When Howie and Wendy Burnett came to Marco Island it was a contractual agreement to build the tennis program at Island Country Club.
Their New Hampshire business already served the Hilton Beach Resort and Surf Club on Collier Boulevard as a mangement company, providing tennis services.
Member Sam Durso was the person who contacted Howie.
“He told me it was my job if I wanted it,” Burnett said.
At the time he was in Las Vegas. He flew to Boston, changed clothes and flew down for the interview.
The Burnetts knew Marco Island well, having vacationed here for 10 years.
Lonnie Eberhard, former Island Club general manager, convinced the Burnetts to be full time at the Club. They have been here 14 years as they are about to retire, moving back to New Hampshire. They will keep their Marco home.
Burnett said that Eberhard and present manager, Roger Loose,” have given us everything we need.”
“At the beginning tennis was a step child to the golf club,” Burnett said.
Since the Burnetts took over Howie has taken the tennis membership from a handful of players to more than 150, including some golfers.
“We kept the management company for two years then sold,” he said. “It became the first time we were employees.
“I had full reign to make something happen.”
Wendy, a certified fitness trainer and tennis instructor, takes care of much of the business aspect. She also has fitness and strength training programs for the members.
In many instances those in the classes are older. As part of the program comes inner and outer hip strengthening due to some participants having new hips.
“Over the years the people, members and staff, have become family and we are very attached to them,” she said. “The staff here is amazing.”
Burnett says he is tough when it comes to teaching players.
“He yells at me,” said Julie Maly. “I like him mean. You can’t make excuses. There are no shortcuts on technique. I decided to dump my trainer and spend my money on tennis lessons.”
After three years she says she still has trouble with her grip, but she has also tasted success.
This year she partnered with Keely Miller to win the Love of the Y Women’s 3.5 Doubles and teamed with Rene Champagne to win the Island Club Mixed Doubles.
In developing the tennis pro shop Burnett also established “The Stoop.” It is a setting area just off the steps of the pro shop entrance. Players gather there to watch others play, or just chat.
Recently, Wendy surprised Jerry Stern with a birthday cupcake.
Stern has been a club member for 40 years. He golfs and plays tennis.
“What Howie and Wendy have done for tennis here is miraculous,” he said. “Part of the success is their approach. They treat everyone the same.”
At times Burnett mixes the players with varied abilities.
“I like that, if you play with someone better you learn and Howie teaches very well,” Stern said.
If Stern was to make a last remark to the Burnetts, “Don’t Go.”
Burnett said, “It has been more than we envisioned.”