It was a terrible time to go on vacation. In two weeks, two hundred of our closest friends and family members would descend on Austin, and Alejandro and I still hadn’t picked out rings, deciding whether or not we needed a tent, or written our vows. It was time to get our act together. Instead, we packed our rackets, hit the road, and pretended our biggest challenge lay in figuring out how to hit a bigger forehand.
In our defense, tennis’s global resurgence over the past two years is of a fundamentally procrastinatory nature. When COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns forced gyms and yoga studios to close, open-air tennis courts emerged as one of the few legitimate excuses to leave your house. And for an hour, rallying back and forth, you could forget about Zoom meetings, Lysol wipes, and spiking infection rates.
Ale and I had started playing tennis in 2019, hitting on Wednesday nights with another couple, but during the pandemic we went from playing a couple times a week to daily. Along with the rest of the nation. According to a 2021 US Tennis Association report, the number of Americans who play tennis—some 22.6 million—surged by 28 percent from 2019 to 2021.
Living in Austin, we were perfectly situated to fall for the sport. Tennis is hot in Texas. (Like, stupidly hot. I regularly play summer matches in 100-plus-degree heat.) But also: the sport is having a moment. The lady Longhorns snatched their second consecutive NCAA tennis championship this May, and Austin beat out other US cities to score a new WTA pro tour event, the ATX Open, slated for February 2023. As the legendary Billie Jean King said in a statement, “ The addition of the ATX Open . . . will bring world-class tennis to one of the fastest growing markets in the country.” Move over, Wimbledon. Forget strawberries and cream and dainty Pimm’s Cups. Texas is going to teach the tennis world how to tailgate with brisket and beer.
Ale and I crushed hard on tennis at the same time that we fell for each other. It swiftly became part of our (forgive the pun) courtship. Still, tensions emerged. Ale was always a little better, and after one particularly vexing set, I refused to kiss him back across the net. There’s a reason mixed doubles is called divorce court. Overall, however, we loved competing, trying out drop shots, topspin serves, and down-the-line backhands. He proposed to me on Valentine’s Day in 2021, during the February freeze, just before the power grid failed.
Fast-forward one year. We should’ve been planning our honeymoon, or responding to the DJ’s urgent emails, but instead I found myself Googling “tennis resorts in Texas.” I whooped out loud at my search results, like an old oil prospector at the sight of spurting black gold. Tennis-lovin’ Texans, rejoice: we are downright spoiled when it comes to “have racket, will travel” options. There are resorts for every type of player and traveler: a world-renowned “tennis ranch” in the Hill Country, blissfully air-conditioned courts and award-winning spa treatments in Houston and Dallas, and gorgeous red-clay courts on the shores of Horseshoe Bay.
Each spot comes with its own set of teaching pros, tempting surroundings, and accommodation styles, as distinct in personality as the stars playing in the French Open finals as I write this. And to save you from exhaustive research when you could be hitting balls or hitting the pool, here’s a list of our five favorites. (Yes, you rabid pickleballers, we found a special escape for you, too.) May these dreamy destinations lure you from whatever you should be getting done at home this weekend.
Las Colinas Four Seasons, Irving
Our first stop: Las Colinas Four Seasons, in the Dallas suburb of Irving. With a gleaming marble lobby, wisteria-scented paths twisting through the sprawling property, and state-of-the art indoor courts that had been resurfaced just three days before our visit, tennis had never felt so posh. (We are accustomed to playing on cracked outdoor courts, yelling game scores over the sounds of traffic and a nightly drum circle in Mueller Lake Park.)
That evening, after losing to Alejandro (but acing him with one of my slice serves out wide), we went out on the town, justifying our fresh-rigatoni carb-loading at the Charles with the semi-private lesson we’d scheduled for the next morning. (We were careful to continue this nutritional program with pain au chocolat at the breakfast buffet, courtesy of the hotel’s nationally lauded pastry chef, Yudith Bustos.) At 10 am, in blissful, air-conditioned comfort, under the expert eye of pro Noah Lee and hotel tennis director Jerome Millet, we brushed up on our backhands and forehands. Having broken a light sweat, we agreed it was time to release all remaining toxins and spent the final delicious hours of our Four Seasons escape in the sauna, steam bath, and relaxation rooms at the spa (all free for hotel guests).
Sage Hill Inn & Spa, Kyle
We are living in a highly divided country. I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about pickleball. Specifically, where you stand on the “picleball is a legitimate sport” versus “what are these jokers with fake rackets doing on my tennis court?” debate. Prior to our trip to Sage Hill, Ale and I firmly belonged to the latter camp, reasoning that we liked our pickles only on sandwiches or with shots of bourbon.
Sage Hill Inn made me a convert. While some tennis resorts are beginning to cater to the swelling numbers of pickleball players (who speak of the sport with the glazed mien of most cult members) by adding a few dedicated courts, Sage Hill Inn has decided to ignore tennis entirely and focus on the fermented market.
But if there’s a spot that will urge you to rethink your prejudices, it’s Sage Hill Inn. Breathtaking, pine-scented vistas, creek hikes amid vibrant wildflowers, and nirvana-inducing massages cracked us open like fresh eggs from the many chickens on the property. Our pickleball lesson with veteran tennis and pickleball pro Michelle King swiftly provided us with newfound respect for the sport. We were surprised to learn that our errors in pickleball helpfully revealed similar technique issues in tennis, made more glaring on a smaller court. After an hour, our thighs were sore and our egos even sorr. We repaired to the pool, rested in the shade of older and wiser live oaks, and decided we’ll challenge my parents to a pickleball duel the next time we are all in Florida.
The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, Houston
We booked our Houston trip for mid-May, two weeks after the wedding. Our guests had come and gone, a whole pig was roasted, and the entire thing ended in an enormous downpour, with everyone dancing in the rain. We were official, and we were officially exhausted. Thank God for the Houstonian and its paradisial vibes, sprawling across 27 hushed, wooded acres.
Our suite in the newly renovated wing of the hotel offered floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on lush subtropical vegetation. “I feel like we’re already in Bali,” Ale said, hinting at our imminent honeymoon. That night, the resort’s downtown location made it a breeze to zip over to dinner at the sumptuous State of Grace, where we slurped oysters and sipped chenin blanc.
The next morning, we had breakfast at Tribute, the club’s excellent restaurant; it was the best bagel and lox I’ve eaten in Texas. Then we headed to another (hallelujah!) air-conditioned court for a lesson. The next hour involved the most philosophical treatment of tennis I’ve experienced since reading Timothy Galwey’s cult favorite, The Inner Game of Tennis. Racquet sports director Mike May spent much of the pandemic rethinking how to short-circuit the fight/flight/freeze reaction so common to athletes, and how to reliably stay in the zone during play. Alejandro and I emerged from his instruction in an unexpectedly Zen state, which construction on the US 290 West ride home promptly demolished.
John Newcombe Tennis Ranch, New Braunfels
Newk’s is the Rafael Nadal of tennis resorts. At 36, Nadal spent this year’s French Open sweating more and working harder than any of his younger opponents, and Newk’s, in its fifty-fourth year, continues to push its clients to the next level, packing ten hours of tennis instruction into one weekend session. You won’t find fluffed pillows or a dedicated pastry chef. But if hours of drills and point play, summer camp–style coach-counselors, karaoke parties, and beer chugging are your thing, Newk’s is the answer to your tennis prayers.
This time, I gave Ale a hug goodbye and headed to Newk’s with six women from my tennis team. It felt like going to Girl Scout camp, except instead of bug repellent and stationery, I’d packed a couple bottles of pecorino from the wedding stash. On Friday night, after most of the other guests had gone to bed, my friends and I blasted Maggie Rogers and swilled white wine, White Claws, and Gatorade, all while playing endless doubles points under the june bug–frenzied lights. By Sunday afternoon, after three straight days of tennis, we were ridiculously sunburned, but our serves were looking sharp, thanks to the nuanced coaching of adult programming director Adrian Bolido and his crew.
Horseshoe Bay Resort, Horseshoe Bay
On Memorial Day, Ale and I headed to the last spot on our list, the storied Horseshoe Bay Resort, well known among regional club players for its clay-court tournaments. The spry tennis director, Israel Castillo, who has toured with young tennis talents, groomed players for the UT tennis team, and coached Lance Armstrong, had agreed to see what he could do for Ale’s backhand and my forehand. Over the past few months, my wrist had begun hurting; Castillo suggested it had less to do with my stroke and more to do with my footwork. If you create a stable base, get the right distance from the ball, and twist your hips, he insisted, you can use your full power, and the swing takes care of itself. Minds officially blown, Ale and I practiced Castillo’s method. After witnessing one of Ale’s improved shots, Castillo came up to us and pointed to his arm. “Look at that,” he says. “Teaching goose bumps.”
After bidding Castillo and his saintly Tibetan terrier, Scholz, goodbye, Ale and I stopped at a burger joint in Spicewood. It had been a tough two months of post-tennis sauna sessions in Dallas, spa treatments in Kyle, a post-workout hot tub in Houston, chilling with my team in New Braunfels, and soaking up a tennis guru’s insights in Horseshoe Bay. After such a grinding tour, we decided that we deserved margaritas and cheeseburgers. Because if there is anything that Texas’s stellar tennis resorts taught us, it’s that relaxing is better for your game than any ball machine.
Two More to Try
Since my criteria for choosing “tennis resorts” included on-site clinics and coaches as well as sleeping accommodations, I didn’t include these two places on the tour. However, if you’re looking for an ideal beach spot to grab a game with your traveling companions or you happen to be passing through Midland and want a state-of-the-art facility with accomplished instructors, you’ll want to check these two establishments out.
Royale Beach & Tennis Club, South Padre
Four hard courts + three swimming pools + beachfront location = pure bliss. No on-site pros or clinics, so show up with a partner if you want to play.
Bush Tennis Center, Midland
This ever-expanding center in the High Plains “will be the second largest tennis center in the world” upon its completion, according to the website (which also includes an adorable YouTube video of George W. endorsing his eponymous institution). No sleeping accommodations, so Airbnb or the nearby Holiday Inn are your best options.