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Summer season sets low rates for tennis at Payne Park and private clubs

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payne park tennisAttention, tennis players and bargain hunters: Payne Park summer memberships - five months for $150 - start today.

That seems like a pretty good deal, because a regular membership at the Sarasota County facility is $500 for 12 months. You do the math. Lots of private clubs offer summer specials, too.

I play tennis up and down the Gulf Coast, so it never made sense for me to join one club. Plus, I'm cheap. But this will be the second year that I've signed up for summers at Payne.

Without a membership, you pay 10 bucks a pop, which can discourage you from playing. Better to sign up, which encourages you to play more and get your money's worth. Even cheaper would be playing for free at public parks, but those hard courts wear on my surgically repaired knees. The clay courts at tennis clubs are much more forgiving. More important than the courts, though, are the players. Lots of competition and camaraderie. If you want to get better and play competitively, join a club. A summer membership is the cheapest way to see if you'll like it.

paynemapPayne pride

At the entrance to the Payne clubhouse, there's a T-shirt signed by Florida's most famous tennis coach. "Nick Bollettieri," it says. "Be Happy! Great Park!"

Sean Rogers, the program coordinator at Payne Park, trained to be a coach at Bollettieri's famous academy in Bradenton.

"Nick was a good coach, but he was a great businessman," Rogers says. "He was an entrepreneur more than anything else."

At Payne Park, Sarasota County is trying different leagues, programs and court policies. The challenge is to improve services without changing the identity of a downtown club with loyal members.

"They have a lot of pride in this facility," Rogers says. "They like that we're not like the private clubs. We do allow people to come and play, first come, first served."

Strong players

For years, Sarasota golfers have enjoyed summer memberships that make their sport more affordable during the slowest time of year. Now tennis is doing the same. Last year, Payne Park started selling $150 summer memberships. Seventy people signed up.

paynefence tennis"About half of those people were new," Rogers says. "It was really just a way to get people through the door." More might come this summer. I know guys - members of other clubs - who pay to play at Payne Park, too. It's a way to get extra matches at a discount price. Bargain tennis at a high level.

"Everybody knows our players are strong," Rogers says. "Our 50, 60, and 70-year-old teams won the Senior Suncoast this year."

Last modified: May 1, 2014
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