Tennis and Gasparilla Island: They’ve been synonymous for more than a century

May 17, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY T MICHELE WALKER – Boca Grande is famous for tarpon fishing, golf carting and spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico, but it also boasts more tennis clubs and pros per capita than any island in the continental United States. 

Actually, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s probably not too far off from the truth. 

While the rest of the country has shut down sports activities, even tennis, Boca Grande has enjoyed an increase in its tennis activity. The tennis programs at The Gasparilla Inn, The Boca Grande Club and The Boca Bay Pass Club have all been surprised by the increase in business during this challenging season. 

Getting a sit down with Boca Bay Pass Club’s Director of Tennis, H, is quite a feat, only because he spends over eight hours a day on the tennis court. H has even been known to eat lunch court side. 

“I don’t necessarily,” H laughed. “I’ll bring a protein bar out there or something in between lessons. The members are great here. If it’s a group lesson, they’ll pick up the balls so I get two minutes to come in and grab something to eat. I eat fast.”

When asked about the tennis season, H said, “I think that the members are here longer than they usually are this season. And they had more family for longer periods of time, and they all participated in tennis because it’s outside. It’s safer, more than anything else that they’re doing probably, except golf. Our program did fantastic, record breaking numbers.” 

 Jinx Howe and Mark Horan, the tennis professionals at the Gasparilla Inn Tennis Club, agreed. “I think business is up about 30 percent. Most years, because we’re at a resort, it’s busy and then a little downtick, slow and busy again. This year it’s just been straight through so it took us a little bit by surprise that we never had the downtime.”

The Boca Grande Club’s Tennis Director, John Janes, has been elated with the busy season. 

“We didn’t know what to expect going in with the pandemic,” he said. “So we implemented rules to make sure everybody feels comfortable. But the thing with the pandemic is that tennis and golf have flourished because people felt comfortable.” 

It’s heartwarming to find that the Boca Grande tennis pros have a close friendship. “You know, we hardly see those guys,” said Jinx. “John and H, because we’ve all been so busy. But it’s good that we’re all in this together.” 

“H and I have known each other for over 20 years,” said John. “The club where I was in Nantucket, H was there for 11 years. And when he decided to leave, I was in Sarasota and he recommended me for that position. I know Jinx and Mark. They’ve been on the island so long and have just been in the heart of the island of The Gasparilla Inn.” 

Those intimately involved with the Boca Grande tennis programs look forward to a fabulous new season. “It can’t get much busier really,” said Jinx. “Seven courts, and we don’t have lights. We’ll have lots of clinics hopefully next year and we will have tournaments again. Florida has been a little bit better than a lot of places and Boca Grande has been like a little pocket of heaven. So, we’re excited to open in October.”

 “I’m sure we’ll do some exhibitions here,” said Mark. “Now that we have these stadium stairs, you can really watch nicely so that’s an opportunity to have people come and watch good tennis.”

“Boca Grande reminds me a lot of Nantucket,” said John. “The same ‘no fast food,’ ‘no stop lights.’ The same idea of that quaint and charming area.  We just feel very blessed and very lucky that we had this environment.”

“I’m just looking forward to it,” smiled H. “Returning and yes, I love what I do and I wouldn’t come the extra two weeks if I didn’t really love it.”