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Florida's West Coast Playground

Jennifer Pfaff

   John Woods looks out over a patchwork of green, rectangular courts. The sounds of bouncing tennis balls and rubber-soled sneakers screeching against the clay call out from all around. A singles match is being played in front of him, while a group of women on a court to his left laugh as they scurry to swing rackets at soaring highlighter-yellow tennis balls.
   Woods, tanned from years under the sun, became the tennis director at the Resort at Longboat Key Club in 1976 after teaching clinics while working for Roy Emerson. At the time, the west coast resort had only six courses—“like a mom and pop shop,” he says. “I could tell it was only going to grow, and I wanted to be part of that growth.”
   Since undergoing a major renovation in 2009, the Resort at Longboat Key Club now boasts one of the country’s top-ranked tennis programs. The Tennis Gardens contain 20 Har-Tru courts and are home to the Sarasota Open, among other tournaments, regularly drawing such athletes as James Blake, Sam Querrey and John and Patrick McEnroe. Woods and his staff instruct a range of programs, including cardio tennis, clinics of all types and even yoga and stretching classes. A tennis concierge is only a phone call away to arrange a match for any guest who lacks a partner but has an urge to play.
   As much as 60 percent of the resort’s 400 members started as guests, Woods says, and the tennis program was instrumental in building the membership. But the sport is not the only reason. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, the four-diamond resort is a 410-acre playground that includes 45 holes of golf, a 291-slip marina (the largest on Florida’s west coast) and a white-sand beachfront for kayaking, paddleboarding or simply lounging.
   When a day trip is in order, the Resort at Longboat Key Club presents an excursion with Aura Jets that satisfies every whim. With a travel package that begins at $8,500, visitors take a private plane from any Florida airport to Sarasota’s (a roughly 45-minute flight from Boca Raton), where a limousine will escort them to the breezy resort.
   Guests are given a room for the day with a bottle of Champagne and the freedom to enjoy the property’s amenities, whether they desire a tennis lesson with Woods, boating in the Gulf, a massage at the spa or a swim in the beachfront pool. When hunger strikes, guests can head to one of six restaurants, the newest of which is the Tavern and Whiskey Bar. Casual during the day and sophisticated at night, the farm-to-table establishment overlooks the moss-draped golf course and sources ingredients locally, including from its own gardens and groves. Resort staff whisks visitors around the grounds in private cars or golf carts and drives them back to the airport when it’s time to fly home.
   As guests exit, they pass the original six “mom and pop” tennis courts near the entrance—evidence of the resort’s humble roots that have sprouted into a luxury amusement park worth exploring, if only for a day. (888-237-5545)

 

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