Pickleball Has Arrived
Pickleball Has Arrived
Story by Cindy Reid
Pickleball. Chances are you either play it all the time or you’ve never heard of it. If you haven’t heard of it, you will soon. And if you play it all the time, next year you will have several new local courts to play on. The YMCA of Coastal Georgia West Chatham branch will open renovated courts in early spring, and new courts are being built at the Pooler Recreation Complex at Isaac Laroche Drive.
In December 2022, the City of Savannah’s Recreation and Leisure Services hosted the inaugural Pickleball Winter Championship Tournament at Bacon Park Tennis Complex. They hosted local teams and player, plus athletes from Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The popularity of the sport just continues to explode, and more local tournaments will be coming in the next few years.
Pickleball is having a moment. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, between 2019 and 2021 it grew by nearly 40 percent. Currently it is estimated that there are over 4.8 million pickleball players in the United States. Compare that to the 22.6 million Americans who play tennis, a game first played in the US in 1874, and you can see the phenomenal growth of this relatively new sport.
And it’s skewing younger. Pickleball players, also known as “picklers,” have traditionally been 55 years or older but today most players are under 55, and the under-24 crowd is actually the largest demographic of all players. Pickleball has been included in many school curricula, introducing the next generation to the sport.
Pickleball has been discovered and is going mainstream. But why pickleball, the sport with the funny name and weird racquets?
It’s not a particularly new game: 2022 marked the 57th anniversary of pickleball.
A purely American invention, it was created in 1965 on Bainbridge Island outside Seattle, Washington. As the story goes, three dads took an old badminton court, raided the garage for beat up badminton racquets and ping pong paddles, and invented a game to amuse their bored teenage kids one summer day.
The name comes from either a founder’s dog—Pickles—or from a term used in the sport of crew.
Simple rules, small courts and handmade equipment has evolved into the unlikely juggernaut that is pickleball today.
Essentially it is a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton. The rules are simple, and the game is relatively easy for beginners to learn. It doesn’t require a fancy field or complicated court. It can be played either indoors or outdoors on a badminton-size court (20 feet by 44 feet) using a slightly modified tennis net (36 inches tall.)
Most people use public or private club courts, but you can create your own court on any flat surface, in fact people often measure and chalk their driveways and set up their own court using a portable net. These nets work well on a tennis court, at the gym, a vacant parking lot—anywhere with open space. You can even line up lawn chairs in lieu of a net as the area around the net is called “the kitchen” and is not used in play. There are also portable court lines you can use for setting up the parameters of the court.
If you can’t find enough room for a full-sized court, there are smaller nets that are easy to set up in a driveway or garage space.
Although it shares many features with tennis, it is an easier and less physically demanding game. The ball has less bounce than a tennis ball and the paddle is short and light, making it much easier to handle than a tennis racket. The game is slower paced and there’s less ground to cover; you could almost fit four pickleball courts onto one tennis court, and most picklers play doubles.
Even the serve is easier, in pickleball you serve underhand which are easier to hit and return. The ball is served diagonally.
Scoring is simple, most games are played to 11 points, win by 2, and points can only be scored by the side that serves.
Equipment is relatively inexpensive as all you need is a paddle and a pickleball, a plastic wiffle-like ball. Pickleball paddles come in a variety of shapes, weights, and material compositions. The price of the paddle depends on the type of material. The cheapest are usually wood and cost between $15 and $35. Composite paddles range between $40 and $100, and graphite paddles cost between $90 and $200. The balls are around $1 each and last around an hour, so a 12 pack could last 5-6 sessions of a couple of hours each. Portable nets cost approximately $200.00 and can be ordered online.
It’s generally a social and friendly game usually played as doubles although you can play singles. Every article about pickleball mentions the fun aspect- lots of good natured trash talk and laughter. All ages and skill levels can pick it up and enjoy the game which can be played standing or in wheelchairs.
Experienced players can play quick, fast-paced, competitive games and there are many leagues and hundreds of tournaments around the country throughout the year. Pickleball tournaments are open to both amateurs and pros, which is very different than tennis.
Where to Play
As demand exceeds supply, communities all over the country are building new pickleball specific courts. Tennis courts are often repurposed with painted lines indicating the smaller pickleball court so the courts can be shared.
As the sport grows in popularity leagues and lessons are being added at many community park and recreation departments, as well as at many YMCAs.
On the next page is a list of local courts, both in Georgia and South Carolina. Courts are added all the time so check with your neighborhood parks and sports facilities and you might be pleasantly surprised by new courts in the next year.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time for pickleball!
Local Pickleball Courts
West Chatham YMCA in Pooler—Pickleball will return in late spring 2023 after renovations. Call for schedule.
Bryan County Recreation Department—courts at the Henderson Park/Timber Trail Branch Facility, Richmond Hill.
Chatham County Parks and Recreation—courts located at Lake Mayer Park in Savannah.
YMCA of Coastal Georgia/ Habersham/Savannah Branch—gym has indoor pickleball courts.
The Salvation Army of Savannah—courts at their Community Center gym, free and open to the public.
Private & Club Courts
Savannah Country Club—501 Wilmington Island Rd, Savannah
The Landings Club—Franklin Creek Tennis Center, 910 Franklin Creek Rd N, Savannah
SCHH South Pickleball Courts—Bluffton, SC
SCHH North Courts—Okatie SC (Sun City)
Palmetto Dunes Tennis & Pickleball Center—Hilton Head SC
South Beach Pickleball Club—Hilton Head, SC
Island Rec Center—Cordillo location, Hilton Head, SC