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Pickleball: Catching the Wave

9 Nov, 2018

By: Peter Francesconi
It’s One of the Fastest-Growing Sports and Tournaments Are Popping Up all Over the U.S.

Pickleball was created about 50 years ago, but it’s only in the past few years that the sport has exploded in popularity. In fact, the latest research by the Physical Activity Council puts pickleball as one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, with participation growing 11.3 percent from 2016 to 2017, to more than 3.1 million players.

The USA Pickleball Association, or USAPA, the governing body of the sport, sanctions tournaments throughout the country. The sport, which uses paddles and a plastic ball, is played on a 44-foot-long by 20-foot-wide court, shorter than a regular-size 78-foot tennis court, with a net a few inches lower than for tennis.

Often, painted pickleball lines are “blended” onto tennis courts, or the lines are taped down temporarily, either on a tennis court, gym floor or other venue. However, demand for the sport has grown so much lately that pickleball players are now advocating for and expecting dedicated pickleball courts. As a result, facilities designated for pickleball are hosting large-scale events and creating excellent economic impact for communities; in Naples, Florida, for instance, the Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, held at Naples Community Park, have grown year over year, bringing in $4.5 million in 2018.

Clearly, the sport is on track for growth nationwide. Here are some of key venues for pickleball tournament and events. And since, as mentioned previously, many tennis facilities are also sharing their court space with this emerging sport, event owners should be sure to check the adjacent article on tennis for even more ideas.

Beaumont, Texas
In September, Beaumont hosted its first pickleball tournament, a USAPA- sanctioned event, slated to become an annual offering. For the inaugural year, “about 120 players signed up to play, with many coming from outside the area,” says Russell Grogan Sr., the recreation coordinator for Beaumont’s Sterling Pruitt Activities Center, which will host the indoor event on at least six courts in the gym.

Court sports are big in Beaumont, and when it comes to pickleball, there appears to be room to expand, as the city’s Municipal Tennis Center has recently grown to 24 lighted hard tennis courts (with four covered), along with a new 4,500-square-foot clubhouse that includes a pro-shop, lounge, locker rooms and large covered porch.

Recently, the tennis center hosted a USTA 55-and-over event for the third year, bringing in 600 competitors. “Because of the four covered courts, it’s impossible to have a rain-out here,” says Freddie Willard, director of sales for the Beaumont CVB.

Sports in Beaumont also comes with history, too, as renowned athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias grew up in the area. A museum and visitor center devoted to her life and legacy is located in Beaumont and is a popular attraction for athletes of all ages who come into town.

Columbia, Missouri
The place to play pickleball in Columbia is at Albert-Oakland Park, which offers six lighted pickleball courts and a shade shelter to keep players comfortable. “With pickleball, we’re making a lot of progress here,” says Zachary Franklin, the sports sales manager for the city’s CVB. There are also three nearby lighted tennis courts in Albert-Oakland Park, which can be lined for pickleball.

Columbia Parks and Recreation also is building a new fieldhouse, scheduled to be up and running by summer 2019, which Franklin says will be able to hold at least 18 pickleball courts. The local pickleball club has been working with both the regional director of the USAPA and the CVB, looking to host a regional event in the future.

The city also has a number of tennis facilities, some with permanent, blended pickleball lines on the tennis courts. For instance, the three tennis courts at Rock Quarry Park and the two at Shepard Boulevard Park all include lines for pickleball.

Tennis facilities in Columbia (which could be lined temporarily for pickleball) include Cosmo-Bethel Park with 12 tennis courts (eight with lights), and another four lighted courts are in Fairview Park. There are also six lighted tennis courts at Hickman High School.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Like many areas around the country Myrtle Beach has seen fast growth in pickleball activity. “Our indoor facility, the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, has been doing a lot of pickleball recently,” says Jonathan Paris, the executive director of sports tourism for Visit Myrtle Beach. The facility works closely with the local Myrtle Beach Pickleball Club.

In late October, the Sports Center hosted the inaugural, USAPA-sanctioned Mid-Atlantic Regional Pickleball Tournament, which brought more than 400 players to Myrtle Beach, and was the largest pickleball tourney in the Southeast.

The Sports Center has turned into a premier place to play pickleball for visitors and residents,” says Jessica Vanco, the center’s general manager. “The Myrtle Beach Pickleball Club just took it upon themselves to get in touch with me about playing at the center, and it’s just taken off. It’s been a pleasure to be a host of the club.”

Located in the heart of Myrtle Beach, the Sports Center is a 100,000-square-foot facility with 72,000 square feet of column-free space and can fit at least 30 pickleball courts. The Sports Center also is just two blocks from the ocean and steps away from shopping, dining and entertainment.

“We’ve really made pickleball a focus at the Sports Center, and it’s really paying off, as they’re starting to get more regional events, and hope to bring in national events, too,” Paris says.

The area also offers some large tennis facilities, too, including the 10-court Myrtle Beach Tennis Center and, just south of Myrtle Beach, the 10-court Stables Park on Pawley’s Island. About 10 miles inland, at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, is a 12-court complex. “We’re looking down the road at some larger tennis events here, too,” Paris notes.

Snohomish County, Washington
Recently, the Parks Department for the City of Edmonds put on its third annual pickleball tournament, held in Yost Park, where some of the tennis courts have permanent blended lines for pickleball. The city forms eight pickleball courts at Yost Park, and also will use the indoor gym at the Frances Anderson Center for four more courts.

“Last year, we had 84 men and women playing in our annual tournament; this year, it jumped to nearly 120 players,” says Tammy Dunn, the sports development director for the Snohomish County Sports Commission. “Pickleball is growing fast here. Next year, we plan to turn this one-day tournament into a two-day event.” Dunn says the pickleball courts are constantly busy, and there is plenty of local support for the sport.

The sports commission can assist tournaments and events in many ways, including with hotel and venue site tours, recruiting volunteers to help work events, community awareness and public relations, supplying visitor information and welcome packets, social media, and much more.

Surprise, Arizona
While the City of Surprise offers a world-class tennis facility, it also is home to the premier Surprise Pickleball Complex, with 16 state-of-the-art courts, eight of which were built within the past year. “We offer leagues and programs for pickleball players of all ages and abilities, ranging from drop-in programs to competitive league play,” says sports and tourism manager Guillermo Lucero. “And now, with the addition of the eight new courts, we’ve evolved from a great community asset to a perfect location for high-level pickleball tournaments.”

In 2018, the Surprise Pickleball Complex hosted three major tournaments in conjunction with the Surprise Pickleball Association as well as the USAPA and the Super Senior International Pickleball Association (SSIPA).

“As the sport continues to grow, the City of Surprise has dedicated resources to growing the number of top-level tournaments and becoming a platform for pickleball-related sports tourism,” Lucero says. “Sporting event planning is at the core of our team, which allows organizing tournaments and events in Surprise to be easy and efficient. This philosophy and expertise have allowed many new tournaments to start in Surprise and flourish to become top draws on the pickleball circuit. The Surprise Pickleball Complex is a great venue to not only introduce people to the game of pickleball but also to host the country’s most elite pickleball players and tournaments.”  SDM

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