Not long ago we wrote about the various educational institutions that make Southwest Florida more than just a pretty place to live. The region is amazingly top heavy with superb choices to match the goals and aspirations of every serious-minded student, artist or athlete. Just this week, in fact, it was learned that more kudos are due Dr. Larry Thompson and his Ringling College of Art and Design for being the first arts school ever named to U.S. News & World Report’s annual publication America’s Best Colleges. No surprise there.
Recently, we were once again reminded how incredibly diverse our academic choices are when we were given a tour of one the area’s most unique institutions—Bradenton’s IMG Academies—which clearly inhabits a class unto itself. Happily, the eye-opening tour was part of a larger mission. Michael Saunders & Company has just become the official on-site real estate brokerage for this remarkable collection of training academies, each entirely devoted to excellence in a single sport. A new full-service branch office of Michael Saunders & Company—our 17th—is now open and operating from the Clubhouse at IMG Academies.
Everyone—especially devoted fans of tennis, golf, basketball, baseball and soccer—has at least a vague awareness of the sort of gifted young athletes that are consistently graduated from IMG Academies; but the incredible training facilities we got to witness up close and operating at full capacity still gave us pause to remark, “Who knew?”
“IMG Academies is much better known around the world than they are in their own backyard,” said Sam Zussman, its new managing director, in an interview before the tour. Of course, given the impressive security afforded to the students and residents who live at IMG Academies most passers-by aren’t likely to get a full view of the training that takes place behind the gates.
Zussman also made us aware of another important but largely unknown fact about IMG Academies. It ranks as one of the largest private employers in Manatee County; with a staff that delivers world-class sports training experiences to over 12,000 junior, collegiate, adult and professional athletes each year. Needless-to-say, the continuous inflow of so many typically affluent individuals—and their families—results in a major economic bonanza for the host city of Bradenton that spills generously into Sarasota.
IMG Academies is both the granddaddy and Cinderella of all sports training academies. From its modest beginnings as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy—where a handful of gifted young prodigies actually lived, trained and home-schooled in Bollettieri’s Longboat Key home—it has become the classic success story.
In 1987, IMG World bought the tennis academy; and by 1993 Bollettieri’s comprehensive approach to training had yielded such exceptional results that it was successfully adapted to several other sports—including golf, soccer, baseball, basketball and swimming. Today IMG Academies is both the oldest and—by far—the most advanced multi-sports training academy in the world. Its roster of distinguished tennis alumni alone reads like a who’s who of grand slam champions. They include such tennis greats as Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Venus & Serena Williams, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova, Tommy Hass, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova, Boris Becker, Marcelo Rios, Max Mirnyi, Brad Gilbert, Jimmy Arias and Aaron Krickstein. As well, there’s scarcely a single team in professional or world class competitive sports that doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to IMG Academies for so many of its standout players.
We must confess, however, that nothing can make a person feel older or more out of shape faster than suddenly finding yourself in the company of some of the youngest, most talented and best known sports phenoms in the world. The approximately 800 full-time students of the academy come from over 46 states and 80 different countries. Roughly half end up living on or near the campus; the balance in homes and condominiums throughout the region.
Once these students, their families and other elite clients begin to inhabit the courts, golf links and playing fields of IMG Academies they quite naturally grow to embrace the Southwest Florida lifestyle; recognizing that there is no finer or more dependable climate in which to train year round. More than a few pursue that feeling to its logical conclusion by purchasing full-time or second homes—in neighborhoods from Longboat Key to Lakewood Ranch—so that they can remain relatively close to IMG Academies; and return often to refresh their techniques, rehabilitate bruised muscles and simply have the ability to practice and compete with their peers.
Therein lies the crux of why Michael Saunders & Company is proud to be named the official real estate brokerage for such a legendary institution. With their clients’ real estate needs as numerous and diverse as their many different nationalities, IMG Academies understands the value of associating with a high performance real estate company. They found Michael Saunders & Company to be the company most thoroughly steeped in local and international experience; and one that could be counted on to instantly summon-up any number of sales agents who possess both an intricate knowledge of international property transactions and a combined fluency in more than 20 different foreign languages.
In finding the families of IMG’s students their perfect new home in Southwest Florida, we’d like to think that sometime in the not-too-distant future we’ll have a little something to do with one of our customers being hailed as the newest grand slam champion. When that day finally arrives we’ll no doubt recall the first time we showed them a property and say “Who knew?”