Invented in 1965 on Washington state’s Bainbridge Island by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, the game of pickleball is sweeping the nation.
The sport, which combines elements of tennis, badminton, and Ping-Pong, was officially announced as the fastest-growing sport in America for the second year in a row in 2022, with more than 4.8 million participants nationwide, and a growth of 39.3% over the past two years, according to Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s annual Topline Participation Report.
In addition, membership to USA Pickleball, the sport’s governing body in the U.S., reached the 50,000 milestone in 2021 and ended that year with just over 53,000 members, a 43% increase from the previous year and the largest single growth year to date for the organization.
Due to its recent rise in popularity, many residential developers and builders have added pickleball courts to their amenity lineups across the country.
“Pickleball has become so popular for several reasons. It’s relatively easy to play, the smaller court allows all ability levels to cover the distance of the court, and the ball speed is slower when compared to tennis, allowing more time for movement needed to be in place to return the ball,” says Fred Caldwell, CEO of Caldwell Communities. “We’re finding residents love to learn a new sport and get enjoyment out of forming teams, playing weeknight games, socializing with like-minded active individuals, and simply having fun.”
Caldwell Communities’ two newest planned communities in Texas—Chambers Creek and The Highlands—will have over 7,000 homes combined and will both feature large pickleball complexes.
“We think pickleball is here to stay, further providing a great platform for residents to be social and active,” Caldwell says. “It is truly a generational game that adds significantly to our lifestyle experiences.”
The well-known Latitude Margaritaville active-living communities in Daytona Beach, Florida; Hilton Head, South Carolina; and Watersound, Florida, have also embraced the sport. In fact, according to Stuart Schultz, vice president of residential community relations, Margaritaville has been synonymous with pickleball and a driving force behind the growth of the sport in the hospitality space for five-plus years.
Most recently, the developer announced a major partnership and title sponsorship of Major League Pickleball—rebranding the league as MLP by Margaritaville. Additionally, it has been the title sponsor of the USA Pickleball National Championships since 2018, the powered by sponsor of the US Open Pickleball Championships since 2017, and the official lodging partner of the Professional Pickleball Association.
“Pickleball shines at our Latitude Margaritaville communities,” says Schultz. “At Margaritaville, we think the momentum is only going to continue to grow. We’re excited to be a part of it.”
According to the USA Pickleball rule book, “a total playing surface 30 feet by 60 feet is the minimum size that is recommended. A total size of 34 feet by 64 feet is preferred.” The actual playing lines measure 20 feet by 44 feet.
The playing area is striped similar to a tennis court with right and left service courts and a 7-foot, non-volley zone in front of the net, referred to as the “kitchen.” The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle.
Asphalt or concrete both provide an acceptable base for pickleball courts, reports the organization, and 100% acrylic coatings are recommended for surfacing. When properly applied, acrylic coatings are breathable and allow some vapor transmission, which is especially important on outdoor courts.
When selecting court coloring, lighter hues may be worth considering for warmer climates as they will absorb less heat from the sun. Darker colors will absorb more heat from the sun, resulting in a warmer playing area. However, as an added benefit in areas with cooler climates, darker court colors will also help to melt snow and evaporate water more quickly.
The sun should also be kept in mind for court orientation. Whenever possible, a north-south direction for the courts should be maintained to minimize the angle of the sun in the eyes of players.
Developers need to also consider lighting for nighttime play and fencing to contain balls within the confines of the court.
The good news for builders and developers is that once installed, pickleball court maintenance is minor, reports USA Pickleball. Outdoor courts benefit from the wind and rain, and they very rarely need cleaning.
“Court maintenance consists of removing standing water after large rainfalls to keep rainwater from penetrating and/or staining the court,” says Bryan Dougherty, land development manager at Epcon Communities. “We provide a squeegee to assist with this. It is also a good idea to periodically remove dust, leaves, and other debris to keep surface staining to a minimum.”
Surface pressure washers or a push-behind floor scrubber may be used, as needed, to clean court surfaces, but it is not recommended to use a stiff-bristled cleaning head or too much water pressure, as they could damage the court surface.
Looking ahead, Dougherty estimates recoating and/or restriping the court surfaces will be needed approximately every 10 years. When courts hit that point, resurfacing normally entails surface cleaning, crack and surface repairs, filling low areas to reduce puddles, application of base and color coatings, and striping the playing lines.
As a relatively low-maintenance amenity, operational expenses are also minor. However, if developers are looking to create a little revenue after installing pickleball courts, Schultz recommends hosting various events such as open play/drop-in, round-robin tournaments, skills clinics, or formal skill/age tournaments.
“It’ll definitely stick around. It has incredible staying power because of its accessibility and generational approachability,” concludes Schultz about the sport. “It’s also light and fun. Anyone can learn in five minutes or less, and everybody can play—no matter your age or ability.”