When they weren't shopping at the nearby mall, snoozing at the Hampton Inn & Suites, or lounging at Siesta Beach - named America's Best Beach for 2011 by Dr. Beach - the Notre Dame rowing team was training.

Thanks to the proximity of Nathan Benderson Park's world-class rowing facility to such amenities, the Fighting Irish had time for it all.

And after a week of rowing in Jan. of 2011, the athletes already were planning a return.

"The kids talked about going back the next year," Notre Dame coach Martin Stone said. "It was our first time down there and we especially liked the facilities and ease of use."

The permanently-installed, multi-use facility for canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards and dragon boats is right off Interstate-75, five miles from Sarasota-Bradenton Airport and short walk from the 500,000-square-foot University Town Center shopping mall. In addition, first-class hotel accommodations are peppered about the facility.

"For us, when we were in training camp, the ease of use and location allowed us to rest earlier and come to the park earlier," Stone said. "And the proximity to the airport from the course is the main thing if you're going to be here for a while."

The 1,500-meter course is scheduled to soon become the required 2,000 meters for international rowing competitions by spring of 2012. Already, the 600-acre paradise has hosted regattas, Florida Intercollegiate Rowing Association State Championships and the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association State Championship that attracted more than 10,000 participants and spectators. It has potential to host Olympic-level competition and attract crowds of up to 50,000.

"Our intent is to host many regattas in many disciplines," said Robert Whitford, Benderson Park manager with Sarasota County Parks and Recreation. "The benefit of this being permanently installed is that we can host a lot of races in a short time."

Bruce Smith, executive director of Community Rowing, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that Benderson Lake's straight shoreline is perfect for spectator viewing, and Sarasota's weather and numerous hotel accommodations could allow the facility to host 15 major regattas each year.

No doubt, Southern hospitality is in effect in this laid-back community.

"It was very nice and there's great hospitality," Stone said. "We stayed in the Hampton Inn and with that great shopping center right there with those restaurants, the kids could go out to different places. We could walk across the street to Target and buy team supplies so everything was real easy."

Harry Shannon of Sarasota wrote a letter in April of 2011 to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune following his work in a hospitality tent during two regattas. He said in the article: "I cannot begin to tell you how many people, from the state and from across the country, were so complimentary about the venue, the park and the hospitality shown to them. We had a great opportunity to show folks what Sarasota is all about."

Train, dine, shop, rest.

And still find time to chill at America's No. 1 beach.

Let the paddling begin.