December 2018

Pickleball is Hot, Hot, Hot!

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Move over tennis and golf. There’s a new game in town. It’s called pickleball, which may sound kind of silly rolling off the tongue, but about 2.8 million people say it’s the bombdiggity. That’s the number who are currently playing the sport in the U.S., according to the 2017 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SIFA) Pickleball Participant Report—a 12.3 percent increase over the previous year, making pickleball one of the fastest growing sports in America.

The Lowcountry is seeing clear evidence of this explosion, and demand for pickleball courts is at an all-time high as players of all ages discover the fast-paced, fun game with a funny name. Local participation is “growing by leaps and bounds,” according to Bob Rozek, Island Rec Center’s recreation director. Based on conferences he has attended and what he is observing, “this is no passing fad but is only going to get bigger.”

Mass appeal
Behind the growth is the mass appeal of a sport that is playable for most everyone. Combining elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball can be played indoors or outdoors, as singles or doubles, using a modified tennis net, a paddle, and a ball that is similar to a whiffle ball but a bit sturdier and more durable. The badminton-sized court is shorter than a tennis court, which attracts older players who can still compete without having to run too far, local enthusiast Bob Soltys explained. But don’t get the notion this is the new shuffleboard.

“I challenge anyone to call pickleball an old person’s sport,” said local musician and avid pickleball player, Jevon Daly. “There are a whole lot of shots in the game. And you sweat; even if it’s 40 degrees, you sweat your butt off.”

Pickleball is a fast game that attracts elite athletes as well as kids, who are naturally quick and agile. But if you are less mobile or just want to play for fun, it’s the perfect opportunity to socialize and get your blood flowing.

Whatever your fitness level, it’s a mind game, which adds to the fascination. You can work on strategy instead of just hitting the ball, which is where the finesse comes in that will take your game to the next level, Daly explained. Describing pickleball as “chess on steroids,” (a term he picked up from one of his fellow players), he extolled the value of the dink—a soft shot that arcs over the net and falls into the opposing non-volley zone. “You gotta have touch. Every game is like going on your first date.”

According to John Kerr, Palmetto Dunes Tennis and Pickleball Center director, the sport has been tremendously popular with families visiting Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. “It’s a great family activity, because the learning curve is much shorter than tennis,” he said. “Nobody is a beginner for very long, and soon they are smiling and laughing. The grandparents can compete with grandkids on court, making it a multigenerational activity.”

The social side
Participants also rave about the social element and the friendliness of the sport. “Pickleball is relatively new, so someone doesn’t come here knowing everything there is to know. The sport itself is an equalizer,” Soltys said. “There’s not the stuffiness. People don’t dress up for pickleball. They sort of dress in common stuff, and you almost always have conversation.”

“It’s like the snowboarding versus skiing type of thing,” said Sarah Ansboury, touring professional and director of pickleball instruction at Palmetto Dunes Resort. “It’s a little bit more relaxed and a lot more sociable, and it’s expanding and growing as we speak, so you can’t really deny wanting to be a part of it.”

“Pickleball people are mostly an incredibly humble, incredibly limber group,” Daly said. While there is an etiquette to it, and a high level of respect among players, the competition can be fierce, he warned. “But nobody talks politics, and everyone says ‘thank you’ at the end.”

What’s next for pickleball?
Soltys sees pickleball not only as a popular sport for area residents, but as a potential new revenue stream for the island. “This is a sport that is not going away, and people will pay to play. There are economic and lifestyle benefits,” he said, suggesting that Hilton Head Island can become a pickleball destination—just like it is for tennis, golf, biking and the beach.

With the growing popularity of the sport, one of the greatest challenges for area players is finding enough courts and divvying up court time. “We’re trying to make it a public activity. We don’t want it to be exclusive. We want everyone to have the opportunity to play,” Soltys said. To that end, he is an outspoken advocate for the Hilton Head Island Pickleball Club, whose overall objective is to create a centralized larger pickleball complex. “This blends well with a similar recreation initiative that the Greater Island Council and others are lobbying the town to create. We have piggybacked on that initiative to request the inclusion of pickleball,” he said.

To date, the town has invested in three ways: by supporting the Island Rec Center’s programs as a whole, by resurfacing existing courts at Adrianna (Hilton Head Park), and by funding and supporting the creation of four more courts at Chaplin Park (basketball courts now converted to multi-use courts). But many more courts are needed to keep pace with the rising interest in the sport, Soltys said.

This time of year, on any given day, it’s not unusual to have 50-60 people lined up to play pickleball, according to Rozek. (Courts are available on a first come, first served basis.) “Do we want individual courts? Absolutely,” he said. “Can it generate dollars? Absolutely.”

Get in the game
Apparently, the best way to get in the game is to show up. “I’d say to anyone who wants to start playing that the first thing to do is get out on the court,” Ansboury advised. “Pickleball has probably one of the easiest learning curves compared to most racket or paddle sports. So come out, enjoy some open play with just random people, and then take a couple of lessons and really get to know how to play the sport properly. Then you can be out competing or socializing any way you want.”

As of now, the Island Rec Center is the primary public facility for pickleball on the island and a good place to meet and get matched up with players of similar level. Starting in January, they will also be offering beginner and intermediate classes with a certified instructor.

Private clubs are also embracing the pickleball craze, some with dedicated courts, certified teaching professionals, and burgeoning pickleball programs.

All public courts are multipurpose, with permanent lines painted for pickleball in addition to basketball (Rec Center & Chaplin) or tennis (Adrianna). Dedicated play times exist. Courts are managed and maintained jointly by the Hilton Head Island Pickleball Club and Island Rec Center.

$3/day or $40/year (pay at the Island Rec front desk). Playing inside the Island Rec Center carries an additional fee not covered by yearly membership.

To learn more about public playing opportunities, visit the Island Rec Center at https://islandreccenter.org or call (843) 681-7273. For more information or to join the Hilton Head Island Pickleball Club, visit www. hhipbc.com.

Residents and guests of these private communities can contact their respective clubs for information on court availability, instructional programs, organized activities, and more.

Pickleball History: What’s in a name?
Although seemingly still in its infancy, pickleball has been around for over 50 years. It was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, by three dads, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, who were desperately seeking an activity to entertain their restless children while on summer vacation.

Folklore has it that the game was named for Pritchard’s family dog Pickles, who loved to chase stray balls and hide them in the bushes. But Pritchard’s mother, Joan, set the record straight in a column she wrote for West Virginia’s Parkersburg News and Sentinel: “The name of the game became pickleball after I said it reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats. Pickles wasn’t on the scene for two more years. The dog was named for the game, but stories about the name’s origin were funnier thinking the game was named for the dog.”

The game began with homemade gear and a loose set of rules. Over time, courts and equipment were standardized and official terminology, rules and regulations established. By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states—indoors and outdoors; in high school gyms and senior centers; in leagues and tournaments with official nets, balls and paddles. The Pickleball Association, USAPA, was chartered as a non-profit corporation in 2005. And you might say the rest is history…

Pickleball Courts Near You:

Public
Island Recreation Center/Hilton Head Island Pickleball Club
20 Wilborn Rd. – 6 outdoor, 2 indoor courts
Hilton Head Park (Adrianna Lane)
152 William Hilton Pkwy. – 4 courts
Chaplin Park
11 Castnet Dr. – 4 courts

Private
Palmetto Dunes Pickleball Center
Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club
Port Royal Plantation
Long Cove Club
South Beach Racquet Club
Sun City
The Haven
Rose Hill


  1. As a member of the HHI club for the past four years every statement made in this article is true to the core.
    A dedicated public facility with at least 12 courts would solidify HHI as a pickleball destination
    The recent terminate sponsored by the club brought 140+ players from as far away as Charleston with players from beginners to advanced playing side by side


    — David Aldrich    Dec 2, 06:18 am   

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