When Valentim “Val” Goncalves Jr. arrived at Alys Beach this year to become the new head racquet professional at ZUMA Wellness Center, he had already experienced some of the world’s most prestigious tennis courts and clubs as a player and coach. But at ZUMA, he felt he’d found something exceptional. Better still, he knew there was much more to come, with plans underway for an expansion of racquet sports to include two more tennis courts, three dedicated pickleball courts, seating pavilions, versatile gathering spaces, and a clubhouse.
“ZUMA is already one of the most sophisticated wellness centers with the amenities we have right now,” Val says. “When the whole project is complete, it’s going to be extraordinary. And since the goal at ZUMA is to create new wellness opportunities, if I can use my platform of racquet sports to that end, then I’m fulfilling the goal.”
A tennis prodigy who grew up in Curitiba, Brazil, Val climbed his way up the rankings to become among the top players in the country. He eventually received scholarships and played at two different universities in the
While still in school, Val decided he didn’t want to continue down the path of professional tennis. “Competing was beginning to feel like a job, and I stopped having fun,” he says. “I wanted to keep tennis as my passion. Once I made that decision, I started having more fun on the court and falling in love with the sport again.”
Wanting to share that experience with others, Val, who holds a master’s degree in business administration, also started teaching and later became the director of racquet sports at another club. Then he was approached about a position at ZUMA. As soon as he came to visit this spring, “I fell in love with the place,” he says, noting that even the courts’ red-clay playing surfaces set ZUMA apart. Red-clay courts remind Val of Brazil and also of the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament with clay courts of any kind (the tournament’s website describes the surface as the “hallowed red dirt.”)
Already, the racquet-sports programming at Alys Beach goes beyond traditional play and lessons. Offerings range from one-on-one coaching and small-class instruction to cardio tennis, a workout that experienced players and non-players alike can enjoy. “It’s essentially a fitness class with tennis racquets and tennis balls,” Val says. “Everyone can join.”
Val is excited about the new pickleball courts, slated to be complete early next year, for the same reason. “Pickleball is a new sport, so everyone’s still relatively new to the game,” he says. “It doesn’t matter your fitness level or your tennis experience, because so many things about the game are different, and it’s still evolving.”
He says pickleball is growing so fast, many enthusiasts resort to playing on makeshift courts—repurposed tennis or basketball courts, maybe, or just lines drawn on the driveway—so having dedicated pickleball courts at Alys Beach with proper dimensions, a welcoming seating area, and equipment brings its own cache.
David Everett, president of Alys Beach, says Alys Beach is committed to exceeding expectations with the new developments. “When completed, we believe the tennis and pickleball complex will be an excellent complement to all Alys Beach amenities and meet the high standards achieved by ZUMA,” he says.
Adds Robert Stenhammer, Alys Beach’s vice president and general manager: “ZUMA is a world-class amenity for Alys Beach, an inspired oasis that seeks to deliver whatever our homeowners and guests are looking for on their wellness journey,” he says. “As David has stated, we saw the opportunity to invest in our racquet sports offerings by renovating and expanding our facilities, adding comfort stations, seating and configurations that allow us to hold exhibitions, clinics, private instruction, and community events. The addition of pickleball, which is intensely popular and social, will contribute greatly to our sense of community.” Val agrees. “We want the homeowners and guests of Alys Beach to enjoy the camaraderie of all the racquet sports,” he says.
“A beautiful, strong, and healthy community ... that’s the goal.”
These are preliminary renderings for perspective and sense of place;details are subject to change.