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Saddlebrook Resort, Wesley Chapel, Florida
Courtesy Saddlebrook Resort

Saddlebrook Resort
Saddlebrook Tennis (Hopman

Wesley Chapel, Florida

By Roger Cox, Editor

Saddlebrook Resort has a well-deserved reputation for staging one of the most—if not, the most—demanding tennis programs on the planet. The underlying philosophy owes much to the training techniques of the legendary Australian Davis Cup coach and notorious taskmaster Harry Hopman. His was a taxing regimen designed at once to improve technique and push the envelope of his charge's stamina and endurance. That reputation for toughness draws aspiring juniors to its academy and committed adults, the latter attracted to the blend of rigorous workouts and Saddlebrook's full resort amenities.


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Overview

Saddlebrook Resort garnered awards for its design when it opened in 1981. The 480-acre layout, 25 miles north of Tampa, places the lodging, restaurants, shops, a lakesize swimming pool, tennis courts, spa, golf clubhouse, and meeting rooms at the center of a halo of golf fairways, condos, and residential neighborhoods. Centralizing all of the major amenities creates what they call a "Walking Village." Foliage is lush, ponds and lakes dot the property, and birds are abundant, including several endangered species for which this is a refuge and a rookery.

This is hardly the setting you'd expect for the mother of all hard-core tennis camps, but having all those amenities provides relief from the rigors of the daily regimen while its guard gate provides privacy and security—one reason touring pros visit between tournaments to work on their games. Its juniors, both live-in and short term, hope the program will set them on the road to greatness (or at least a college scholarship), while adults come looking to get in shape, test their physical mettle, or perhaps search for a magic elixir to cure, once and for all, the flaws in their game. It is also often true that the adults frequently underestimate the physical demands a program like this makes, and that even though none has ever in his or her life played five hours of tennis a day, they somehow think they are ready for five hours a day of drills.

Although the historical philosophy of the program has to push you to the point that your game breaks down, find what is salvageable in the rubble, and rebuild from there. That said, after my last visit I came away thinking that this approach has mellowed somewhat in recent years. In my early participation in the Hopman program, as it was known then, I remember being chastised for ignoring a feed too wide for me to reach, only to have the next fed wider until I learned that it was crucial to make an attempt even when you thought you had no chance of reaching the balls. I remember, too, the so-called "bucket of ball" drills and "kamikaze" drills that had you scampering right and left and back again until you pleaded exhaustion or the pro was convinced you'd had enough.

My sense is that while the regimen remains demanding, the boot-camp approach has been abandoned. None of the pros on my latest visit adopted an in-your-face drill sergeant's demeanor (though I was told that if that's what you want, it is available). Instead, they established key concepts essential to hitting well—early preparation, eyes on the ball, full follow-through—and then ran drills and competitive exercises to put those concepts into practice. Still, there were times when we were grateful for the break afforded by the need to pick up balls.

Although there are exceptions, you typically stay with the same pro throughout your stay (barring his or her days off), so they oversee your progress first-hand. They tailor the work to the abilities of the campers they oversee. Rather than stand in one place and hit picture-perfect strokes, you pretty much have to run for every ball. Like the pros, you'll do a lot of two-on-one drills, and if your skills permit it live-ball drills and competitive games with the other campers on your court. The process can be exhilarating, demoralizing, or both, but you will come away from this program knowing where you stand with respect to your aerobic conditioning and what you really need to do to take your game to the next level.

Tennis Features

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If courts alone were the measure of a great tennis resort, then Saddlebrook would rank near the top. It has 45 courts altogether, including hard, clay, red clay, Rebound Ace (the surface formerly used at the Australian Open) and grass, all of which—the grass included—are available to guests. The major complex is near the center of the resort. There is a secondary complex a mile away in Lakeside Village, which is also the site of the 3,000-square-foot fitness center and high-performance complex and where the juniors enrolled in the academy work out. All of the courts are laid out in clusters of two to five separated by an awning-covered patio furnished with chairs and a refrigerated water fountain.

Tennis Staff. Although Harry Hopman, the legendary Australian Davis Cup coach, died in 1985, the organization he built survives. The core group of staff, many longtime Saddlebrook pros, expands and contracts based on how many adults are enrolled in the programs—as many as are needed to keep the student:pro ratio at 4:1 of less.
Tennis Programs. Although the resort itself offers some perfunctory stroke-of-the-day clinics (run by tennis-academy staff), the real reason a tennis player would come here is the Hopman-inspired camps.
Unlike some other dedicated facilities and college-campus programs, Hopman's does not include any meals in the package, so for other dining you're left to fend for yourself at the quite good but pricey restaurants at the resort itself or pile into cars for trips beyond the resort.
Caveat: The Saddlebrook program can be among the most physically demanding of all the camps, so start a workout regimen weeks before you come down. Bring two pairs of tennis shoes, several changes of clothes (washers and dryers are available in each lodging cluster), a hat, sunblock, two racquets if you have them (broken strings are commonplace), and overgrip.

Ratings

(855 Reviewers)
Tennis Overall
4½-Ball Rating Tennis Staff
5-Ball Rating Instruction
4½-Ball Rating
Game Matching
3½-Ball Rating Junior Tennis
5-Ball Rating
Cuisine
3½-Ball Rating Lodging
3-Ball Rating Spa & Fitness
3½-Ball Rating
Dollar Value
4½-Ball Rating Other Recreation
4-Ball Rating Setting
3½-Ball Rating
Kids' Programs
5-Ball Rating Romance
3-Ball Rating Solo Travelers
4-Ball Rating


Saddlebrook Tennis (Hopman) Ratings
( 772 Reviewers)
Tennis Overall
4½-Ball Rating
Tennis
Staff
5-Ball Rating
Instruction
4½-Ball Rating
Junior Tennis
5-Ball Rating




Ratings

(855 Reviewers)
Tennis Overall
4½-Ball Rating Instruction
4½-Ball Rating Tennis Staff
5-Ball Rating Lodging
3-Ball Rating Spa & Fitness
3½-Ball Rating Dollar Value
4½-Ball Rating Kids' Programs
5-Ball Rating Solo Travelers
4-Ball Rating
Game Matching
3½-Ball Rating Junior Tennis
5-Ball Rating Cuisine
3½-Ball Rating Other Recreation
4-Ball Rating Setting
3½-Ball Rating Romance
3-Ball Rating


Saddlebrook Tennis (Hopman) Ratings
( 772 Reviewers)
Tennis Overall
4½-Ball Rating Instruction
4½-Ball Rating Tennis Staff
5-Ball Rating
Junior Tennis
5-Ball Rating

Other Recreation

Golf Courses. Saddlebrook has two 18-hole courses, both designed by Arnold Palmer, and an Arnold Palmer Golf Academy. Tee times for any of the following courses can be reserved by calling 813-973-1111, ext. 4653.

Palmer Course: This course is characterized by open, undulating fairways, and an abundance of lakes, streams and ponds. Par: 71. Length: 5,212-6,469 yards.
Saddlebrook Course: Though flatter than the Palmer course, this one is also tighter, with tree-lined fairways and water on most of its holes. Par: 70. Length: 5,183-6,603 yards.


Spa & Fitness Center. The 7,000-square-foot Spa in the walking village has 12 treatment rooms offering massages, hydrotherapy treatments, and some beauty services; however, it is currently closed. Campers who can still walk at the end of the day are welcome to use the 3,300-square-foot, state-of-the-art fitness center in Lakeside Village, a 10-minute walk from the Superpool, but it's rate that anyone does so. It has a full line of Cybex equipment plus treadmills, stair steppers, recumbent bicycles, elliptical trainers, and rubber-encased freeweights all in rooms with views of a swimming pool or volley ball pit. Personal trainers are on hand to help you craft a workout regimen. There is also an adjacent high-performance sports center, which offers specialized training programs often to professional athletes.

And ... The centerpiece of the resort is its half-million-gallon, amoeba-shaped Superpool, said to be the largest in Florida. At 270 feet long, it is vast enough to contain a 25-meter lap pool, water volleyball and water basketball courts, and a diving area. Around it are children's wading pools and two heated whirlpools. There is another swimming pool near the Sports Village & Fitness Center. Otherwise, recreation run to bike trails around the property and bass fishing in the privately stocked lakes.

Children's Programs

The S'Kids Club operates year round providing supervised activities for kids ages 4-12.

Lodging

There are a total of 790 rooms and suites at Saddlebrook, most of them in 50-unit clusters variously arrayed near the main clubhouse and pool, or out along the golf fairways. Each cluster has an ice machine and washer/dryer. The most basic accommodation is a hotel room with two double beds and a private balcony or patio. The alternatives are one- and two-bedroom suites (which anywhere else would be called condos). These have full kitchens (with coffee makers and dishwashers; most have microwaves, if not you can request one), separate living and dining areas, and one or two bedrooms, each with a full bath. The living room opens onto a patio or balcony. High-speed Internet access is available throughout the resort.

Restaurants

The TD's Sports Bar has light fare and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dempsey's Steakhouse is currently closed; however it's menu prime beef and seafood is available at TD's Sports Bar. There's also a pool bar for lunch and poolside cocktails.

See Also

If you're looking for resorts or camps that meet your specific criteria, check out Search Resorts, To see what else is in the region, see the map for the Southeast, Caribbean, Bermuda, and Bahamas. If you'd like something to compare to Saddlebrook Resort, check out the following:</p>

As an alternative, especially during Florida's hot, humid summers, take a look at these programs:

Rates and Reservations

Saddlebrook Resort

Anyone who enrolls in the Saddlebrook International Tennis program is eligible for discounted room rates. By booking tennis and lodging together, you get a deluxe guest room, 5 hours/day of intensive tennis, complimentary court time, daily lunch, and access to the fitness center and spa. One- and two-bedroom suites with full kitchens are also available.

5700 Saddlebrook Way
Wesley Chapel, FL 33543-4499
813-907-4200
Toll-free: 800-729-8383
Email:
Web Link: Saddlebrook Resort


Travel Essentials

Seasons. The resort and its Hopman tennis programs operate year-round; however, given the grueling nature of these clinics, you should think twice about coming in summer—unless, of course, you want to work out in hot, humid conditions. Principally for that reason, the camps are generally two to three times larger during the fall, winter, and spring than in summer.

Travel Instructions. By Air: Saddlebrook is 25 miles north of Tampa International Airport (TPA). Shuttles and rental cars are available. By Car: Take I-75 to the SR 54 exit and continue east 1 mile. The entrance is on the right.