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Swing Shift

1 Nov, 2019

By: Judy Leand
Pickleball’s Explosive Growth is Fueling New Events — and Venues

Although pickleball has been around since 1965, it only started to soar in popularity within the past few years, at first catching on with the over-60 crowd in the Sunbelt states about 10 years ago. Today, pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in America, having logged a 650 percent jump in participation over the past six years, according to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), the governing body of the sport that sanctions tournaments throughout the country. More specifically, SFIA reports that participation exceeds 3.1 million players in the U.S.

In response, municipalities, parks and rec departments and private clubs have been busy setting up courts and constructing facilities. Besides being affordable and accessible for players, the game can be played on retrofitted tennis courts, making it easy for most locales to get programs and tournaments up and running.

As the demand for dedicated facilities grows, many destinations are investing in new venues that can accommodate large-scale events, and are being rewarded with substantial local economic impact. Here is a look at key pickleball venues and how they are serving up the game. And as mentioned previously, because many tennis facilities are now sharing space with this emerging sport, event planners should check out the adjacent article on tennis for even more ideas.

Colorado Springs, Colorado
This city has become a pickleball hotbed with 30 outdoor courts, plus another 15 in Monument Valley Park. A new 12-court pickleball complex is currently in the works and should be completed in June 2020. Helping to promote and organize the action is the Pikes Peak Pickleball Association (PPPA), the largest nationally registered pickleball organization in the state with 1,000 members and growing. It works with schools and provides youth programs as well as demonstrations at senior expos and hosts tournaments for its members of all ages.

PPPA is also a host organization for the Great Plains Regional and the Pikes Peak or Bust pickleball tournaments held annually in Colorado Springs. The Great Plains Regional drew nearly 500 players from across 26 states, Canada and Mexico, and resulted in an estimated $500,000 in economic impact for the community. The Pikes Peak or Bust event boasted more than 200 players hailing from Oregon, California, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas and across Colorado. Additionally, the Colorado Springs Sports Association hosted the 18th Annual Rocky Mountain State Games this past June and July, which included pickleball as one of 35 events, and attracted several hundred pickleball players from across Colorado and neighboring states.

“Pickleball is growing like crazy here—there are now wait times to get on the courts,” notes Cheryl McCullough, Director of Sports and Special Events, Visit Colorado Springs. “As new pickleball facilities are being added to our inventory of sports facilities, we will pursue regional and national tournaments to be held in our community. We value our relationship with the Pikes Peak Pickleball Association and will partner with them to bring in new tournaments to our city.”

Florida’s Sports Coast
In addition to the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center in Zephyrhills, which is slated to open in spring 2020 and will include eight outdoor pickleball courts, an indoor multi-sport complex is also on the way. The Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex, located in Wesley Chapel, will open in summer 2020 and will be a premier destination for local, regional and national competitions.

“In the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex, we will be able to host pickleball events. Although our main markets for that venue will be basketball, volleyball, cheer and dance, we will have the capability to accommodate up to 16 pickleball courts when needed,” says Consuelo Sanchez, Sports Development and Tourism Manager for Florida’s Sports Coast.

The 98,000-square-foot complex will be able to house the aforementioned 16 pickleball courts, and will also provide the options of 16 volleyball courts, eight basketball courts, two cheer competition areas and a competition cheer studio, 56 fencing strips, two indoor surfaces each for lacrosse and soccer, and 12 mats for martial arts and wrestling. Other amenities include a fitness center, two training rooms, a sports therapy center and a group activity zone. An adjacent Marriott Hotel will add convenience.

Naples, Marco Island, Everglades City, Florida
This destination has hosted the Minto US OPEN Pickleball Championships for the past four years and is renowned for its vibrant pickleball scene. For the fourth consecutive year, this marquee event was held at the East Naples Community Park in late April, and attracted a field of 2,161 players from 46 states and 15 countries, with the oldest registered player being 86 and the youngest being 10. There were 10,000 spectators on hand to take in the action and all told, direct spending during the tournament totaled $2.4 million. “Having this event in Naples has made us the ‘Pickleball Capital of the World,’” says Jack Wert, Executive Director of the Naples Area CVB.

Wert notes that the park offers 54 total pickleball courts and another 10 will be added by next April. It is also the home of the Pickleball Academy of Southwest Florida, which provides training to players of all ability levels. Another venue, Veterans Park, has 10 lighted pickleball courts, two of which are championship courts that are covered and have bleacher seating.

On the tournament front, the locale hosts six major pickleball events plus the championships. The key regional competitions include Southern Tropics (two events held at different times of year), Winter Classic and Veterans Tournament, and Wert says that the destination is actively looking to add other events. Overall, he observes, “Lots of schools and gated communities are converting tennis courts to pickleball courts or are adding pickleball courts. The sport has really caught on here.”

Springfield, Illinois
Like many cities around the country, Springfield is seeing rapid growth in pickleball. It currently has 15 dedicated pickleball courts—more than any other city in the state—and most have lighting for night play. The primary venue is Iles Park, which has eight regulation size pickleball courts.

Springfield’s Capital City Pickleball Club has hosted seven major tournaments and each continues to grow year over year. “For the past two years, our tournament held in July, the Scheels Capital City Pickleball Classic, has exceeded 300 players, making it one of the largest outdoor tournaments in the Midwest,” says Amy Beadle, Sales and Marketing Manager at Springfield CVB. “Out of the 300 participants, about 250 came from outside the area, and at least half from out of state. Most stayed for three nights, and with hotel stays, gas, shopping and restaurant visits, the economic impact was strong.”

Beadle points out that off the court, visitors can take advantage of 4,000 hotel rooms, a large selection of restaurants, shopping, and easy access from across the U.S. “The challenge now is to develop more courts to expand tournament play, and to add indoor facilities,” she says.

Surprise, Arizona
In addition to its world-class tennis facility, the City of Surprise also offers the premier Surprise Pickleball Complex featuring 16 lighted pickleball courts designed for all types of tournaments. Eight of the courts are less than two years old. The facility hosts six to 10 events annually and is always looking to add more.

“At the Surprise Pickleball facility, the city has partnered with the USAPA to host the West Regional Championships. Over 600 players participate in this four-day tournament annually,” says Guillermo Lucero, City of Surprise Sports and Tourism Manager. He notes that the facility has also partnered with the Super Senior International Pickleball Association to be the host site for two national events annually, drawing approximately 600 to 700 players, all over the age of 65. Regionally, the Surprise Pickleball Association holds two annual events, Surprise Monster Smash and the Tommy Wong Memorial Tournament, each of which hosts 600-plus players.

“Our pickleball tournaments draw players from all over Arizona and from out-of-state as well,” says Lucero. “Our goal is to bring more events into the City of Surprise, offering unique opportunities for the residents and continuing to utilize sports tourism as a significant economic driver for our city.”  SDM

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Judy Leand

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