As pickleball’s popularity expands, the search continues for permanent courts.
Pickleball grew in 2023 to 8.9 million players in the United States, according to the trade association, Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
In 2016, that figure stood at 2.5 million, according to a previous report in The Laker/Lutz News.
The pace of growth has quickened considerably in recent years.
“It’s been the fastest-growing sport for three years running,” said Brandon Mackie, co-founder of Pickleheads, a company based in Scottsdale, Arizona, that specializes in keeping track of pickleball courts around the country.
“So, for any player that wants to find a court, find a game, or even other people to play with — that all happens on this website,” Mackie said, describing the site that launched in June of last year.
“I’ve been a big player myself, since early on in the pandemic. And, in a lot of ways, Pickleheads is something that I wished would have existed when I first started out because there just wasn’t a good way to find other people, find other games. Because of that, I would only play once every two weeks, because there was so much effort involved in finding games.
“I always thought if something like Pickleheads existed, I might play every day. That’s what we’re trying to solve for people,” Mackie added.
For people looking for a place to play, they’ll likely find something that may work for them on the site.
“There’s a huge mix of public, private, paid, free — and all of those are available on our platform.
“You have the full range of playing pickleball in an abandoned warehouse for free, versus doing a country club. All of those opportunities are on our site,” he said.
The list of potential places to play is extensive.
“Starting out, it was challenging. We hired a team to really go city by city and do a full audit of the country. As you can imagine, that took a long time. But once we had the initial data set going, we created a loop where users could submit their own court edits, or add new courts in the database, kind of how Wikipedia works. And that was really the best thing that we ever did.
“Now, we’re getting information at the ground level, from people going to the courts, and it just really got better and better. Now, it’s not perfect, but we think it’s the best database that’s out there,” he said.
The website lists places to play all over the country, including locations in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.
Mackie has a couple of theories regarding why pickleball is so popular.
“It’s really easy to learn and pick up the sport,” he said, noting that unlike golf or tennis, it doesn’t take months or years of practice to enjoy it.
There’s another big reason for pickleball’s popularity, he added.
“No. 2 would be the social nature of the sport.
“A lot of times people play pickleball in an open-play format, where you’ve got 20, 30, 40, 50 people all going to courts, rotating time with partners. It’s just a great opportunity to meet people.
“So, I think for a lot of people, it’s a community more so than it’s a sport,” he said.
Pickleball is affordable
“You can find paddles on Amazon for as cheap as $20. I would recommend spending between $50 and $100 on your first paddle, to get something halfway decent,” Mackie said.
There are public facilities that are free to use and typically other players will have a spare ball you can borrow, he added.
“I think that’s a lot of the reason why the sport has grown — you just don’t need to spend a lot of money to give it a try,” Mackie said.
While there are many potential places to play — sometimes they require temporary lines to be laid down and temporary nets to be installed.
So, the effort continues to get more permanent facilities.
The Laker/Lutz News previously detailed a push by Picklehead Fanatics, led by Kathy McCausey and Val Thomopalos, to increase the number of pickleball courts in Central Pasco.
McCausey and Thomopalos are pickleball instructors who give lessons, run tournaments and coordinate impromptu meet-ups of pickleball enthusiasts in Central Pasco.
They hosted an adult and youth tournament at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex, 3032 Collier Parkway, with players coming from near and far to compete in different divisions and competitions.
About 120 players showed up — including 18 youth players.
McCausey and Thomopalos are looking to promote the sport and they are using proceeds from the tournament to benefit the rec complex — specifically to get public, permanent courts.
Besides the recreation complex, other possible locations are Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park and Wesley Chapel District Park. The pickleball partners also mentioned the county might want courts at Starkey Ranch District Park, as well.
A racket sport, pickleball incorporates elements from other sports, like tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. It is reportedly the fastest-growing sport in the United States. It can be played essentially wherever there is a flat surface, but ideally, there’s a court with permanent lines and a permanent net. For complete rules and video demonstrations, visit Pickleheads.com.
Published January 31, 2024