Tennis pros trade rackets for golf clubs
Our area tennis pros know all about teaching about and playing doubles on our courts; many also enjoy competitive foursomes during summer.
About 20 of them put down rackets and pick up golf clubs for a series of fun informal tournaments.
They take advantage of strong connections with golf pros in making arrangements and, in some cases, tap into a passion for the sport that they also share with their members.
Mike Curran, tennis and fitness director at the Gulf Harbour Yacht and Country Club, and Mike Barnes, head tennis pro at Miromar Lakes Beach and Golf Club, discussed the feasibility of developing such a group a few years ago. They sent out emails to some other pros and the cross-sport phenomenon began.
Curran, with one of the lowest handicaps, plays often during summers in a Thursday men’s group at Stoneybrook Golf Club. The Fort Myers high school grad took a shine to the links while attending Western Kentucky University as “it also demands good eye-hand coordination.”
He played in the fourth annual Breaking Par Grandezza tournament at the Estero club in March. Known for having one of the fastest serves around, it’s no surprise his drives are imposing as well.
Organizing golf outings with his peers taps into vast experiences as he’s district president of the USPTA and captained the Fort Myers team in the annual Naples-Fort Myers Tennis Challenge for many years.
Michael Baldwin, in his third year as director of tennis at The Club at Mediterra in North Naples, plays in the Naples Pro League during busy season and serves on USPTA and USTA Florida committees. Yet, he relishes swinging on courses during summer with his friends.
“It’s a blast. It’s a fun break. We have lots in common,” he said.
He played “some” golf in his 20s but then nearly every day during summers when he was director of tennis, fitness and aquatics at the Westin Hills Country Club in Boca Raton and even teed off at Boca West on occasion. Baldwin instituted a two-sport Fairways and Forehands program at Westin and brought the concept to Mediterra.
“It’s been well received,” he said, relating that members use their handicaps and then tennis skill levels are taken into account for the courts component.
For Barnes, who was the USPTA’s top-ranked national player in both 65 singles and 60 doubles in 2015 and played in the Southwest Florida Pro League for the fourth time last winter, his two-sport journey began as a youngster in the Baltimore area as “I toyed with golf as a kid with my brothers but I was terrible!”
Yet, while as a tennis pro and head pro at area clubs for more than 25 years, he picked up golf seriously on the adjacent courses and also helped organize golf outings for area USPTA members.
The presence of world-class courses here “is paradise,” and Barnes sees other benefits.
“The group is highly competitive (citing that he’s notched two aces), fun and we get to socialize. Just like a lot of business deals are discussed in golf, we get to share a lot about what’s going on in tennis at our clubs.”
This year’s first golf outing for the group was on May 20 on Mediterra’s South course as the club’s North course is undergoing regrassing and bunker reconstruction. Afterward, Baldwin fielded questions about the course from those that enjoyed if for their first time.
“It was fun to get their feedback, kind of treating them as members.”
In addition to conversing about their performances, the group usually votes on when and where their next event will be. “We all have different schedules, vacations, family commitments plus keeping up with which courses are available,” said Curran, adding that Friday afternoons have resonated best.
The group returned to Mediterra on May 27 and then played at Verandah Golf Club in Fort Myers, June 10; Hideaway Country Club, Fort Myers, June 24, and back to Verandah on July 1 with plans to hit the links at Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples and Gulf Harbour soon.
Beyond the gates
Area pros Andrew Filbert, with Bonita National Golf & Country Club, and Justin Smith, with Bonita Bay Club, both recently became Class A PGA members.