Family-friendly, all-inclusive Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port Saint Lucie a haven for golfers, sports enthusiasts

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mike Johnson and his family love the Club Med Sandpiper Bay.

Club Med Sandpiper Bay - pool
Sandpiper Bay is the flagship of Club Med's "Premium Sports" resorts.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay - poolClub Med Sandpiper Bay - trapezeClub Med Sandpiper Bay - beachfrontClub Med Sandpiper Bay - golf instructionClub Med Sandpiper Bay - Infinity pool
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Johnson, from Wisconsin, and his wife have come back eight separate times for one reason: The free children's programs that keep their two boys occupied while they're teeing it up.

"It's so convenient," Johnson said of the resort's setup. "It's a great place for the whole family to do what they want."

The Club Med Sandpiper Bay might be the most unlikely golf resort in the U.S. Its Sandpiper golf course is not a world-class venue, but the amenities and programs beyond the course -- and its connection to 15 other area courses -- are what attract golfers to this unique 216-acre retreat tucked inside a southern Florida neighborhood on the shores of the St. Lucie River.

The 337-room Sandpiper Bay is the flagship of Club Med "Premium Sports" resorts, offering world-class training in golf, tennis and fitness. It is also the chain's only all-inclusive family resort in America.

A $25-million renovation, completed in Dec. 2010, elevated the stature of Sandpiper Bay. Beyond the physical improvements -- most noticeably remodeled guest rooms and a new infinity pool at river's edge -- the resort completely revamped its sports programming. Its new Club Med Academies feature famous faces in their respective sports -- tennis guru Gabe Jaramillo, who developed the talents of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles; golf instructor Brad Brewer, former host of The Golf Channel's Daily Brew and a Golf Magazine top 100 teacher; and Heather Gollnick, a professional tri-athlete and five-time Ironman Champion.

Guests can go all out during their stay with a full schedule of events. Or they can simply become a vegetable, soaking up the sun by any of the resort's three pools. It's their choice.

What is Club Med?

Club Med, which celebrated its 60th birthday in 2010, has cornered the market on the upscale all-inclusive. Gerard Blitz founded the first Club Med resort in Majorca, Spain, in 1950. Today, Club Med operates more than 80 resorts worldwide, many in exotic locales.

Once guests experience the "happiness" of Club Med, they tend to gravitate back again. It's not uncommon to meet diehard Club Med fans who return annually. People like that they can pay upfront for everything -- good food, drinks, spacious accommodations, children's camps and a diverse menu of classes and clinics -- without the annoying, hidden additional fees other resorts add on.

The resort is set up as a "village" with seven two-story buildings. Club Med Sandpiper Bay is family focused, as evident by the renovations. The enhancements included improving Deluxe Family rooms with private quarters for parents, a large living space and one and a half baths.

The Kidz Village is a playground paradise with a splash park, BRITTO art center and a new hangout and lounge for teenagers called Latitude 27°. As one Club Med employee aptly put it: "A happy kid equals happy parents."

Club Med children's programs, ranging from four months to age 17, are more like day camps than daycare. The children stick with others their own age, making it easier to make new friends and find activities that match their interests. By the end of the day, even the shy kids tend to be disappointed to get picked up by their parents. Sandpiper Bay offers a full day of art projects, tennis, basketball, floor hockey, swimming at the pool, sailing on the river, scavenger hunts at the Sandpiper beach and a special outdoor trapeze that is a wild ride for any age.

The resort even provides highchairs, cribs, strollers, bottle warmers and baby bathtubs as part of its Baby Welcome Program, so new moms don't have to stress out about traveling with an infant.

The food at Club Med is quite good, with enough variety to last a week and not bore guests. The Marketplace International Buffet serves three meals from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visitors can also order off a menu at Soleil for breakfast, lunch or dinner for a change of pace.

Golf at Club Med Sandpiper Bay

Golf on the on-site Sandpiper golf course or nearby Eagle Marsh Golf Club and daily golf lessons are included in any resort golf package.

The golf lessons are well-done group affairs that emphasize fundamentals. Each clinic has a theme, such as putting one day and chipping and pitching the next. These lessons are a great way to introduce young children to golf or for couples to improve together.

The 6,600-yard Sandpiper course is a solid layout that is typical Florida flat with sand and water hazards to avoid. Tommy Fazio, nephew of the legendary architect Tom Fazio, designed the 6,918-yard Eagle Marsh course through a wildlife reserve. Both are great courses for snowbirds. There is just enough challenge to be interesting but not so much that they'll wreck the day.

Other trophy courses reside within simple driving distance. They cost extra, but golfers can gain access to the three golf courses at PGA Village (Ryder, Wanamaker or Dye) or the Arnold Palmer Course and Tom Watson Course at the Tesoro Club through Sandpiper Bay.

Other activities at Club Med Sandpiper Bay

The real secret to better golf probably lies within Sandpiper Bay's dozens of classes and sports programs held every day. The Club Med staff playfully encourages guests to join in team sports activities (like beach volleyball, basketball and soccer) or to get moving in fitness classes. Zumba, Cardio Splash and Boot camp are all wildly popular. Morning or late afternoon yoga classes along the river are a perfect way to gear up for, or wind down after, an active day.

Adults can even borrow a small sailboat to take out into the river for a quick cruise or test their nerves on the outdoor trapeze. Wave runners and boats for water-skiing are available for rent, too.

The training in the tennis program is so intense that families of promising juniors from around the world send their budding young stars to live and train at Sandpiper Bay. Some of these students are highly ranked junior players who could find their way to the pro tour, skipping college tennis altogether. Daily group classes deliver a highly charged professional training environment for guests.

Off-site excursions -- like fishing and sunset cruises -- and day trips to Walt Disney World are available as well.

As the sun goes down, Club Med heats up again with tennis exhibitions, trapeze shows inside its auditorium or outside, and all-night parties in the Slice Bar & Lounge. The staff that served guests fruit poolside and ran the fitness classes will likely be there, too, dancing and mingling with the vacationers. It's the Club Med way. Everybody becomes a friend by the end of the day.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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