By Roger Cox, Editor
The 499-acre resort/residential WaterColor Community comprises some 1,000 homes, a coastal dune lake, and miles of biking trails. It begins along the beach, filling in the gap between the village of Seaside (where "The Truman Show" was filmed) and Grayton Beach State Recreation Area. The WaterColor Inn—an upscale, 60-room boutique hotel—and BeachClub are there, just behind the dune line, as is a fitness center and collection of retail shops. From there the development extends north toward a sprawling body of water called Western Lake, where there is a restaurant and boathouse, and then east behind the village of Seaside, where the property culminates in a handsomely designed complex of five Har-Tru courts that fan out from a central pro shop.
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Pro Shop: 850-534-5980
Five tennis courts is a relatively small number given that this complete serves not only the inn but also a village of condominiums and houses that are part of the development. Yet there's no denying that it's a attractive place to play, enhanced by a clubhouse court with terraced grassy viewing area and a handsome clapboard clubhouse with a turret topped by a tennis-figure weathervane. USPTR-certified professional Tracy Townsend is once again the tennis director. A former standout at the University of Northern Alabama, he went on to complete a Master's in Sports Science at the University of Denver. Returning to the south, he directed the tennis operations at Seaside, WaterColor, and the Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta, stints that included staging special events with the likes of Jim Courier, Arthur Ashe, and Tracy Austin. Now back at WaterColor he offers a weekly roster of clinics and round robins, supplemented in summer by PeeWee and junior clinics. He and his crew hand deliver pitchers of ice water to the courts, as part of their effort to make this a special place to play.
Courts & Fees. 5 Har-Tru courts, 3 with lights.
Beach. The white-sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle are the region's greatest tourist asset, and four boardwalks over the 30-foot dunes provide guests of WaterColor Inn & Resort with ready access to the sand and the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The experience is enhanced by the low-profile of virtually all the development along this stretch of coast. One of those boardwalks leaves from the BeachClub, which has a swimming pool and grill.
Golf Courses. Although WaterColor Inn & Resort does not have a golf course within its 499 acres, guests can book tee times at the Tom Fazio-designed Camp Creek Golf Club, 6 miles to the east, where they share exclusive use with owners and guests of WaterSound. The 18-hole, par-72 course measures 7,159 yards and like many Fazio courses it looks hard but plays easy, making it appealing to players of all skill levels.
Spa & Fitness Center. Located steps from the WaterColor Inn, the resort's handsome fitness center looks unlike the typical workout facility. In it, retro ceiling fans spin above ergonomically designed Italian TechnoGym equipment and free weights. Each cardiovascular station has its own television, and there's a separate yoga room and garden with views of the dunes. Meanwhile, the WaterColor Inn was converting a dune-view room on the main level into a small massage and treatment area.
And ... The BoatHouse on Western Lake rents canoes, sea kayaks, and Hobie Cats. There's a extensive woodland trail system—some of it into neighboring Grayton Beach State Recreation Area—for biking and hiking.
Designed by award-winning architect David Rockwell, the four-story WaterColor Inn draws its inspiration from the wood-frame and tin-roof "cracker cottages" of the rural Panhandle. Oversize shutters are a significant design element, as are covered porches, trellises, and stylized rafter rails. That gives this boutique hotel an appealingly casual appearance, and that continues inside in the relaxed beachhouse ambiance.
The result is a 60-room inn that is at once insouciant and rich in creature comforts. The public spaces are more like living rooms, lounges, and libraries and are furnished with the overstuffed sofas, club chairs, and ottomans of an elegant beach house. Check-in formalities take place at a discreet desk rather than a long counter. The rooms—junior suites, really, all of which face toward the dunes and Gulf—have balconies or terraces, kingsize beds and queensize sofa sleepers, elegant baths with walk-in showers, and such upscale amenities as Egyptian cotton sheets, DVDs, and high-speed Internet access. For something special look at the Rotunda rooms, which has 180-degree views from their generous balconies.
The inn aside, WaterColor Resort has a stock of privately owned townhomes, cottages, and bungalows available for rent. These range in size from one to six bedrooms, some on the beach side of Scenic 30A, other in neighborhoods to the north.
Fish Out of Water, on the second floor of the Inn, is visually striking in its hand-blown seapods and oversize silk lampshades hand-painted with Gulf fishes, but it is chef Jason Brumm's deft ways with such local seafood as snapper, pompano, grouper, and Apalachicola oysters and unexpected preparations of meat and fowl—say, roast breast of guinea hen with traditional red beans and rice and Tasso ham—that attract diners from all over the Panhandle region.
If you're looking for other boutique hotels with access to tennis, check out:
At the WaterColor Inn, all rooms face the ocean and have views either of the dunes or the Gulf. In addition, there are townhomes, cottages, and bungalows ranging in size from one to six bedrooms, some on the beach side of Scenic 30A, others to the north.
Visit the website for current rates
Travel Instructions. By Air: Although there are regional airports in Fort Walton Beach (VPS), 30 minutes west, Pensacola Regional (PNS), 90 minutes west, the new major gateway—it opened in late May of 2010—is Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), roughly an hour's drive to the east in Panama City. Rental cars are available at all three.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council website or contact them at 800-822-6877.