As a sport that has built-in social distancing, pickleball experienced phenomenal one-year growth from 2019 through 2020, as the country locked down. The latest research from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association puts the number of pickleball players in the U.S. at 4.2 million — up a whopping 21.3 percent from 3.46 million at the end of 2019. Of the 4.2 million total players, 1.4 million are considered “core” players, who hit the court eight or more times a year.
While the growth rate for the 2020 pandemic year was exceptional, the sport has enjoyed an average annual growth rate for all players from 2017 to 2020 of 10.5 percent, for a total growth rate of 34 percent over three years. And despite some perceptions that pickleball is mainly played by seniors, SFIA research shows the average age for all players is 38.1 years old.
According to USA Pickleball (USAP), the number of indoor and outdoor courts has continued to grow, currently to more than 34,000 in all 50 U.S states (which are listed in the USAP’s Places2Play database on usapickleball.org.). The sport is played by all ages, at all levels, and tournaments and events tend to be fun, social events that fill up quickly. USA Pickleball has nearly 2,000 pickleball “ambassadors” across the country, who advocate for the sport, help get courts and facilities built, offer programming, run tournaments and bring in more and more players.
Here are some key pickleball locations, looking to host players and fans of the sport.
Asheville, North Carolina
Pickleball continues to grow in the Asheville area. A year ago, the Asheville Racquet Club opened eight pickleball courts, and the city has both indoor and outdoor public facilities that welcome pickleball players. Multiple parks in Asheville have pickleball courts, including Murphey-Oakley Park, Montford Park, Malvern Hills Park and Kenilworth Park, and Asheville Parks & Recreation offers pickleball programming for players of all levels, which is a testament to the increasing popularity of the sport in the area.
The Asheville Racquet Club will host the Pickleball Worx Brew and Views Open, a three-day tourney that will bring up to 150 players. The Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission, which says it’s looking into hosting professional tour and USA Pickleball events, helps organizers in a variety of ways, including with event planning, marketing assistance, coordinating site visits, generating economic impact reports and providing local volunteers. When not competing, families and players can explore attractions such as the Biltmore Estate, the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and much more.
“Asheville is proud to have incredible facilities that serve our passionate pickleball community,” says Sports Commission President Demp Bradford. “Pickleball has grown in popularity nationally and this is an emerging sport that opens the door to hosting high-level pickleball events in the future.”
The area also is a destination for tennis, too, including professional play. In 2018 and 2019, Asheville hosted the Billie Jean King Cup international competition (formerly called the Fed Cup), and the area has hosted USTA Adult and Youth Championships. The Asheville Racquet Club has two locations — ARC South has 14 outdoor clay courts, three outdoor hard courts and six indoor courts, while ARC Downtown has 10 outdoor clay, six outdoor hard and four indoor courts. The Aston Park Tennis Center features 12 lighted clay courts, and the historic Grove Park Inn Resort has three outdoor and three indoor tennis courts.
“We are excited by the growth of pickleball in our region, and we hope to host many important tournaments in the coming years,” says Pete Garlock of the Aurora Area CVB. In addition to several outdoor pickleball courts, there are eight indoor courts at Supreme Courts, six courts at the Vaughan Athletic Center, eight courts at the Eola Tennis Academy, three courts at the Rush Copley Healthplex Fitness Center and three new courts in the newly renovated Batavia Civic Center.
If tennis is any indication, though, pickleball is sure to grow quickly in the Aurora area. (Tennis has grown greatly since the pandemic; for more information, see the tennis article also included in this issue of the magazine). The Vaughan Tennis Center, with nine indoor courts, has hosted USTA adult and youth tennis tournaments, including national, regional and state events. Phillips Park offers 12 tennis courts, and Washington Park has nine lighted tennis courts.
The Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau can help locate and secure hotel rooms in the area, which has more than 1,100 rooms in Aurora and over 5,000 in the region. The AACVB also works with local establishments to offer discounts to restaurants, attractions and retail outlets; suggests venues for special events; and provides recommendations on local transportation.
“We can help locate volunteers for the larger events, and often staff a visitor’s information booth onsite during your event,” Garlock says. “We can also pinpoint officials, judges or umpires needed at your tournament, as well as security and medical personnel.”
The AACVB also has a preferred list of food truck vendors and can help facilitate permits. Free marketing for events includes writing press releases to promote upcoming tournaments, holding press conferences for larger events and using multiple social media platforms for game scores, highlights, announcements and more.
Palm Beach County, Florida
Among the facilities for pickleball tournaments and events in Palm Beach County are the Delray Beach Tennis Center and the Patch Reef Tennis & Pickleball Center. The Delray Beach Tennis Center has 14 clay tennis courts and six hard tennis courts (along with an 8,200-seat stadium). But every year, for the Delray Beach Pickleball Open, an Association of Professional Pickleball (APP) tour event, the center transforms into a pickleball mecca with a layout of 27 pickleball courts. More than 1,500 people participate in the event. The Delray Beach Tennis Center has also been home to the Delray Beach Pickleball Classic.
In January, Palm Beach County will host the APP Masters International Pickleball Championships in Boca Raton, a six-day event at Patch Reef that will utilize 39 courts and include a featured television Stadium Court. More than 2,000 amateur and top professional players qualify to compete for $75,000 in prize money, and new divisions will include Wheelchair Pickleball, Next Gen Junior division and an age-specific division (50-plus teaming with an under 50 partner) along with regular amateur singles, mixed doubles, men’s and women’s doubles age division and skilled level groups.
“Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. and for many years the Palm Beach County Sports Commission has fostered that growth through hosting premier events year-round,” notes the sports commission’s Austin Lee.
“The Palm Beach County Sports Commission offers unparalleled customer service along with a multitude of event management services, including pre-event planning, operational support, permitting, public relations, and on-site staff assistance,” says Lee. “Our sports commission has the tools and resources to make any event a success. Just bring your game – we’ll handle all the rest.”
The City of Surprise has a new state-of-the-art 16-court facility with LED lighting, which offers a variety of leagues and tournaments for all skill levels – and also is the home of many tournaments sanctioned by USA Pickleball. One of the largest events is the USAP West Regional tournament, which qualifies players for the National Championships and includes 1,200 players over seven days of play.
Each year, the facility hosts the Surprise Pickleball Association’s Monster Smash and the Tommy Wong Memorial Pickleball Tournament, each of which sees close to 800 players. The city also has partnered with the Super Senior International Pickleball Association to host its annual Regional and National tournaments.
“With pickleball being one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation, the City of Surprise has looked to partner with USA Pickleball and other event promoters to provide additional tournament opportunities,” says Guillermo “Bill” Lucero, who manages the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex. “We are also looking at expanding offerings for junior players. One of the great things about pickleball is that it’s affordable and new players can often start participating in tournament play immediately.” SDM