt to stay off campus and thus pay only for the instruction and lunch (see Day Rates below). All rates are per person.
POSTPONED TO 2021
Packages (tennis instruction, lodging, meals)
4 days: $1,165. 2 or 3 days: $795.
Day Rates (instruction and lunch)
4 days: $895. 2 or 3 days: $645
For Information and Reservations:NIKE Amherst Adult Tennis Camp at Mt. Holyoke College
Say "I was referred by Tennis Resorts Online" when you book.
Seasons. Amherst operates only during the summer months of June and July.
Travel Instructions. By Air: The nearest airport is Bradley International, between Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA, 50 miles to the south. If you're driving from the airport, take Interstate 91 North to exit 19, then Route 9 east to Amherst. By Car: Amherst is 90 miles west of Boston and 165 miles north of New York City. Alternatively, bus service is available to Amherst, and Amtrak has limited service directly into Amherst just minutes from campus. Given advance notice, someone from the staff may be able to pick you up at either the bus or train station.