San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Playing on grass at the Four Seasons Papagayo

Everybody knows that the Four Seasons Resort on the Papagayo Peninsula in the northwestern province of Guanacaste is the spot for golf. After all, the Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course – yes, Arnold Palmer designed it himself – undulates over the slender but curvaceous peninsula, offering sick views and a pretty challenging game of golf, too.

Fewer people are aware of a recent addition to the resort involving the other country club sport: a shiny new grass tennis court. On Jan. 1, the first Four Seasons Resort guests donned their tennis whites and stepped onto the mysterious green surface. It’s been thrilling vacationers ever since. “A lot of people have wanted to play on one of these for their entire lives,” said Director of Operations Jay Miller. “They get very excited about it.”

Located beside the posh Golf Clubhouse designed by famous architect Ronald Zürcher and set back from four Har-Tru tennis courts, the grass court is maintained just like a putting green, Miller said. That involves frequent watering and daily “moisture probes” to ensure the grass is healthy. It’s the only grass court in the entire chain of Four Seasons properties worldwide, and as far as anybody knows, it’s the only well-maintained grass court in all of Costa Rica.

Most often associated with the grand slam tournament, Wimbledon, the grass surface is the least common type of court in the sport of tennis. Fewer than one percent of tennis courts in the world are said to be of the grass variety, and they come with their own special quirks. Balls bounce low, fast and sometimes irregularly, rendering a serve-and-volley game a good bet. That’s why tennis powerhouses like Pete Sampras and Serena Williams do so well on grass.

As somebody who grew up playing tennis but had never even seen a grass court, I was pretty pumped to check it out. One of the Four Seasons Club pros, Carlos Calvo, took me out to the court on a Saturday morning around 11 a.m. and equipped me with some complimentary tennis shoes, a hat, a good racket and a whole lot of water. (Late mornings on the peninsula can be sweltering, but luckily we had some cloud cover.)

As I took to the court, it felt like I was tiptoeing over an oversized sponge. It was hard to believe the ball would bounce at all, but some early rallying close to the net proved that it did. Carlos and I hit for a while, and when I became accustomed to the surface and the timing, we moved back to the baseline.

For a while, Carlos had me work on emphasizing my follow through, and he ran me from side to side until I was damp and panting. Then he suggested we play a tiebreaker, during which I was forced to sprint and dive to stay in nearly every point. “Tennis is a game of emergencies,” he said before easily dispatching me.

I will say this – hitting the ground on a grass court is not nearly as painful or dirty as it is on a hard court. But even if it had been a dirty affair, the Four Seasons was prepared. When the lesson concluded, an employee brought Carlos and I a couple of cool, grapefruit scented towels, which felt totally amazing.

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