NEW: Tennis pros plan ‘sports ranch’ on Palm Beach Polo north course

Two tennis professionals want to build a world-class sports training facility on the long-defunct north course of Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club.

According to a letter sent by their attorney, Wellington-based Craig Galle, to the village’s planning and zoning department, Betsy Nagelsen McCormack and Rodrigo Nascimento and their R+B Tennis Holdings LLC are under contract to purchase about 60 acres of the north course — with Forest Hill Boulevard as the south boundary and an Acme Improvement District canal as the north boundary — from developer Glenn Straub.

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The property was the subject of controversy in the second half of 2017 as Straub sought to include field and equestrian sports at the course. He also requested access points to the north course from Forest Hill Boulevard and to Royal Fern Drive, behind the Palm Beach County library’s Wellington branch. Those requests — and others related to Palm Beach Polo and Straub’s property at Polo West — failed to gain approval from the village council at its Dec. 11 meeting.

Straub was not immediately available for comment Friday. The north course has been inactive for nearly two decades. Several ideas for the property have been discussed, including discussion of an assisted-living facility in 2014.

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Wellington Planning and Zoning Director Bob Basehart said no plans have been submitted to the village for approval.

Basehart said the changes that would need to be requested by McCormack and Nascimento are different from Straub’s requests and are specific enough that their applications could be considered.

Nascimento and McCormack have extensive backgrounds in tennis. Now 61, McCormack has played the sport since she was 6 years old. She won the Australian Open doubles championship in 1978 and with Martina Navratilova again in 1980. She also reached the finals of Wimbledon doubles and was a U.S. Open mixed doubles finalist — both in 1987. Her husband, Mark McCormack, founded international sports management company IMG.

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The 40-year-old Nascimento, a native of Brazil, has lived and worked in the U.S. since he was 13. He met McCormack when he was 14 and she offered to train him at her Orlando home, as she did with many young tennis stars through the years.

“She was very picky,” Nascimento joked.

“But he was the best,” McCormack replied.

They have remained in touch and worked together the past 26 years as Nascimento has focused on the training side of the tennis world. He has trained stars like Monica Seles and Jamea Jackson.

McCormack moved to Wellington in 2014 and Nascimento arrived in February 2016. They rent three courts at Palm Beach Polo, where they have seven young students. Their company employs two additional tennis coaches, a trainer and a life coach.

Both McCormack and Nascimento said the village is home — and they want to bring their vision for a “sports ranch” here. “I’m asking the universe to allow us to be in Wellington,” Nascimento said.

The ranch would include facilities for tennis, soccer, lacrosse, paddle tennis, pickle ball and more, along with a skate park and dog park that would be open to Wellington residents, Nascimento said. They also want to build a dormitory where 20 or so students can live.

“We have a life coach who works with the players and the parents to make sure the lessons they’re learning here are taken home,” McCormack said. “We’d rather be very small and do a great job with a small group, because that’s what we’re all about.”

McCormack said the goal to have R+B Tennis become a nonprofit.

The name of their organization, R+B Tennis, represents the first initials of their first names. But it stands also for the music they listen to as they play. On a recent Friday morning, they volleyed for two hours on a court in Wellington as reggae, R&B and pop songs played from a court-side speaker and McCormack’s small dogs placidly paced the court with little care for the green missiles being lobbed over their heads.

Nascimento said the project is not about money. “We are so passionate about this sport,” he added.

“We really want to be an asset to this community,” McCormack said.

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