By Roger Cox, Editor
One of the nation's longest-running camps, Total Tennis originally launched in 1978 at the Williston-Northampton School in Massachusetts before moving to a year-round location in Saugerties, New York in 1997. Set on 73 wooded acres, just over 100 miles from New York City, this 25-court facility is at once a tranquil retreat and a magnet for avid tennis players drawn by the five-hour-a-day programs, sumptuous meals prepared by a CIA-trained chef focused on local ingredients, and convivial atmosphere. A rustic main lodge anchors the property. Check-in formalities take place there just off a large great room with a fireplace, baby grand piano, lots of sofas and chairs, and a bar open late afternoons. There's also a modest pro shop, a game room and library, a TV room, and expansive dining room furnished with large picnic tables, the better to encourage making new friends over dinner. Tennis art decorates the public spaces and rooms.
Those rooms, 43 in all, are scattered through the lodge and six cabins, and until recently these accommodations were, let's call them, "basic." Renovations in 2018, however, upgraded roughly three-quarters of the rooms, fitting them out with new furnishings, hardwood floors, and redone baths (the remaining quarter, now classified as "retro", rent for less). About the same time, a new swimming pool and deck was constructed between "The Barn" (more about that later) and the five indoor courts, the latter with a cushioned surface and bright LED lighting. WiFi is now available throughout the rooms and public spaces, one more amenity to go along with the hot tub, day spa, fitness center, game room (in The Barn), and outdoor tennis, pickleball, and paddle tennis courts. And though you might not expect it, the property is beautifully landscaped, with towering trees and beds of flowers and shrubs.
Total Tennis founder Ed Fondiller is using those enhancements as a springboard to launch the 73-acre property as a resort, calling it Kaatsbaan Lodge.
"The idea is to lure people up to take a lesson or clinic, or hit on an open court, and then go hiking, biking, or rafting," he told me. "Although we're still a committed tennis camp, we're no longer talking about just tennis. They can stay here, take advantage of the amenities and meals, and then use it as a base to explore the Hudson Valley and historic towns like Saugerties and Woodstock. We are really looking for ways to maximize the potential of this place, particularly in the summer."
My experience with Total Tennis originally dates to its days at Williston-Northampton School. If the five-hour-a-day program persists from that era, the clientele now sport more arm sleeves and knee and ankle braces. On my last visit to Saugerties, I heard several campers, drawing presumably on past experience, already thinking ahead to how tired and sore they expected to be in a few days and scrambling to book time with the massage therapist. Five hours a day is demanding even on the red clay and artificial clay where much of the teaching takes place. Fondiller still strives to keep a student:pro ratio at 4:1. That assures more personal attention but at the same time ratchets up the number of balls you'll hit in the course of the day. Such in the nature of his tennis-hungry clientele, however, that I saw four women who no sooner arrived than they donned tennis clothes and headed to the courts—never mind the rigorous schedule that lay ahead of them the next day. And although I wasn't around to see it, my guess is they also took part in the optional round robin that takes place on Mondays and Saturdays—that's after having put in five hours on court.
The tennis aside, Total Tennis has also always been about the camaraderie. Group dinners help foster it. So do the swimming pool and hot tub. On weekends, when crowds are larger, there's often a DJ and dance music in the barn. That said, there's not much that goes on there at night. Maybe catch some TV in the barn (there are no TVs or radios in the rooms); more likely, catch up and reading and, now that there's good WiFi, social media.
Pro Shop: 845-247-9177
Tennis Programs. Fondiller adopts a simple approach to his camp: "I try to keep it laid back and relaxed," he told me. "I want to keep tennis in perspective. If you're not out there having fun, you shouldn't be playing." He himself makes a a point to be on hand at the start of every weekend and midweek camp, introducing the program and helping to sort campers into compatible groups and pairing them with an instructor (campers generally work with the same pro throughout their stay). But the daily instruction—and ½-hour private lessons that are part of every package—he now leaves to his stable of experienced pros, headed by Saif Syed and Devarshi "Bubla" Mitra, who have been with him for 15 and 20 years respectively. All of them take their cue from Fondiller and keep the atmosphere light. Despite its 5-plus-hour-a-day format, this is not a boot camp.
Talk to any of the camp regulars, and the comment you hear over and over again is that they like the people who attend. The recidivism rate is high, so people frequently run into campers they'd met on previous visits. It is not unusual for 75 or more people to show up for a weekend camp.
Weekenders are almost exclusively adults, but midweek during the summer Total Tennis also offers options for juniors ages 6 to 17. When kids and parents come together, the juniors can take part in a summer camp that bundles tennis in the morning with other activities in the afternoon leaving parents free to indulge their passion for tennis without having to worry about their children. Courts & Fees. There are 25 courts altogether: 11 red clay, 12 hard (5 of them indoors), and two artificial clay. Court Fees: None for campers outdoors; otherwise, $20-$30 outdoors, $50-$60 indoors.
Caveat: Any program that puts you with the same pro throughout the week risks the occasional personality conflict. If you're not happy, my advice is to ask to be switched, even if that means having to join a group of players above or below your level.
Spa & Fitness
Golf Courses. Although there is no golf course at the camp, there is one 18-hole course just up the road.
Spa & Fitness Center. A day spa, with six treatment rooms, makes a variety of massages available to campers and other guests. There is also a modest fitness center in a long, narrow room in the building that houses the indoor courts It has several pieces of Cardio equipment as well as multisport stations.
And ... The camp has a recreational swimming pool open during the summer and fall, as well as a year-round hot tub.
If you're looking for an all-day tennis camp with lots of social atmosphere, also check out:
1811 Old Kings Highway
P.O. Box 28
Saugerties, NY 12477
Seasons. Year-round, however the outdoor season runs from mid May to mid October. During the winter most people come for weekends or long weekends.
Travel Instructions. By Air: The nearest major airport is Albany, 47 miles to the north. By Car: Total Tennis is three miles from Exit 20 off the New York State Thruway. That puts it roughly 100 miles north of New York City. By Bus: Several bus lines connect New York City with Saugerties. You can phone from the drop-off point and someone from Total Tennis will pick you up. By Rail: The nearest Amtrak station is Rhinecliff, New York, a $60 cab ride away.
General Tourist Information. Although Saugerties provokes flashbacks to the original Woodstock Festival, it has become known more recently for its antique shops and its eight-square-block National Historic District. For more information about it, visit the Saugerties website on the Hudson Valley Network.