Pickleball, Part 1: Popularity growing

Andrea Molberg

Fun, competitive, easy to learn and good exercise, pickleball is the fastest growing sport among active seniors and a sought after amenity in retirement communities. So much so that Pickleball is the first sport added to the National Senior Games in 20 years and according to Athletic Business (2015) has been catching fire among all ages. The popularity amongst seniors, in many cases, is because they can no longer play other sports. Pickleball has been replacing longtime favorites such as golf and tennis as the go-to sport.

SaddleBrooke Picklers first began playing in the parking lot in 2007. Two asphalt courts were created and in 2008 one Preserve tennis court was converted into three temporary Pickleball courts. When the six permanent Ridgeview Courts (funded by club members) were built in 2012, there were 248 in the club, half its current size. Over the last two years, SaddleBrooke’s Pickleball Association (SPA) doubled its membership to over 600. In fact, SPA is the largest club in SaddleBrooke with the Hiking Club second at over 500. Conversely, SaddleBrooke Tennis Club’s membership, which once exceeded 400, has declined to 320.

Because of its popularity to seniors, Pickleball courts are becoming a common feature in retirement communities. The USA Pickleball Association estimates 150,000 people play nationwide and the number of places to play has nearly tripled since 2010. Communities that did not initially have Pickleball courts are scrambling to fill this void by converting tennis courts or building new courts. Recently Sun City residents renovated the Marinette Recreation Center at a cost of $4.4 million. Approximately half of this amount was earmarked to build new Pickleball courts; eight covered and twelve uncovered. The community spent the money because homes were not selling, in a large part, due to the lack of this highly sought after amenity.

Robson Communities understands this desire by prospective buyers. So much so that at nearby SaddleBrooke Ranch, which currently has four courts for 120 Pickleball members, they are building 24 courts by December 2015. To meet the demand in its Quail Creek Community of nearly 2,000 homes, Robson funded and built all 16 new courts rather than waiting to build them in the originally planned two phases after seeing how popular the game has been at its Casa Grande and Texas developments.

By the time Pickleball became the “it” amenity, all of the Developer-promised amenities had been built within SaddleBrooke, leaving no land within SaddleBrooke for any new amenities, Pickleball included. Robson has openly stated that they would like to see more Pickleball here and will work with the community to find a solution. That solution will likely mean converting current, less used amenities into Pickleball courts.

Next month – Pickleball, Part Two: Why Pickleball Matters to SaddleBrooke