DAY THREE — “How many rallies did you have?” Sandestin Tennis Coach Chris Petty asks the assembled kids.
“Three says one child.
“Seven,” boasts another.
We’re at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Florida (www.sandestin.com), which boasts 15 tennis courts and four golf courses and first rate junior tennis and golf programs–for locals as well as resort guests.
“The stronger and bigger the local program, the better for guests,” says Petty, the most energetic tennis pro I’ve ever seen as he oversees a gaggle of local kids gathered for their weekly Quick Start hour-long clinic. Resort guests can join for just $10 a clinic including racket and balls ($25 for an hour and a half lesson).
This program—you’ll find others around the country—is part of an effort designed by the U.S. Tennis Association to get more kids involved in the sport. They play with smaller rackets and on smaller courts. “It’s hand eye coordination, exercise, being outdoors,” Petty says, and the kids are learning a lifelong sport.
Petty likes to tell the story of a Tennessee middle schooler whose parents couldn’t get him away from his video games. The tennis-playing parents signed their son up for a tennis lesson on vacation and he was less then pleased. “It can feel like four hours or the best 59 minutes,” Petty told him. The kid took the bait and it was exciting and fun.”
But that was only the beginning. That boy, now in high school, is playing eight hours of tennis a week, Petty says. The kids at the clinic I watch certainly are having fun, smacking balls, giggling at the coaches antics.
There are plenty of opportunities for adult clinics too. You might think a stay at this Gulf beach resort with miles of white sand beaches would be designed for serious tennis players, but you and your kids can get as much court time as you like. You get an hour of court time—including rackets and balls-a day with your accommodations and clinics are inexpensive.
“I see a lot of families who have never had instruction having a blast out here,” he says. Another plus: parents can get a well-deserved hour break while the kids are attending the clinic. (The resort’s Village at Baytowne Wharf with its shops, bars and restaurants is just a short walk from the tennis complex.
All you need to do to get your child interested in tennis, says Petty, is find a Find a local quick start program ( http://10andundertennis.com), “and a pro who has a lot of energy.” Just like Petty.
Same goes for golf here. With four courses to choose from and kids-free deals after noon, you and your kids will get as much time on the greens as you want.
Start the kids young, advises golf director Rick Hileman who oversees a flourishing junior program. “When they can give us 30 minutes of attention, they’re ready,” he says. Set them up with junior clubs (complimentary here) and sign them up for a junior golf clinic (just $15 here, including clubs). “It’s no fun to take a seven year old out and say go out at it,” Hileman says. “He won’t enjoy himself and neither will you.”
Lessons are key—as in any sport. “You don’t want to get any bad habits early. You want them to learn how to grasp the club, how to stand over the ball.“
Sure golf is a complex game but kids learn fast. Most important, he notes, “You want to keep their enthusiasm. “The kids see the special bag and the clubs and they light up. “
Typically kids have morning clinics and then play nine holes with mom and dad in the afternoon. A tip: Tee off with the kids mid to late afternoon when the course isn’t busy. Here with four courses and special tees for kids as well as women, there are opportunities for every level of player.
The Raven course, where pros have played, is carved through marshes, wetlands and pine trees. The Baytowne course, meanwhile, is the most popular with a course routing that takes golfers from the beach to the bay and is especially forgiving from the forward tees. With its junior tees, it is certified as a U.S. Kids Golf Family Course. The Links provides five holes that run along Choctawhatchee Bay and is consistently ranked as one of the most challenging courses in Florida. The Burnt Pine club offer views of the Bay on the back nine while the front side takes you through the forests and wetlands.
Whether you golf every weekend or just a couple of times a year, promises Hileman, you can have fun playing here with your kids as well as on your own . No wonder so many guys choose Sandestin for a dads’ golf getaway.
It is a good thing on vacation to introduce kids to your passion—golf, tennis, water sports…all the better when you don’t have to pay big time to have them give it a try.”It’s an incredible way to introduce kids to the sport,” said Hileman. I think so too.