Easy Winners on Court | Sports Destination Management

Easy Winners on Court

Tennis and Pickleball Growing Nationwide, Along with Top Facilities
Oct 30, 2023 | By: Peter Francesconi

Across the country, the tennis and pickleball story is one of a growing industry. Since pandemic restrictions of three years ago, tennis participation has continued to grow, up 4.3 percent in 2022 to 23.6 million players, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, well above participation levels from before the pandemic.

But, for all sports, pickleball has been the big story. While lower in overall participation (8.95 million players), growth has exploded over the last few years, including an 85.7 percent gain from 2021 to 2022, says the SFIA, which adds the sport will continue to grow in coming years.

Whether tennis or pickleball, venues across the country are being created and renovated to accommodate tournaments and events. Here are some top locations to consider.

Conway, Arkansas

Conway, Arkansas | Photo Courtesy of the Conway CVB
Conway, Arkansas | Photo Courtesy of the Conway CVB

The Conway Tennis Center, opened in 2018, has eight lighted outdoor hard tennis courts, with indoor and outdoor spectator viewing/seating areas. This past September, the city began work on a new community center that will have 12 indoor pickleball courts.

“The tennis and pickleball communities in Conway have been steadily growing over the past five years,” says Rachel Shaw, the executive director of the Conway CVB. “The Conway Area Tennis Association is great to work with and strives to continue to build tennis in Conway. They love the opportunity to work with outside groups to make any tennis event in Conway as successful as possible.”

The Conway Tennis Center is a great facility to host small and mid-sized regional tournaments, notes Shaw. Annually, the Tennis Center hosts the Conway Regional Classic, an adult tennis tournament, bringing in participants from across Arkansas as well as neighboring states. The city has also played host to six junior tennis events each fall with participants from across the state.

The CVB works with events to provide grant funding to help with facility fees and event promotion. It also helps put event owners in touch with hotels to help get the best rates. Conway has a vibrant downtown full of local boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and entertainment venues.

Decatur, Alabama

Decatur-Morgan County, Alabama | Photo Courtesy of Decatur Morgan County Tourism
Decatur-Morgan County, Alabama | Photo Courtesy of Decatur Morgan County Tourism

In Decatur, the newly remodeled Jimmy Johns Tennis Center, which is owned and operated by Decatur Parks & Recreation, has 16 outdoor hard courts, four clay courts and two indoor courts in a bubble, all with lights. Recently approved was the addition of  a ClearSpan building with roll-up doors to house four indoor courts.

Other tennis courts can be found in Decatur’s schools and parks, including four hard courts at Delano Park, the oldest park in the city, created in 1887. For visitors, Delano Park also features the Riverwild Playground, with a splash pad and rose garden, and a mile-long, lighted walking trail. There are two tennis courts each at Carrie Matthews Park (lighted) and Julian Harris Park.

Walter Jackson School has two hard tennis courts, and it also has four pickleball courts, as does Julian Harris Park. The big pickleball venue in Decatur currently is Austin Junior High School, with six courts. The Aquadome Recreation Center also offers three indoor pickleball courts.

Decatur has plans to expand tennis and especially pickleball, says Don Dukemineer, director of sports development for Decatur Morgan County Tourism. “We just want to keep seeing the interest grow in pickleball in the city,” Dukemineer told DecaturDaily.com recently, “to be able to add that to our portfolio of being able to host some good pickleball events.”

To that end, the city gave approval to build a 12-court indoor pickleball facility. In addition, the Event Center can be used for 10 pickleball courts and the Recreation Center can accommodate 10+ courts.

Gainesville, Florida

Gainesville, Florida | Photo Courtesy of the Gainesville Sports Commission
Gainesville, Florida | Photo Courtesy of the Gainesville Sports Commission

Six years ago, the city of Gainesville needed just four pickleball courts for the inaugural Gainesville Indoor Pickleball Showcase. Now, the annual three-day event in August uses the 21 permanently lined pickleball courts at the new Alachua County Sports and Events Center, to accommodate the more than 400 players in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, says Joleen Cacciatore Miller, executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission.

The Northside Park Outdoor Pickleball Center offers 12 courts and is the site for the annual Gainesville Senior Games Outdoor Pickleball tournament, which attracts more than 300 players over age 50, competing in doubles and mixed doubles.

“The Gainesville Sports Commission is excited to continue to support and grow the sport of pickleball in our community,” Cacciatore Miller says. “We have an active local organization, the Gainesville Pickleball Association, and we work together to host and/or help host events in our indoor and outdoor venues.”

The Sports Commission can help with event management, rentals, officials, volunteers and more. Off the court, visitors can check out the events at the University of Florida, enjoy tubing or kayaking down Poe Springs, explore downtown Gainesville’s local restaurants and shops, or relax with a pint at one of the area’s unique breweries.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

Tennis is big in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and the area offers a number of facilities that accommodate numerous tournaments and events. The large facility in Gulf Shores is the George C. Meyer Tennis Center, with 12 hard courts and six Har-Tru courts with lights, plus a clubhouse with viewing areas and a pro shop. Throughout the year, the center hosts a variety of local tournaments as well as many USTA sanctioned events.

Also in Gulf Shores, the Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club offers eight clay tennis courts and four hard pickleball courts. The Beach Club Tennis & Racquet Club also has eight clay tennis courts. Both venues are used to host tournaments and events, including the recent three-day 2023 Alabama State Tri-Level Tennis Championships, attracting 300 players. In Orange Beach, the main facility is the Orange Beach Tennis Center, with eight hard courts and a pro shop.

With pickleball, the Gulf Shores Sportsplex has a 12-court lighted facility with spectator seating. The facility is a partnership between the City of Gulf Shores and Gulf Shore | Orange Beach Sports & Events.

“There is an opportunity for growth with our pickleball facility and sports tourism,” says Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events for Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events. “Many of the tennis events on our calendar are long-standing USTA events that take place outside our peak summer season,” she adds. “With everything we do in travel and tourism, relationships are key with governing bodies, groups, teams and families who come back year after year.”

When not playing court sports, the area is a prime destination. “Off the court showcases why planners, players, families and fans love Gulf Shores and Orange Beach; there is so much to do, from relaxing on the beach, boating, fishing to shopping, dining and live entertainment,” Russ notes.

Overland Park, Kansas

Overland Park, Kansas | Photo Courtesy of Visit Overland Park
Overland Park, Kansas | Photo Courtesy of Visit Overland Park

“We have 75 different tennis and pickleball facilities available in Overland Park,” says Eric Olson, the vice president of sports and events for Visit Overland Park (VisitOP). “That’s pretty amazing considering the size of our city.”

VisitOP has partnerships with a number of private venues for use of their courts and facilities, including Elite Tennis and Wellness, which in August hosted an inaugural Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour stop on 27 pickleball courts, including a Championship Court that accommodated about 2,000 spectators. The event was outdoors, but for year-round play, the venue puts up a dome for the winter.

“The PPA will be coming back for year two, and we’re planning on expanding the event from four to six days,” Olson says. “This was the second largest tour stop PPA has, and we sold it out. TV ratings were the second highest of all their tour stops to date. This is one of the most pickleball-obsessed cities in America.”

In fact, the popular Chicken N Pickle chain combining pickleball with food and entertainment was founded in nearby Kansas City, and Overland Park has one location, as does North Kansas City. “We partner with them often, including with nontraditional events,” Olson notes. “We recently hosted an event there for 200 softball umpires, so we leverage it for more than just pickleball.”

Plano, Texas

Plano, Texas | Photo Courtesy of Visit Plano
Plano, Texas | Photo Courtesy of Visit Plano

The High Point Tennis Center in Plano is primed for serving up tennis and pickleball events, with 21 lighted outdoor hard tennis courts and eight pickleball/short tennis courts. The new center court features an elevated viewing gallery, and the facility had a pro shop. For families, there’s a children’s playground. Also, for tennis events, the Collin College Plano Campus has a 12-court outdoor lighted facility, which has played host to the NJCAA Division 1 Men’s Tennis Championships, with more than 250 players.

For pickleball, there are six indoor courts at Plano Sports Authority-Preston Meadow. The venue has bleacher seating for each court, full-service concessions with tables and seating, and meeting rooms. Plano Parks & Recreation has 12 total indoor pickleball courts available at its recreation centers: three each at Carpenter, Liberty, Oak Point and Tom Muehlenbeck rec centers.

“Due to pickleball’s skyrocketing popularity, I’ve admired our city’s public and private venues working together to increase the number of courts available to our citizens, and in turn providing more opportunities for us to bring new events to our area,” says Alysha Carse, Visit Plano Sports sales manager.

When it comes to hosting sports groups, Visit Plano is a one-stop shop, assisting event owners with hotel and venue selection, providing resource lists and custom maps, coordinating volunteers, helping to provide prizes, gift cards and other swag, as well as assisting with P.R. and more.

Simi Valley, California

Simi Valley, California | © trekandshoot | Dreamstime.com
Simi Valley, California | © trekandshoot | Dreamstime.com

Simi Valley and its neighboring communities have caught pickleball fever. There are currently 62 pickleball courts in and around Simi Valley, including 38 in the Valley alone, 22 of which are dedicated pickleball courts.

“Tennis has long been popular in Simi Valley, so it’s not surprising that we’ve heartily embraced pickleball as well,” says Layma Askarzoi, director of tourism for the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Pickleball hasn’t quite caught up to tennis in Simi Valley yet, but it sure is making fast progress.”

For pickleball events, Simi Valley offers six outdoor, lighted, dedicated courts at Rancho Simi Community Park, one of the most popular pickleball spots in the area. The largest collection of pickleball courts is at Sinaloa Middle School, with 12 dedicated outdoor courts, with restrooms and water nearby. Lemon Park–Rancho Tapo Community Park has eight lighted, outdoor dedicated courts, and the Rancho Santa Susana Community Center has six indoor pickleball courts.

Visit Simi Valley and the Chamber of Commerce can assist event owners with marketing, local promotions, hotel discounts and more.

Tempe, Arizona

Tempe, Arizona | Photo Courtesy of Tempe Tourism/Bruce Yeung
Tempe, Arizona | Photo Courtesy of Tempe Tourism/Bruce Yeung

“Tempe sets itself apart in the sports space for several reasons,” says Luchie Javelosa, senior sports sales manager for Tempe Tourism. “First, we offer the conveniences planners and attendees are looking for, including seamless airport access and transportation options, along with a wide variety of hotels. Second, our compact and walkable downtown makes navigating a Tempe itinerary effortless, with plenty of dining options, public arts, cultural flair, entertainment offerings, shopping experiences, inspirational architecture and more. And third, Tempe’s Sonoran Desert landscape and 330 days of sunshine annually entice all who visit.”

Racquet and paddle sports are popular here. The Kiwanis Tennis Center has 15 lighted, cushioned courts, equipped with the PlaySight system that offers video, line-calling, live streaming and more. The Tempe Sports Complex has tennis courts that also are lined to create eight pickleball courts. And the newest facility is Pickleball Tempe, a 16-court facility (reusing empty mall space) with cameras for video review.

“We haven’t had the opportunity yet to host large pickleball events, but with the opening of Picklemall in August, we’re looking forward to partnering to bring events to Tempe,” Javelosa says. SDM

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