Best Tennis Courts in Palm Beach 2002 | Howard Park Tennis Center | Sports | South Florida
Two words: clay courts. One of the few public tennis centers where the rabble can play on a surface generally reserved for the gentry, Howard Park is a hidden gem. Long ignored by West Palm Beach recreation planners, it's a 60-plus-year-old facility where the infamous Bobby Riggs once swung a racquet. And it recently got a face-lift to match the resurgence of the surrounding neighborhood, which is just across Okeechobee Boulevard from CityPlace. The center was once in the midst of crack houses. Even folks wielding tennis racquets feared to tread there. Now it's a magnet for Jag- and Rolls-driving tennis nuts from Palm Beach, as well as those with less substantial pedigrees and more ordinary wheels. Majestic banyan trees that were probably little more than shrub height when the center opened in the late 1930s provide shade. Along with seven clay and two hard courts, there's a quaint stadium with a clay surface where Riggs and lesser-known competitors once played. Tennis director Mike Boone says an elderly visitor once told him she was in the middle of a game when news hit that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. "What was the reaction?" Boone recalls asking her. "Oh," she replied. "We finished the set." And 61 years later, they're still playing tennis with equally unflappable intensity.Howard Park
OK, the 18 holes at the Diplomat may not be the best golf course qua golf course in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Its 6728 yards are lined with shady banyan trees, and designer Joe Lee lavished water on 16 of the holes -- including a tricky island green on the second one (no, you don't have to wade to your putt; there's a bridge). But what makes the Diplomat really special are the amenities. A GPS system on every golf cart gives a color picture of each hole, points out the hazards, and gives exact yardage to the cup. Touch another button and up pops a menu for the country club's Tack Room Bar. A waiter will whisk your repast straight to your cart. After a long, hard day of strenuous golfing, you can relax with a massage at the spa. Best of all, just across the Intracoastal Waterway is the Westin Diplomat Hotel, 39 stories of overindulgence. Hotel guests get one round of golf (plus as much practice as they like) for $125 weekdays, $159 weekends.

Not in the 'hood, as one might expect (and romantics might hope) but solidly suburban, the four -- count 'em, four -- courts in the southeast corner of this county park's 525 acres host the area's best-quality round ball. Local players make the trek from all over West Palm Beach and as far south as Boca Raton; collegiate talent on spring break and off-season visiting pros have been known to drop by. But even your run-of-the-mill pickup game here covers the full razzle-dazzle: the behind-the-back, no-look pass; the triple head fake, double-pump, pull-up shot; the long outlet pass and the finishing thunderdunk. Twenty- and thirtysomething guys hold the main stage, but there are enough courts to accommodate other ages and genders. A nice racial mix almost makes you think there's hope for the human race.
So your K2s are oiled, roller hockey just doesn't do it for you anymore, and you're ready to soar. Then head west, young dude, to the skate park in the Broward County Regional Park in Weston. Here, you will find a facility that's $100,000 worth of tubular. Back in December 2001, Weston commissioners -- who are unlikely to ever try this place -- approved the conversion of one of eight hockey rinks into a 'blader's dream. Ramps, pipes, and grindwalls manufactured from steel and polyethylene allow you to do things you've never done before. Indeed, you'll want to wear every pad in the house, and a helmet too. How risky is it? Parents of kids who dare to skate here must sign an injury waiver before junior can even enter. It's open 3 to 10 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. school holidays, and 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Skaters pay variable rates to register and $6 for one-and-a-half-hour sessions. And, oh yeah, those wimpy, good-for-nothing skateboarders can roll here too.
The biking and jogging path in this 320-acre park is shaded and rarely crowded. Clean (or at least as clean as public gets) water fountains are plentiful, and bathrooms are located at convenient spots along the mostly concrete trail. Whether you're jogging two or ten miles, visit the basketball, tennis, racquetball, or numerous volleyball areas for cross-training or a cool-down. Smith Park also boasts a freshwater beach complex including a bathhouse, playground, and two 700-foot waterslides.
In with the good air, out with the bad. Breathe. Deeply. Let the fresh sea air fill your lungs. You'll soon need every molecule of it. Standing at Boca's South Beach Park pavilion on Palmetto Park Road and A1A, while looking out over the beautiful waves breaking upon the shore, do all of your muscle stretches. Once you're warmed up, start jogging along the wide, gray concrete A1A jogging trail, which runs north about six scenic miles. You'll pass tall, luxurious condominiums, spacious city parks and public beaches, wild vegetation preserves, exotic gargantuan mansions, and even a handful of snowbirds in cars, who seem to drive way too slow. Traffic is far from menacing here; a four-foot-wide swale separates the trail and the road for most of the distance. When the right moment comes (if your chest is aching, you've gone too far), turn around and jog back. Upon your return to your starting point, quench your thirst with a sports drink at the convenience store conveniently located on the corner of Palmetto Park Road and A1A. Hey, if this jog doesn't pump you up, nothing can.
OK, so this ain't necessarily the numero uno ride for you Lycra-wearing, Bollé-blinded, Bell-headed geeks who zoom through stop signs and endanger the lives of fellow riders. But it is nice. Relaxing and sandy. Kid-friendly too. On a recent weekend day, we started out at Hollywood Boulevard and the beach, headed north a few blocks and stopped at a shady playground for a cup of coffee, a bagel, and a rest. Spent an hour there, cooling our jets and watching the tykes frolic while talking with a Martian-like fellow who was playing some very interesting electronica on his boom box. Then we headed north, down a nice blacktop path, far from traffic, up and around a curve, and onto a quiet street lined with quaint houses and a secluded beachfront. Ended at Dania Beach Pier, where we partook of more shade and more food before swimming and resting another hour or so. Then headed back south along the same route (it would have taken too much energy to head west) and stopped at a shelter on Hollywood Beach, where a guitar player was entertaining a mostly Argentine crowd dancing the tango. Drank a little red wine while we listened and spent a couple of hours before heading south to -- what else? -- dinner at a Greek restaurant. Nice, huh?Quiet Waters Park
Buckle up, you adrenaline junkies, and let the ride begin. This former quarry turned park provides more than ten miles of gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, mountain-biking action. The trails range in difficulty from leisurely four-foot bunny-hops for the intermediate to 30-foot, hold-on-at-all-costs hills for the advanced. The trails run mostly among tall pine and eucalyptus trees, so shade is abundant. But, you equipment-obsessed wacko, you'll still need your camelback water supply in both summer and winter. There are plenty of obstacles, such as large rocks, slippery roots, and hanging tree branches that will keep all riders on their toes. The park also offers parking and bike wash stations at the entrance to the trails, which are maintained by Club Mud -- a group of local mountain-bikers and volunteers.
John U. Lloyd State Park in Dania Beach is the only place in South Florida where a park -- a real one, complete with trees, barbecue grills, picnic tables, and enough green space to throw a Frisbee across -- dominates a rise above the ocean. In true Florida fashion, the 310 acres of barrier island stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal; it's one of the few places in the state where you can actually be a couple of feet above sea level yet near salt water. The place is big enough to find a quiet spot to hide. Or you can sit in one of the more populated areas and stare out at the water as you eat. You can choose between sun and shade, grass and sand, or throw caution to the wind and have it all. We like walking through the mangroves or sitting atop one of the picnic tables and looking down at the beach. Depending upon your level of courage and agility, you can climb down to the sand and walk a couple of yards to the beach, or you can just sit on the rise and watch the waves break.John U. Lloyd

State Park

An urban walk needs big-city grit. Problem: Downtown Fort Lauderdale doesn't have grit per se. It's too purty, and so much of it near the river is wrought with a Disney-esque sensibility. But just as Disney creates longing for small-town America -- minus the litter, the claustrophobia, the nosy neighbors, and the violence embedded in the winding sheet of the American family -- here you don't need the real thing to extract the finer parts. You need the symbols of it. The imagination will fill in the outlines. And sometimes it's better to experience these things as poetic apprehension. It tugs at memory and desire, making the moment more personal. Blurring the raw truth is better sometimes. Especially if you're taking a walk to relax. Riverwalk stretches along the New River on the north side for three quarters of a mile, from SW Seventh Avenue near the Broward Center on the west to the Stranahan House at SE Fifth Avenue on the east. There is the Auto Nation skyscraper for that we-are-but-human-ants feeling. Automobiles rumble over two drawbridges that cross the river. If you time it right, a Florida East Coast Railroad train might thunder past. Construction cranes growl and clang. You can feel the gnawing mouth of the military-industrial complex. By contrast, that fresh-scrubbed family clad in khaki taking an afternoon walk along the river sure looks good. Don't they look happy? The breeze off the New River feels sweet. Maybe grab a coffee on Himmarshee and sit on a bench for a while. Watch the kids race by on bikes. Read the paper. It's shady and surprisingly cool. The rhythm of the river aligns with the blood flow. Heck, why not just take a little spin on the Water Taxi? You won't be missed. Duck into the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. You must climb the stairs to transcendence, but it can start here, dude, down in the city with a river running through it and a place to walk and think beside it.

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