Have you ever driven past an empty plot of land, or a vacant building, and thought of all the ways you could transform it?
New York City native Chris Lewit had this idea. As a young tennis coach, he recalls constantly driving past an abandoned tennis club in rural Vermont.
“I really thought it was a gem,” said Lewit. “Years later, I had the opportunity to buy it. And after a long negotiation, we took control of the club in 2016. The place had been essentially abandoned. It was almost defunct with no programming, and one of the coaches was actually living there with his cat.
But I just saw the potential in the place. It has indoor courts, a gym, clubhouse and most importantly, 15 acres of land.”
And it was precisely that which led Lewit to making the purchase on the place. With a vast landscape to work with, including 1,000 feet right on a riverfront, Lewit had found the dream location for his summer camp.
“I fell in love with the land, and I thought that this would be a great place to put my camp,” said Lewit. “I had been running a camp in New York for 10 years, and I thought, if I could turn this place around, that this would be its new home.”
Chris Lewit turned this abandoned piece of property in Vermont into his dream tennis academy
So Lewit went to work, quite literally. The amount of renovations needed was seemingly endless.
“They had these old Har-Tru courts that were basically a cabbage patch at this point. The foundation was there and they were laid out nicely, but there were just weeds everywhere. I mean, I’m 6’3 and they were taller than me,” recalls Lewit. “My whole family was back there pulling weeds and there were somehow also these giant boulders embedded into the dirt. We had to get rid of all of that and bring in all new red clay. It was my dream to have red clay courts like they do in Spain.”
So with the help of his family and a little elbow grease, Lewit turned what was once just a dream project of his while driving to work into a tennis haven in the beautiful Vermont wilderness. Now entering its fourth year of operating, Lewit’s camp has grown in each year of its existence. He trains players who are preparing for Nationals, Super Sixes, Zonals and other major tournaments, as well as young players he calls “little prodigies”.
“They are talented and athletic, and a lot of them are just beginning their tournament experience,” he said. “They’re young, but I’ll coach any kid who is taking it seriously.”
The tennis instruction is rooted in the Spanish system, one that Lewit has been trained in significantly throughout the years. He has combined the models and methods of Luis Bruguera, Emilio Sanchez and Pato Alvarez, and recently began taking a course studying the Toni Nadal method, to formulate his own system of teaching.
“People can come here and train in this beautiful setting with an authentic Spanish style, and you don’t have to go across the ocean to get it. We have players from all over the country coming to us now.”
As a result of that, a large emphasis is placed on injury prevention and physical training, and the numbers are kept down in order to ensure a small coach to player ratio to maximize the individualized instruction.
Chris Lewit working with a student at his academy in Vermont
“We wanted to do something very different than most summer camps. People thought I was crazy to buy that place four years ago,” said Lewit. “Maybe it was a big risk, but I had this Field of Dreams moment. I saw what it could be. Every summer now when I see all the kids here, it makes me realize that I made the right decision.”
Being a native of New York City, Lewit says he now has the best of both worlds. He spends the majority of his year in New York, and then heads north, accompanied by his wife and children, to Vermont to spend the summers at his camp.
“I’m a city mouse, I’m a country mouse. I love both places,” he said. “My family lives up there during the summer, so the kids get to spend those months out in nature. I was born in Manhattan and grew up in New York City, and sometimes it’s nice to get out into the country and see the beautiful scenery. We all enjoy getting out of the city, and it’s a little bit of heaven in the summer.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org