Sometimes you simply need to get away for a few days, but you may not want to leave the country nor go somewhere so unfamiliar, so foreign.
This is why I chose to zip off to Amelia Island, Florida, not only for its tennis, but for the memories I had visiting the area over twenty years ago when I was stationed in Jacksonville with the U.S. Navy.
My jaunts from Jacksonville up to Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, so long ago, never included nor indicated what this island has become, yet the community still hasn't lost what I loved so much back then.
I used to sneak up the A1A from Jax back then with my girlfriend and we would find us a spot at Fernandina beach to lay-out and have a beer or two (two, okay, sure). Jacksonville wasn't what it is now, but this was definitely a get-a-way and the beaches at Fernandina were as open and inviting as the locals were.
And, they still are.
As for tennis, the Bausch and Lomb tournament wasn't even on the WTA tour way back when I used to come here. For my half-baked vacation, all I knew was I was headed for Amelia Island (still clueless as to where the Bausch and Lomb was played), where they had to have great tennis and I was going to enjoy another beautiful coastal town as I usually had growing up in the Southeast.
After less-than-fruitful negotiations with the Ritz-Carlton, I made reservations from just off I-95 with the Omni Amelia Island Plantation. I still hadn't asked a soul where the Bausch and Lomb was played.
I checked in, beat from getting up way too early, had a few drinks from the beach-side bar and climbed into my hammock - a wonderful room overlooking the Atlantic, two beautiful pools (three actually) and wonderful landscaping.
I can't remember if I called or not to make a court reservation, but I never had one. So I got up at my own leisure. I could have easily sat for a day and stared at an ocean I've surveyed a thousand times over and once lived on for months on end.
After meandering around the resort, I finally find Racquet Park as it is so simply named. I walk into the pro shop to get a court and I ask the woman (so very nice) managing the shop, "Where was the Bausch and Lomb tournament held?" "Right here", she says.
Booyah! I did absolutely no research, knowing I would find my destination at some point-in-time, but had no idea I was staying on the resort where the tournament was held.
"In fact", she said, "Stadium Court is available." Okay, did I just fall off the turnip truck (I'm not certain there was ever enough demand for turnips to merit a truckload), am I just lucky or both? Who knows? Who cares?
She introduces me to this young, fit and agile looking woman as a hitting partner and we head to Stadium Court. We weren't going to play a match, but we did the typical warm-up and then at some point we both agreed to kick it up a little.
It seems like all I had done recently had gone out and hit or drill. I didn't know the WTA had somehow left a pro behind at Amelia Island after the last Bausch and Lomb tournament. I was wanting a variety of challenging shots, but I didn't expect this demon ball machine occupying the other side of the court.
After about 45 minutes it began to drizzle. It was that sunny-and-as-clear-as-the-sky-can-be rain that I came to know in Florida a long time ago. We hit for another 15 minutes and called it quits. Between the humidity, the drizzle and sweat, all my body knew is that it was completely soaked.
She rode off into the sunset on her racket and I failed to get her permission to use her name in this story, so we'll just call her Martina, until she contacts me with a correction, or not.
I headed for the showers and then some time by the pool, the ocean and some cool beverages.
I meant to get some photos of Stadium Court while I was there the day before, but failed to, so I returned the next day believing I would get bare-naked shots of Stadium Court.
Instead, I arrive at the Stadium Court and two gentlemen are warming-up. I waited until what I thought was a respectful moment to interrupt to ask them if they would mind me taking some shots of the court while they would be playing.
They, Mark Childs and Al Aquilara, were very accommodating and when I asked about the Bausch and Lomb, both mentioned having helped work the tournaments in prior years. At this time I learned about the Barking Lot, a place dedicated for holding and caring for the pros' dogs they would bring along to the tournament. I could have sworn I saw a sign on the resort for the Barking Lot, but after searching, I still have yet to find it.
Mark remembered handling Serena's dogs and several of Navratilova's during one of the tournaments. Well, I didn't have much time and they were about to play so I asked if I could contact them after I write this article and they agreed. Hopefully we will get some more scoop or a few stories from Al and Mark.
I asked Al to come in for some net shots because I could not find a decent spot to get the two of them in frame while both were on the baseline, and he obliged.
Soon it was time to head north to another island, St. Simons, Georgia (an article on this wonderful place to follow).
I wish to thank the Omni for such a wonderful facility and a great staff, particularly John in Engineering. Thank you for such quick response and repair.
I truly can't thank the community because they simply are who they are, but I would like to mention Laurie and Sam of Joe's 2nd Street Bistro at Fernandina Beach for a wonderful dinner. I'll give you ladies some airtime in another upcoming article.
If you haven't ever been to Amelia Island, go. If you have, go again.
You can learn more at Amelia Island.