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The Growing Popularity Of Pickleball

More Resorts Catering To Emerging Leisure Activity For Wide Range Of Guests

By Steve Pike | April 29, 2022

It may have a funny name, but Pickleball is a game that approximately 5 million people in the U.S. take seriously. And it’s a recreational amenity that many resorts are taking seriously as another way to create revenue and even attract guests.

“I think Pickleball definitely is becoming more of an ‘attractor’ to get people into a property,” said Scott McCulloch, vice president of operations for Troon’s Cliff Drysdale Tennis division.

One of the world’s leading club management companies, Troon manages golf and tennis operations at resorts and clubs around the world. In 2021, Troon signed a multi-year deal with Selkirk Sport, a Pickleball equipment brand, to become the first “Preferred Pickleball Partner” of Troon and an official partner of the Cliff Drysdale Tennis division.

For the uninitiated, think of it as a combination of tennis, table tennis and badminton. The sport is played with two to four people on a court similar to a tennis court, but less than half the size—only 20 feet by 44 feet. Each player has a paddle and swats the ball (sort of like a wiffle ball) across a three-foot high net, much like in table tennis.

Rental costs for a Pickleball court generally are between $10 and $30 per hour, depending on venue. Many resorts are beginning to stock and sell Pickleball accessories—from paddles to apparel—as they would their golf and tennis shops.

“I was a purist in tennis, but I got off that high horse,” said McCulloch. “I like to see people playing Pickleball because I think it will eventually lead to tennis. And for people who can’t play tennis anymore, Pickleball keeps them involved in a racquet sport and in our clubs.”

Included in its portfolio, Troon has eight Pickleball courts at Hawk’s Cay on Duck Key, FL; seven at Omni Amelia Island Plantation in FL; and four at Chateau Elan Winery & Resort in Braselton, GA, where it holds “Pickleball and Wine” events.

Elsewhere, the JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix has 12 Pickleball courts. Reynolds Lake Oconee, one of the country’s top resort communities, the past five years has built three dedicated Pickleball courts, and has lines to make six “temporary courts,” bringing its total to nine.

Reynolds Lake Oconee in May will launch a new Pickleball program directed by Head Pickleball Professional Drew Hebert, a Certified Professional through the Professional Pickleball Registry.

At The Boca Raton, guests and members learn the game from Nikki Roth, the club’s WTA Professional and Certified Pickleball Instructor.

Pickleball’s popularity has even extended to resorts outside of the U.S. Oil Nut Bay on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, for example, has a pair of Pickleball courts to match its two tennis courts.

“We noticed an uptick in popularity about five years ago, when the sport started to gain traction among families and younger players,” said Tom Sylvester, the resort’s sports manager. “It really exploded in popularity over the past two years as people looked for new ways to stay active and socialize during the pandemic.”

Pickleball, Sylvester said, is suitable for any age and offers a fun way to spend time with the whole family.

“It’s also a social activity that allows players to hold conversations while also providing a fun workout. Overall, the game is easy to play, but still challenging as skills improve, so it’s easily accessible to anyone who wants to play,” he said.

Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas in Cabo San Lucas in May will debut its first pickleball courts.

“As a family-friendly resort in Cabo San Lucas, we strive to provide a variety of amenities for everyone to enjoy,” said Ricardo Orozzo, vp, operations for Solmar Hotels and Resorts. “Given Pickleball’s rapid rise in popularity, it was an easy decision to build courts. The game is easy to learn and fun to play, making it suitable for families and guests of all ages to enjoy together on vacation.”

But whether it’s in Cabo, the Caribbean or back in the U.S., most resorts pale in comparison to the commitment Pickleball receives at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort in Hilton Head, SC. The resort’s Tennis & Pickleball Center features 24 dedicated Pickleball courts, each lighted for night play and recently painted, as well as one of the more comprehensive instructional programs on the east coast. The center serves resort visitors and also counts approximately 300 local members in its Pickleball club.

“We have a very active vibe here,” said John Kerr, Palmetto Dunes director of Tennis and Pickleball operations. “League play is growing in the area and helps fuel growth. We run daily round robins and have had as many as 100 people sign up in one day.”

Sarah Ansboury, the resort’s director of Pickleball instruction, is a five-time national Pickleball champion. Ansboury serves as education consultant and lead clinician for the Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR), along with her role as the touring pro and director of Pickleball instruction at Palmetto Dunes.

“It’s a little more fun, more social, and much quicker than being on a tennis court,” said Ansboury. “I have worked with every type of ex-athlete, Olympians, any sport you can imagine, and people who have never played a sport in their lives. The learning curve is so much easier than most sports … (Pickleball is) such a great option for anybody of any type of athletic background.”

And a great option for resorts looking for other outdoor activities that satisfy guests and drive additional business.

Credit
Steve Pike
Author

Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than 25 years ago and has covered all sports including Major League Baseball, the NFL, NHL, NBA, as well as beat writer for nationally ranked collegiate baseball and basketball teams. As a travel and golf writer, “Spike” has climbed volcanoes in the Canary Islands, ascended the Great Wall of China, teed off in the Austrian Alps, and shared single-malt scotch with Sir Michael Bonallack at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. A die-hard baseball fan, Pike named his son Zachary Seaver after his childhood hero, New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver. Pike lives with Zachary, daughter Keilly, and wife Brenda (an ovarian cancer survivor, trained journalist, master teacher, and an active member of the DAR) in the South Florida village of Wellington.


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