What do you get when you combine tennis, badminton and ping-pong into one friendly, social game?
Pickleball may have an unusual name, but the game’s popularity has been rising in North America over the last decade or so. The sport has now officially made its way to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, where two outdoor day courts were recently built on the grounds of the resort.
Uli Hoppe, director of tennis at the resort, says that pickleball is currently a fast-growing sport in the United States and is suitable for all ages and skill levels. Hoppe, along with three other tennis coaches at The Ritz-Carlton, is certified with the Professional Pickleball Registry to train and coach pickleball.
“Anyone can have a great time playing pickleball as the sport is easy to learn and you can have fun immediately,” he says, adding that the paddle and ball are easy to handle and playing the game is not hard on the body.
“We are open for the public, so anyone can join, rent the court or take a lesson,” he says.
WHAT IS PICKLEBALL?
Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court, with a dimension of 20 by 44 feet and the net set to a height of 34 inches. To help visualise the size, Hoppe says that you can fit four pickleball courts into one tennis court.
The game is played with a perforated plastic ball and composite (or wooden) paddles that are similar in size to ping-pong paddles. Although the game is easy for beginners to learn, it can develop into a fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players.
In fact, the sport is governed by the USA Pickleball Association, which maintains the rules, promotes the sport, sanctions tournaments and provides player rankings. The association also produces the annual National Pickleball Tournament, the first of which was held in 2009 in Buckeye, Arizona, with more than 400 participants across many ages.
Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles and most players can learn the basic rules quickly in a single session. Court attire is anything that is comfortable and appropriate for court sports.
The game requires patience, strategy and finesse, and the rules are somewhat similar to tennis, except with several modifications. For example, the ball is served cross-court diagonally, with an underhand stroke. Points are scored only by the side that serves.
The balls must be allowed to bounce once on each side of the net before volleys — hitting the balls in the air before they bounce — are allowed. There is a seven-foot, no-volley zone on each side of the net to prevent spiking. The server continues to serve, alternating service squares, until he or she (or in the case of doubles, his or her team) “faults.” The first side to score eleven points, and is leading by at least two points, wins.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island in Washington, U.S., by three resourceful dads — Joel Pritchard (a former U.S. State Representative), Bill Bell and Barney McCallum. As the story goes, their children were bored one Saturday afternoon during summer holidays, so the three dads decided to create a game for them.
They first attempted to set up a game of badminton, but no one could find the shuttlecock, so they improvised with a wiffle ball, lowered the badminton net, and fabricated paddles of plywood from a nearby shed.
Many believe the game’s name was derived from Joel Pritchard’s family Cocker Spaniel, “Pickles.” However, Joel’s wife, Joan Pritchard, once said the name came “after I said it reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats. Somehow the idea the name came from our dog Pickles was attached to the naming of the game, but Pickles wasn’t on the scene for two more years. The dog was named from the game.”
According to the 2017 Pickleball Participant Report, produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, there are currently more than 2.8 million players in the U.S. Para-pickleball, or wheelchair pickleball, was officially recognised as a competitive branch of Pickleball by the USA Pickleball Association in 2016. Every U.S. state and all Canadian provinces have pickleball venues. The sport is especially popular in senior residence communities, YMCAs, local community recreation centres, schools and parks. Those interested in learning how to play pickleball can receive lessons and book a court and equipment by calling 345-323-0049 or emailing [email protected]