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‘Passing baton’: Longtime owner to sell Twin Oaks Tennis Club

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of April 13, 2023)

Longtime Central Beach resident Alain Mignolet never thought he would sell the Twin Oaks Tennis Club where he has taught many of Vero’s most promising junior players since the early 1990s.

But at age 68, after more than three decades of owning and operating the club, health concerns – combined with the right price at the perfect time from an enthusiastic buyer – convinced Mignolet to accept Kaye Manly’s offer.

So, if all goes as planned this week, Twin Oaks will have a new owner ready to spend big money to completely renovate the cozy, seven-court complex on Sixth Avenue, just north of 12th Street.

“Barring any unexpected delays,” Manly said last week, “we’ll close on Friday and I’ve got a landscaper scheduled to come by on the 15th.”

Neither Manly nor Mignolet would divulge the selling price of the 1.9-acre property and business – the club has more than 75 current members – but Mignolet said money was not the deciding factor.

In fact, he said he received four “reasonable” offers from prospective buyers, including one who followed him from the clubhouse to the parking lot, waving a check.

“The club was never actually on the market, but people kept approaching me,” Mignolet said. “I guess they heard I was thinking about selling because of my health issues.

“At the end of the day, though, it didn’t come down to money,” he added. “It came down to someone who was committed to not only improving the club but also keeping all of my staff.

“Of all the potential buyers, Kaye was the best fit.”

Also, Mignolet said, Manly told him he’s welcome to return to the club to teach when his health improves.

That could be a while, however.

For months now, Mignolet has been undergoing medical examinations, subjecting himself to a barrage of tests and taking injections in hopes of identifying the cause of – and curing – the pain in his back and neck, weakening of his leg muscles, loss of balance and reduced motion of his right arm.

He said doctors have told him the symptoms, which prevent him from being on the tennis court and even stringing rackets, are not related to the spinal surgery he underwent last summer.

Based on the varying diagnoses, Mignolet believes he is suffering from multiple health issues. He said he has been told by specialists that he might need at least two more surgeries, plus additional injections, MRIs and other tests.

“I spent 30 years doing everything here – working seven days a week on the court, putting down 80-pound bags of clay, hanging windscreens, repairing sprinklers, painting …,” Mignolet said.

“When I bought this place from the bank, it was a mess,” he continued. “It took years to fix everything, even after the club opened. Now, I no longer have the ability to do what I used to do.

“As recently as the start of the year, I was not looking to sell and wasn’t planning to sell,” he added. “And if I were healthy, I wouldn’t be selling. But my body can’t keep up with my mind.”

As Mignolet’s role has diminished, he has relied heavily on Yohann Prinsen, a 25-year-old fellow Belgian he brought to Vero Beach three years ago, after first convincing him to play college tennis in the U.S.

Prinsen, who played for – and graduated from – Idaho State University, has moved into Mignolet’s home and essentially has been running Twin Oaks’ operations, allowing his boss to focus on his health.

It was Prinsen who developed a tennis relationship with Manly, 71, who moved from Vermont to Vero Beach four years ago, plays six days each week and continues to take lessons from him.

And it was Prinsen whom Manly approached in December, when Mignolet began getting offers, with her interest in buying and renovating the club.

“The first time I came to Twin Oaks to hit with Yohann early last year, I walked in, looked around and thought about all the ways the club could be improved,” said Manly, who has a history of taking on building renovation and restoration projects.

“I didn’t get serious about it, though, until Alain began contemplating selling,” she added. “That’s when I asked Yohann if he planned to be here a while and whether he would be interested in working with me to make the place better.

“He said he was, and that’s when I told Yohann to take my idea to Alain.”

Manly was aware that other potential buyers had made inquiries, even offers, but she was willing to retain Prinsen and the rest of Mignolet’s staff.

“I knew there were other people interested in buying, but I also knew nobody else would be able to meet Alain’s specific requests,” she said. “And Alain realized he’d never get a better offer.”

If Twin Oaks sells as expected, Prinsen will be the club’s tennis director and oversee its operations.

“Of all the pros I’ve brought in here, Yohann is the best,” Mignolet said. “He’s intelligent, hardworking and personable. This is a great opportunity for him, and Kaye is so lucky to have him.

“I’m passing the baton.”

As for Manly, who worked professionally as a nurse anesthetist, she’s excited about embarking on her new venture.

“It’s a challenge, and I’m up for it,” said Manly, who described herself as a 3.0- to 3.5-level tennis player. “I love to play, but I never thought about owning a club. That’s not my motivation. For me, it’s about the project.”

“I’ve always seen this club as something I wanted to save – something to recreate, something this community needs,” she added. “So we’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it right.”