Palm Desert – Learn to Play Tennis – Fall Travel 2009

DESTINATION: Palm Desert, California



At the start of my lesson at Desert Springs resort (ranked ninth on Tennis magazine’s list of best tennis resorts), tennis director Jim Leupold asks: "If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about your game, what would it be?" I’d be Maria Sharapova, I think. But we’ve only got an hour, so I say: "I want to be able to make the ball go exactly where I want." For the next 60 minutes, Leupold, who’s part confidence-builder, part interpreter of all things tennis, shows me how to do exactly that with simple, fun demonstrations. He uses a racket without strings and a stick that’s speared through five tennis balls, and suddenly I see how hitting the ball this way sends it that way. He even tweaks my serve and gives me a few tips on topspin. By the end, I’m not a six-foot-two blonde, but I am hitting the ball right at Jim’s feet. 


There’s a ton of tennis instruction at the Desert Springs resort – drill sessions, round robins, and morning and afternoon clinics on everything from ground strokes to doubles strategy – all starting around $30. Private lessons start at $40 for a half-hour. The resort’s clay, hard-surface and grass courts are well-tended. Most importantly, to combat the hot desert sun, there’s complimentary ice water and towels. (You’ll need both.) Desert Springs JW Marriott, 760-341-2211,

The Desert Springs JW Marriott resort has a Vegas-Disney feel – massive size, desert locale, techno music in the lobby, an eclectic mix of guests there for frantic weekend-getaway fun. There are vacationing businessmen out on the golf course; kids in the brimming swimming pools; and L.A. hipsters in stingy-brim fedoras at the dance club. Rooms start around $350 a night in the winter, and are a bit more plush than your average Marriott; room service is exceptional. Tip: Book a treatment at the fantastic resort spa – and get all-day access to its adults-only pool. Desert Springs JW Marriott, 760-341-2211,

Palm Desert is often overshadowed by popular Palm Springs, but it has a charming downtown, with an air of Rodeo Drive mixed with a California hippie sensibility. A free art walk offers unexpected pop-ups of a red steel horse sculpture and
colorful, oversize spinning tops. To get even closer to the ethereal, ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up 8,500 feet into Mount San Jacinto State Park, where the temps are some 30 degrees cooler (about $23 round-trip). El Paseo Art Walk,; Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, 760-325-1391,

Try dinner at two on-property restaurants: Tuscany and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse. At the former, you’ll get VIP treatment, a hefty wine list and superb risotto. At the latter, you’re in for a more raucous time, with the standard Japanese steakhouse tomfoolery – chefs catching seafood in their hats, patrons catching seafood in their mouths. The combo teppan-yaki dishes are all good, and filling. When you’re exploring Palm Desert, stop at the Daily Grill for fresh sandwiches and salads. Tuscany and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, at Desert Springs JW Marriott, 760-341-2211,; Daily Grill, 760-779-9911,

There are no nonstop flights from Philadelphia, so plan to stay for a few days. You’ll have to fly to a major city out west, like Phoenix, L.A. or Salt Lake, depending on the airline, and then connect to Palm Springs airport. (From there, the drive to the Desert Springs resort is only about 30 minutes. Taxis aren’t plentiful, so rent a car; the major rental companies are on-site at the airport.

Desert Springs is SoCal casual, even at the finer restaurants. The tennis clubhouse rents out rackets, so unless you’re particular, you don’t need to bring your own. Remember hiking shoes and warmer clothes if you want to visit higher-altitude Mount San Jacinto.

Back in Philly: Get one-on-one or group lessons from the Pam Shriver-recommended TeamRiley (610-547-6507, Founder Eric Riley spent eight years on the pro circuit.