Tennis-crazy Vero sees even more net gains


Throughout the past 20 years, Vero Beach has earned its reputation as a tennis town – home of two professional tournaments, the annual “King of the Hill” fundraiser, and several leagues and teams.

Former Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish grew up here. Eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl lives here. So does former top-10 player and 1986 French Open finalist Mikael Pernfors.

Now comes a local tennis-club boom that will noticeably change the game’s footprint here.

There’s new ownership at the former Twin Oaks Tennis Club, where Kaye Manly has changed the name to Vero Club Tennis and is in the process of giving it a much-needed facelift with new courts, lights and fencing, as well as a renovated clubhouse.

There’s full membership at The Boulevard Tennis Club, where the clubhouse is getting a fresh coat of paint and the owners plan to install three padel courts in hopes of riding the crest of the world’s fastest-growing racket sport.

And in what could be the most-intriguing new addition to the local racket-wielding community, Jane Wilkey and her son, Max, recently paid $850,000 to purchase the 6.8-acre property that contained the former and long-abandoned Westside/Hidden Palms tennis club at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 5th Street Southwest.

There, they plan to build the West Side Racquet Club, a three-sport facility that will include courts for tennis (10), padel (4) and pickleball (6), a completely renovated clubhouse, and a swimming pool. The padel courts already have been purchased and have been placed in storage.

The tennis complex will consist of two hard courts, four Har-Tru courts and four CaliClay courts, which resemble red clay but are drought-resistant and require less maintenance.

Christophe Delavaut, the former tennis director at Grand Harbor and The Boulevard, has a 10-percent equity share of the fledgling club and will serve as its director of racket sports, though he’ll focus mostly on tennis.

Pernfors also will be “involved” with the club, Wilkey said, and serve in an ambassador’s role.

Wilkey said the four CaliClay courts could be installed and ready for play by next summer, though next fall is more likely as new fencing must be installed, lights need to be restored and the irrigation system needs to be repaired.

She said the concrete-block clubhouse must be gutted before it can be renovated, and plans include adding a roof-top bar.

In the meantime, the club is seeking both “founding” and “equity” members.” Founding members would pay $50,000 for a lifetime membership plus perks. Equity memberships start at $150,000.

Max Wilkey said he expects the club to accommodate more than 400 members, offering memberships for both singles and families for one, two or three sports, with annual dues ranging from $1,500 to $5,000.

He’s excited about the population growth on the county’s southern tier, which should see a surge in residential and commercial development when the I-95 interchange at Oslo Road opens in the summer of 2027.

“That section of the county is growing fast already,” Max Wilkey said. “And the demographic in the community surrounding the club is mostly 30 to 50 years old, which is relatively young for Vero.”

That demographic, in fact, is why the Wilkeys opted to include a swimming pool in their plan.

“Initially, we weren’t going to do it,” Max Wilkey said. “But the more people we talked to, the more they wanted a club with a family-type atmosphere – a place where you can spend an entire day.”

Manly, though, doesn’t see the Wilkeys’ new West Side club as competition.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Their plan is much grander than ours. We’ve got only seven courts. People come here because the like the smaller size and more-welcoming, community-like feel to our club, where it’s not all about profit.”

In April, Manly purchased the Twin Oaks club from longtime tennis pro Alain Mignolet, who owned and operated it since the early 1990s, and immediately began making improvements.
The response to her efforts thus far has been “fabulous,” she said, adding that her club currently has 70 full-time members, but she plans to add another 40 from a waiting list.

Manly said she didn’t want members to be frustrated during the construction of the new courts, when only the three hold-over courts were available. Those three courts are scheduled to be rebuilt next summer.

Once she has seven fully resurfaced courts, she plans to cap her membership at 150. The current dues are $1,600 for a single and $1,800 for a family, and she said she already has lured members from other local tennis clubs.

The Boulevard, too, has a full membership of nearly 400, but the owners see potential in the percolating padel craze and are committed to installing courts in the late spring – even though the club will lose at least one of its 13 tennis courts.

“There is explosive growth in padel in the private clubs in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, both of which have the same demographic we pull from here, and it’s a better fit with our philosophy and strategy than pickleball,” said Tim Brueggeman, tennis director at The Boulevard.

“Clubs in those areas are adding padel courts or converting tennis courts for padel,” he added. “There’s even a professional padel league in the U.S. now. The game is wildly popular, and we want to be on the leading edge.”

Across the lagoon, meanwhile, USTA Florida’s takeover of the Riverside Park Racquet Complex has complemented the daily round-robin activity with new programs for adults and children, including competitive juniors.

The facility recently acquired a new stringing machine and now sells rackets out of its pro shop. Swing-vision technology will be installed on courts in January.

“It’s really nice to be able to offer something for every age group,” Riverside Tennis Director Margot Carter said. “We’ve got the morning round-robins for the people who’ve been playing here for years, but we’ve added programs for others, including newcomers.

“The courts have been busy.”

Quail Valley could soon join the local boom by adding a fourth campus for racket sports.

Multiple local sources have told Vero Beach 32963 the island-based club is actively searching for mainland property on which to build a tennis, pickleball and padel complex.

If the ownership finds a suitable piece of land at the right price, Quail Valley’s existing seven-court tennis facility would be relocated across the lagoon – a move that would allow for more parking and, possibly, other amenities at the River Club site.

Quail Valley General Manager Kevin Given said the club is “always looking” and “always trying to find ways to improve,” but that no specific expansion plans were in place and no action was imminent.

In addition to the River Club location, Quail Valley currently has campuses at The Pointe, which sits at the eastern tip of Royal Palm Pointe, and at its Golf Club on 69th Street, west of 66th Avenue.

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