August 8 marks the third annual National Pickleball Day. At nearly 60 years old, the tennis off-shoot has suddenly served its way into American culture. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Pickleball is played in singles or doubles. The court looks like a shrunken tennis court. In fact, courts often get painted over tennis courts. That can annoy tennis players—and neighbors bothered by the loud popping of brightly colored, perforated plastic balls.
Blending elements of ping pong, tennis, and badminton, pickleball has seen a surge in popularity. The game is fairly simple to learn and play, and it takes place on a court that’s only a quarter the size of a tennis court. The smaller court means the sport doesn’t involve as much running. That’s a plus for many players.
Washington state vacationers, including a former U.S. Congressman, invented the sport in 1965. Stories say the lawmaker either couldn’t find a badminton shuttlecock or was just looking to keep bored kids entertained.
However it started, pickleball took off during the pandemic. The game provided cooped-up folks an outdoor escape with minimal equipment. In 2022, one in nine Americans (36.5 million!) played pickleball at least once.
Now many resorts and hotels are converting seldom-used tennis courts into fully booked pickleball courts to meet demand.
Travel agency owner Meaghan Clawsie says, “I’ve had clients come to me wanting me to book their vacations, but they tell me to limit the resorts I quote to ones with pickleball. They literally won’t stay at a property that does not offer pickleball!”
Major cruise companies are getting in on the action by sponsoring pickleball leagues and adding courts to their ships. Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise lines host pickleball tournaments for their guests. And all ships in the Holland America Line fleet feature pickleball courts. They also offer complimentary beginner lessons by shipboard instructors who teach guests the rules and basics of pickleball, including where the “kitchen” is and what it means to hit a “dink” shot.
Big-city hotels like the 110-year-old Amway Grand Plaza Hotel are picking up the paddle too. The historic upscale accommodation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently added two rooftop pickleball courts.
Ross Barlett, General Manager of the hotel, says, “Since the completion of our RoofTop Pickleball Courts in July 2022, we have seen a steady increase in their usage and demand, from early morning sunrise players to night owls wishing to play under the lights.”
The Hilton New Orleans Riverside began offering pickleball nearly a decade ago when a long-term tennis member needed a lower-impact sport. It became so popular the hotel now maintains six indoor courts.
Pickleball pro Todd Ponder is an instructor in Florida. “A lot of people are looking at it and seeing they can save their knees, save their joints, and learn to play a much faster-paced game on a very small surface,” he says. “I have 80-year-old grandmothers who come up with knee braces on, and those are the ones that scare me the most. Because those are the ones I’m going to get annihilated by.”