While eastern North Carolina’s Mount Olive holds the monopoly on pickles in the state, Pinehurst residents are beginning to ask: “What’s the ‘dill’ with Pickleball?”
What once started in 1966 as a simple backyard game in Bainbridge Island, Wash., Pickleball is quickly growing in popularity in the United States. With thousands of locations across the country, Pinehurst is joining in on the fun with the anticipated opening of a new Pickleball facility at Pinehurst No. 6.
Love at First Sight
While visiting some friends near Hilton Head Island, S.C., six years ago, Pinehurst resident Steve Mager was introduced to Pickleball for the first time.
“I had always heard my friends talk about Pickleball,” he said. “They had a Pickleball club in their community that had more than 700 members. I went down there to visit them, and tried the game out. I fell in love with it right away.”
Played with wooden paddles and a plastic ball similar to a wiffle ball, on a court with roughly one-third the area of a regular tennis court, Pickleball draws elements from tennis, badminton, as well as table tennis to create an enjoyable experience for its players.
Games can be played with either two or four players and are very easy to pick up and learn. Players serve underhanded, diagonally across the court, and the game goes from there. Games are played to 11 points.
“It’s popular in active communities and retirement communities,” Mager said. “It’s conducive to those people who used to play tennis and can’t cover that amount of court anymore. It’s more of a ‘reaction’ game than so much covering a lot of territory.”
Pickleball is one of the nation’s fastest growing sports, with the number of locations growing exponentially. In March 2010, there were 777 locations across the country, and that number has more than doubled to 1,572 as of November 2012. The USA Pickleball Association boasts over 4,000 members and is growing. There are 14,000 players nationwide, and that number is growing as well.
Mager and his wife, Jeanne, serve as ambassadors for USA Pickleball, and their goal is to spread the game throughout the Sandhills area.
“We’ve got a lot of plans,” he said. “We’re trying to get ourselves established in the Pinehurst community first.”
Mager wants to spread the game to what he calls ‘the Pinehurst age group’ initially, but eventually would like to share the game with younger groups as well.
“I’d love to take it to some of the area schools – maybe take it to Pinecrest and see if the physical education department would be interested in the sport and what they could do with it,” he said.
A Sensible Spot
Mager is already well on his way to immersing Pickleball into the Pinehurst area. Recently, a group of four Pickleball courts opened at Pinehurst No. 6 after play began at the Pinehurst Tennis Club in April 2012.
Jay Biggs, Pinehurst’s director of golf and club operations, is very excited about the new courts.
“We’re thrilled to add Pickleball as a new amenity for the resort and the membership at Pinehurst,” he said. “It allows Pinehurst to add an additional racket sport to our already top-notch tennis facilities.”
Matt Downing, director of tennis and lawn sports at Pinehurst Resort, was, in Mager’s words, a “driving force” for Pickleball in the area, especially at Pinehurst Resort.
“Matt took an interest in Pickleball after hearing members mention it as an up-and-coming sport, and he got behind us,” Mager said.
One of those members is Larry Cox, an active tennis player and golfer.
“I tried it out in North Myrtle Beach,” Cox said. “I immediately felt this game was ideally suited for Pinehurst members. The reason I felt that was because playing tennis over the years, a lot of the people I retired with have given up tennis because they’re getting older – and really haven’t replaced it with anything. I told Matt that this sport could bring these people back.”
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