The Resort at Longboat Key Club

By Elaine Gallant, Contributor

SARASOTA, FL - John Ringling, of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus fame, is credited with saving Sarasota from financial ruin in 1927 by bringing to permanent residency here his "Greatest Show on Earth" where it remained for 33 years.

He is also credited with creating a feeling of curiosity, glamour and intrigue to an area already blessed with warm, sunny weather and tropical surroundings amid an island-dotted, Gulf of Mexico coastline. His sights were set on attracting the rich and famous, which he did. They came then, and today, they still do.

Amongst them, Robert DeNiro, Cher, Anne Bancroft and Gregory Peck have whiled away the hours on Longboat Key, one of Sarasota's more exclusive barrier islands. Also seen have been Tom Selleck, Barbara Bush, Bill Cosby, Johnny Cash, and even, the late, Lucille Ball.

"Brad Pitt and Gwenyth Paltrow were romancing here," said Amy Bressler Drake, VP and General Manager at The Resort at Longboat Key Club. "And we had the entire White House Press Corps during the Gore campaign. Then there's (the band) Aerosmith. They based their tour out of here for a couple of years."

They come, said Drake, for the privacy, as access to this gated, isle resort is only by bridge or boat. Originally, it was built in 1982 as a base for Arvida Realty Services to showcase its Longboat Key real estate offerings. But since 1990, while each of the 232 condominium units are privately owned, it's been managed by The Shannon Resort & Club Group, Inc. as a 410-acre, beachside retreat.

Accommodations include: guest rooms, club suites, one- and two-bedroom suites and two-bedroom deluxe suites. All, with exception of the guest rooms, have fully-equipped kitchens, washers and dryers, and an array of amenities the seasoned traveler has come to expect from any AAA, four-diamond resort.

Dining, too, measures up. Here, it can be as casual as burgers by the beach or room service in your suite or balcony to elegant, candlelight service enhanced by the sea and a shimmering, low hanging moon. You'll also find live entertainment most nights at The Pointe Lounge and complimentary, Friday-night wine tastings in the Library. Seasonal barbecues and happy hours poolside, as well as clubhouse and al fresco dining, bring full circle the extent of the culinary venues offered to all guests.

Also, as if all this and its expanse of white sandy beach weren't enough, The Resort features a 45-hole, private membership golf complex and a 38-court tennis club. There's even a fitness and massage center, a swimming pool and Jacuzzi, opportunities for boating, sailing and fishing, and a fully supervised "Kids Klub" for ages 5 - 12. While many of these activities are already included in The Resort's rates, more have been added.

"They now include your beach cabanas, umbrellas, bicycles, and local phone calls," said Drake. "We can't include the golf just yet, but we are trying to make it so that the guests don't have to go into their pockets."

Near-future developments could only be hinted at but seem focused on interior renovations, introducing a major, national tournament to the tennis center, adding a spa and improving the golf courses - both of which deserve specific mention.

There are two locations at The Resort for playing golf and, for that matter, tennis. The first is located adjacent to the resort. Opened in 1960, the Bill Mitchell designed Islandside Golf Course, features 18 holes of crisp, up and down shot making.

It has, according to Director of Golf, David Matthews, the look of a traditional, old, south Florida course with elevated greens pitched back to front and plenty of greenside bunkers. Water appears on 16 of its 18 fairways.

"It was a Donald Ross design for the (originally planned) Ritz-Carlton," Matthews said. "It was two-thirds completed then abandoned until Arvida and Mitchell finished it."

The end result is a 6,792-yard, par 72 course running north and south that cuts through a 112-acre bird sanctuary filled with over 5,000 palm trees and flowering plants and shrubs.

The tennis center, directly across the street and behind the reception center, features 18 Har-Tru courts (six lighted), a fully stocked pro shop, ball machine rental, and tennis clinics along with private and semi-private lessons. A "pool" of several hundred area members guarantees a match for any guest looking for some action.

The second golf and tennis location is at Harbourside, a 3-mile drive up the island along Sarasota Bay. Here, three separate nine's meander bayside through a gentle setting of oak, palm, pine, and palmetto.

Atlantan, Willard Byrd, designed the original 18 holes that opened for play in 1982. It consisted of the Red Course measuring 3,323 yards and the White Course at 3,426 yards. Added later was the Blue Course at 3,386 yards.

"It's a traditional parkland layout," said Matthews. "And, there's a lot of water, but you don't feel it, as much of the water is out of play."

It's a "little more country-clubish," he added, and where most of the private members tend to play. Here, too, are another 20 Har-Tru tennis courts complete with pro shop, clubhouse and all the acceptable trimmings of a professionally run tennis center. And like the Harbourside golf club, members prefer to think of it as their own.

Off island, there's plenty to see and do as well. At St. Armand's Circle, an inter-connecting island between Longboat Key and Sarasota, there are over 100 shops featuring an array of items from which to choose. Plenty of restaurants also abound: Café L'Europe, The Columbia, Crab & Fin, and Tommy Bahama to name a few.

Area attractions include the "must see" John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art along with its added features: the Ca d'Zan (House of John), the Museum of the Circus, the Asolo Theater, a library and archives. Additionally, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is close by, as are the Historic Spanish Point, Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary, the Mote Marine and Aquarium and much, much more.

"You are in the center of an arts community, and there's so much going on around us," said Drake. "We want people to feel like they can have all that activity and go out to the galleries and museums and all the great restaurants that are here. When they cross back over the bridge, this is their haven. This is their enclave, and that's what people tell us.

"Longboat Key is such a special destination... You can create a lot of beautiful resorts and a lot of beautiful golf courses, but you can't create what we have here - this combination of the beach, the golf, the sunsets and the tennis. It's just a wonderful destination."

You can share the feeling created at The Resort at Longboat Key Club by taking Interstate 75 directly to Sarasota, then take the John Ringling Causeway (SR 789) across Sarasota Bay to St. Armands Key. Next follow Gulf of Mexico Drive directly to Longboat Key Club.

Elaine GallantElaine Gallant, Contributor

Elaine Gallant is a freelance writer specializing in golf, tennis, and travel. Her many experiences with travel and golf have taken her around the Untied States, Europe, Greece, the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaiian Islands, Australia and points in between.

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