By Roger Cox, Editor
The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club near Jacksonville, Florida seems to have adopted a strategy of "If we perpetually enhance, they will come." Over just the last decade or so, with and without fanfare, this 300-acre beachfront enclave has thoroughly redone its spacious, mostly oceanfront rooms with exquisite taste, completely rebuilt its racquet club, investing it with 15 clay courts irrigated from beneath and installed a brand-new clubhouse, with an elegant pro shop and second-floor covered viewing area. That followed the replacement of part of the main inn—which dates to 1937—with additional rooms, suites and retail space and a nearly doubling the size of the fitness center, whose second-floor workout area has ocean views. Now there's a brand-new 28,000-square-foot spa. For all that it remains relatively little known, mostly because those who discover it would just as soon keep it a secret.
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Since it opened in 1928, the inn has evolved from a 12-room log cabin into a 221-room resort strung along half a mile of Atlantic beach. The surviving section of the old Inn consists of the Main Dining Room, the Audubon Bar, and a Great Lounge with a huge fireplace at each end, appealing sitting areas furnished with couches and chairs, and a cathedral ceiling with exposed beams. Check-in formalities take place European style at an oversize desk in its lobby.
There is something rather unprepossessing about the resort. Its lowrise architecture and traditional white brick and terra-cotta tile suggests nothing out of the ordinary. And yet it is. Despite it relatively small size, this 300-acre property has an incredible depth of facilities, including a long history of dedication to tennis, spearheaded since 1992 by former touring pro Mike Leach.
Pro Shop: 904-273-7720
Great tennis resorts generate a sense of excitement for the game. At Ponte Vedra, Leach seems to have an intuitive sense for the kinds of activities and services that avid players crave. Members and guests alike turn out in large numbers for the morning drop-in round robins, among them one for men age 50 and older and another for those with NTRP ratings of 4.0 or higher. Matches go on all day as the diligent staff works to put together players interested in games. There are several daily clinics—including one for juniors—and a summer program of intensive camps, personally run by Leach. A covered courtside deck with tables and chairs and complimentary coffee encourages hanging around.
Tennis Staff. Former touring pro Mike Leach rose to as high as No. 27 in the world, partly on the strength of his huge left-handed serve. After retiring in 1987, he spent the next five years as director of the Atlanta Health and Racquet Club, a regional USTA Training Center, and then came to Ponte Vedra in 1992. "Ponte Vedra's niche is strong adult programming and the ability to integrate guests into the activities," says Leach. "One of the things we try to do is make guests virtual members. They can do anything members can."
Tennis Programs. Instructional programs vary seasonally, partly in response to the needs of local members. In any given week you can expect to find a variety of stroke and drill clinics, mostly geared to novice and intermediate players, as well as a series of clinics for kids from age 5 and up. From late May through August, however, Leach runs adult and junior tennis camps. For adults these are typically 4- or 5-day programs that devote two each morning (or two hours in the evening) to group clinics covering all aspects of the game, including technique, conditioning, singles and doubles tactics, and specialty shots.
Courts & Fees. The complex consists of 15 Har-Tru courts, 8 with lights. Court fees: $20/person/day; however, the basic tennis package includes unlimited free court time.
Spa & Fitness
Beach. Once 50-foot-high dunes,
like those on Amelia Island to the north, lined this stretch
of beach. That was before National Lead—the predecessor
to Union Carbide—bulldozed them for their titanium more
than half a century ago. What survives is another broad boulevard
of sand and shell perhaps 40 yards wide at high tide and more
than double that at low. It's made all the more appealing by
the absence of both crowds and any Atlantic-front building
taller than two stories. Most of the rooms face the beach directly,
so by opting for lodging on the first floor you can walk off
your back terrace virtually onto the sand.
The resort itself fronts roughly half a mile of beach. Toward the southern end stands the Surf Club, a complex of outdoor swimming pools, restaurants, and a fitness center that is the social heart of the resort, especially for members.
Golf Courses. Tee times for any of the following courses can be reserved by calling 904-285-2044. Greens Fees: $85.
Lagoon Course: Water is the dominant feature on this 5,574-yard, par 70 course designed by Robert Trent Jones and Joe Lee. The course, although not especially long, demands controlled and accurate shot making: all fourteen clubs are required here. Water is definitely the dominant feature with a mosaic of lakes and lagoons threatening golfers on eleven holes. Tall pines, palms and ancient, sprawling oaks form the contours of this lushly landscaped course. Fairways are narrow, but kept in immaculate condition, and the greens, perfectly manicured, are small and fast.
Ocean Course: These 18 holes were originally designed by British golf architect Herbert Bertram Strong and subsequently redesigned by Robert Trent Jones in 1947. In 1998, the resort spent some $4 million upgrading all of its 18 holes, adding lakes and lagoons, elevating some tees and greens, adding undulations to some fairways and introducing better drainage, irrigation, and new heat- and salt-tolerant turf and grass.
Spa & Fitness Center. In November 2006 the Inn opened its new 28,000-square-foot spa in south of the Racquet Club with its back to the lagoon and the golf holes along it. The Inn's fitness center is remarkable for its second-floor location immediately behind the pools at the surf club. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame views of the Atlantic. To take advantage of those views it is designed in three tiers: with cardiovascular equipment on the lowest tier, then a full suite of Cybex machines, and finally free weights.
And ... Apart from everything else, the inn has two oceanfront swimming pools, one a lap pool the other for adults only, as well as a children's wading pool and a Jacuzzi. There is also fishing for bass, brim, and speckled perch in the resort's four miles of lagoons.
Although some limited children's programs take place throughout the year, from June through August it runs actual children's camps. These consist of organized games, swimming instruction, beach walks, fishing, boating, tennis, golf, gymnastics, and arts and crafts for children ages 4-12. In addition, during selected weeks of the summer the tennis center runs junior tennis camps.
Accommodations consist of 250 rooms and suites. With the exception of the 21 rooms and suites in the inn and the golf villas, all of the rooms are oceanfront, with large balconies or patios looking across a broad beach at the sea. Decorated with exquisite taste, these rooms occupy a necklace of two-story buildings strung along the beach to either side of the resort's Surf Club and across from the 1937 inn. All are junior suites, with a convertible sofa and second television in the sitting area, and an oversize marble bath. There's another set of rooms in Island House overlooking the lagoon. These do not have ocean views but make up for it in the generous layouts, some with fireplaces.
Although most of the dining at the inn falls into the pleasantly acceptable category—breakfast at the Inn Dining Room, lunch at the Golf Clubhouse or Surf Club patio—its Seafoam Dining Room, on the second floor of the Surf Club overlooking the ocean, stands out for its excellent cuisine, especially the local seafood, and professional, attentive service. Jackets are required after 6:30 p.m. and ties encouraged.
The Ponte Vedra Inn is a very unusual property, a small resort with very deep dimensions, including excellent tennis, golf, a beach, spa and fitness center. If you need all those aspects, then check out:
If you can give up one or more of those elements in exchange for a similar level of creature comforts and attention to tennis, then check out:
In general, high season at the Inn occurs during the spring. Accommodations range from small deluxe rooms to a presidential suite. Tennis packages are also available.
Visit the website for current rates
Seasons. Although open year-round, Ponte Vedra's location in northeast Florida means that its winters can be too chilly for the beach and Atlantic to be appealing—though the cooler weather at that time of year invites tennis, just don't expect as much activity. The period from May through August—the "social season"—tends to be the busiest, with an influx of families especially over weekends and school holidays before reaching a zenith in summer. Summer is also the season the tennis complex runs its adult and junior tennis camps.
Travel Instructions. The Inn is 20 miles southeast of Jacksonville International Airport (JAX). To reach it by car, take Butler Blvd. East (Exit 101) off I-95 and follow it for 13 miles to A1A North. Travel 1/4 mile to Ponte Vedra Blvd. (there's a sign for the inn) and turn right. The inn lies another 1.5 miles along.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau website or contact them at 3 Independent Dr., Jacksonville, FL 32202; (904) 798-9148 or (800) 733-2668.