By Roger Cox, Editor
Sandestin begins along the sugar-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and extends north across a peninsula to Choctawhatchee Bay. It has devoted attention to tennis ever since it opened in 1975, when it became the first modern resort to give its guests the opportunity to play on grass courts. Although the grass has been replaced by clay, it still has a handsome 15-court tennis complex a short stroll from the Village of Baytowne Wharf, which is a focal point of the resort even though it borders the bay and not the beach.
The resort and its residential developments now cover some 2,400 acres. It begins as a series of 20-story buildings erected just behind the high sugar-white sand dunes that line this part of the Gulf Coast. From there, the resort extends northward completely across the peninsula to Choctawhatchee Bay. Highway 98 slices through the middle, separating the smaller Beachside development from Linkside and Dockside. Among them these three developments encompass four golf courses, a fitness center with massage rooms, a marina, two complexes of shops and restaurants—the newest of them the Village of Baytowne Wharf—and more. Lodging ranges from rooms at a modest hotel to four-bedroom condos. Also within the complex is a beachfront Hilton hotel.
The opening of the Village of Baytowne Wharf in the summer of 2002 added a new dimension to this already feature-rich resort. Designed for pedestrians, this complex of shops, restaurants, night clubs, condominiums, and a convention center takes its architectural clues from all over the South. Narrow streets, their concrete embedded with sea shells, lace a village tricked out in white-washed brick, cedar, and wood painted in an array of moss green, canary yellow, blood orange, slate blue, gray, and white. There are hints of New Orleans' French Quarter in the grillwork of balconies and of Charleston in brick-lined courtyards. Arcades with ceiling fans shade cedar benches, porches have rocking chairs. Entertainers perform in the streets, clowns paint children's faces, and even many of the shopkeepers seem to have come straight from central casting right down to their appropriate costumes.
By concentrating so many diversions in one place, the village provides an alternative to the beach, including one of the best spots to watch sunsets. It has more nightlife, too, with live music at the Famous Door, a branch of the Bourbon Street landmark, dueling pianos in Rum Runners, and more than half a dozen restaurants and food outlets, including a branch of Starbucks for the latte-addicted. A free on-property shuttles make it easy to commute from the village to anywhere else within the resort, including the nearby tennis complex (though it's a mere five-minute walk away anyway).
Pro Shop: 850-267-7060 or 850-267-7110
The tennis complex has also infused new life into the programs, in large measure because there are now some 200 active local members—many of whom live there year round—to provide continuity. It has also given the staff people to draw on when resort guests need games.
Tennis Staff. Todd Hanson, who joined Sandestin in 2003, recently moved up from head pro to tennis director. He's a local, having grown up in nearby Niceville and played his junior tennis in Florida. Since taking over, he has beefed up the junior program, principally by dividing them into groups by age.
Tennis Programs. During the busier March-to-November season, the tennis center offers one or more clinics a day. The staff also runs more than half a dozen men's or women's days or mixers each week, the liveliest of them a Saturday mixer, which often attracts 35 to 40 players. There is also some kind of event each month—a tournament, round robin, exhibition, or club challenge—often geared to members but frequently open to guests. Sandestin also specializes in special packages for teams.
Courts & Fees. A shingled clubhouse, newly painted yellow, has covered decks on both ends and a new, larger one on one the east, overlooking the courts. There are 12 clay and 3 hard courts altogether laid out in 2s and 3s with a pond on the far side. Wooden fence posts, netting rather than chain-link fence, and newly planted palm trees, oleander, and shrubs make it a very appealing place to play. Between each pair of courts are green benches and water jugs in the shade of an overhead awning. The pro shop itself is one of the largest specialty shops in Northwest Florida and carries a full line of racquets, clothing, and accessories. Court fees: $12/person/hour (guests who rent through Sandestin get one free hour/day; however, from Mar. 1-July 31, that free hour is only available after 11 a.m.).
Caveat: Check the Sandestin calendar. Some of their big weekend team tennis events tie up every court from early in the morning until 4 or 5 p.m. from Friday through Sunday noon. If an event is scheduled for the weekend you're planning to visit, phone the pro shop before making reservations to find out what impact the event may have on your ability to book court time, clinics, or lessons.
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