Taking a Swing

By | March 8th, 2018

Bentwood Country Club, San Angelo, Texas

Though tennis will always be a standard club amenity, racquet sport variations are catching on as complementary offerings.

At the 10th Annual Tennis Industry Association Tennis Forum in August 2017, Kurt Kamperman, the United State Tennis Association’s Chief Executive, Community Tennis and USTA National Campus, stated that “we live in a sedentary society,” in which adults and children simply aren’t moving.
But the meeting wasn’t all doom and gloom. Recent data by the Physical Activity Council (PAC) shows that total U.S. tennis participation grew 0.6% from 2015 to 2016, to a total of 18.08 million players.

The bright spots included a 7.2% increase in youth tennis players and a 16.7% increase in Cardio Tennis participants. Total “play occasions” fell during that period, but “casual participation” saw an uptick. The PAC study showed that nearly 15 million non-players expressed an interest in taking up tennis, and another 12.7 million Americans “consider[ed] themselves players,” but may not have been on a court in the last two years.


• For clubs that experience all four seasons, paddle tennis, for which outdoor courts are heated, can be a good option to help maintain club activity year-round.
• While pickleball is often ideal for aging populations, it can appeal to all ages with the appropriate programming that either makes the game more challenging or incorporates more social elements.
• With support from pros, paddle tennis and pickleball can be feeder programs for tennis.

The mixed reports on tennis offer an opportunity for clubs and resorts with tennis facilities to provide programming that can reach out to the latent and casual players. Two of the most successful ways properties are capturing these groups is through racquet-sport options such as pickleball and paddle tennis.

Peter Marks, a member of the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.), recently spearheaded that club’s emergence as a true player in the pickleball scene.
Marks had played tennis in his younger days, but at 63, he could no longer move with the same speed and agility. At the beginning of 2017, Marks and fellow member Ken Hall Barnett suggested that the CC of Jackson offer pickleball, a more approachable variation on tennis.

So the club tested the waters of offering the amenity. Fortunately, its staff could put together a makeshift pickleball court with minimal investment, by putting portable nets on existing tennis courts and outlining the playing boundaries with tape. Once there was some clear interest, the club committed to painting permanent lines on the courts, and eventually installed permanent nets. By August, the club had converted two tennis courts into eight pickleball courts.

“We resurface our tennis courts every five years anyway, so this project was just a matter of giving up two courts,” Tennis Director Nick Barone says. “We felt like at the end of the day, it was worth it.”

CC of Jackson now has its own Pickleball Association with about 80 members, Barone says. Nonmembers are allowed to play pickleball, but are limited to eight occasions per year, have to pay extra fees, and must be accompanied by a member.

In 2017, Bentwood CC earned the United States Tennis Association’s “Featured Facility” award, in recognition of the club’s racquet sports facilities, as well as its extensive programming.

Pickleball programming, Barone says, doesn’t differ greatly from tennis. “Of course, we’re still early in the ballgame with pickleball,” he says. “Tennis has had years to establish a nice calendar, and pickleball is getting that way. We have a yearly pickleball calendar with events, and it’s continuing to build month after month.”

In addition to play days and organized leagues, the CC of Jackson offers private and group lessons, as well as cardio pickleball. “We’re hoping pickleball ignites something in our community,” Barone says. The club would like to be part of a league where members could play teams from other clubs, but not enough neighboring facilities have yet adopted the sport.

Five times throughout the year, the CC of Jackson offers pickleball parties, where the club furnishes food and beverages and Barone “gets the match going” as music plays. But the events are still competitive, he notes, with male and female winners crowned.

Because pickleball is similar to tennis in technique, tennis instructors can easily help players learn the required skills. The CC of Jackson has four tennis pros, with one now focusing primarily on pickleball.

Giving It a Try

For clubs interested in offering pickleball but not ready to commit to permanent facilities, a temporary pickleball court can be fashioned from any paved surface, such as existing tennis courts. See the USA Pickleball diagram at right for measurements, and visit usapa.org/temporary-court-setup/ for more temporary-play options.

“We do a lot of research online and dig through videos and learn the tricks of the trade,” Barone says. “We are all planning on being certified. If you have a tennis background, you pick up pickleball immediately—you can have success within a half hour.”

With a still-growing association, the CC of Jackson does not yet have pickleball divisions by age, and combines all members who want to play into a single league.

“We have every age group playing pickleball,” Barone says. “Everyone thinks pickleball is for the older crowd, but that’s not true. You get just as much of a workout in a pickleball match as in a tennis match, but an older person is able to get to more balls because the court’s smaller. You’re really getting a workout when all is said and done—it’s just a little more rewarding for older people.”

For the CC of Jackson, the benefits of offering pickleball to members have become obvious. “Tennis and pickleball just go hand in hand,” Barone says. “We have a crossover going both ways [including] new people who started with pickleball and then want to try tennis. It has been a blessing to our program.

“Pickleball is just a breath of fresh air,” he adds.

Chilly Alternative
For clubs that experience all four seasons, outdoor racquet sports are not an option for a good portion of the year. But by installing paddle tennis courts in July 2017, Park Ridge (Ill.) Country Club has ensured that members can swing a racquet even when snow is falling.

Park Ridge now offers four paddle courts and a warming hut for members, building on land recently acquired from a neighboring property. The project took six to seven months to complete, says Matt Davis, Director of Paddle and Tennis.

The paddle tennis courts and accompanying warming hut at Park Ridge CC are part of the club’s effort to make its mark on the sport, which has a strong following in Midwestern cities.

“In Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee [and even] Colorado, paddle is huge,” Davis says. “There isn’t as much movement like in tennis, so you can play without a lot of lessons. It’s easier to start to play, but harder to get good at it.

“The enticement for new players is that anybody can play and have fun,” Davis continues. “There’s only one serve, and there doesn’t have to be a lot of running or moving around if you have an injury, as long as you know your limitations.”

To determine potential interest in the amenity, Park Ridge surveyed members, asking in what capacity they would play, if they had any interest in leagues, or if they’d just play for fun. “That gave us a basis for how to decide if it was worth it or not,” Davis says. “It gives members something to do in the wintertime to be outside and to be active with the club the whole year, not just in the summer months.”

Paddle tennis differs from traditional tennis partly by focusing more on team work, Davis says, and Park Ridge’s program focuses on group drills, which are based on skill level and gender. The club hosts paddle parties, in which 40 to 50 people will receive two hours of instruction, followed by game play and a party. Park Ridge has hosted eight of these events since Thanksgiving, Davis says, with many held over the holidays.

Paddle tennis’ strong social element has been bolstered by Park Ridge’s recent addition of the warming hut—the name of which undersells the facility.

“It’s more than a ‘hut,’” Davis says. “It’s a two-level entertainment center with a full bar and seating for up to 50 people, with golf simulators in the basement.”

While the facility is certainly best suited for winter play (heaters installed under the court keep it dry, and the staff shovels after heavy snowfalls), Davis says the club plans to use the courts and warming hut year-round.

Park Ridge (Ill.) Country Club

Best of the Best
In 2017, Bentwood Country Club in San Angelo, Texas was honored as the USTA’s “Featured Facility” in its Outstanding Facility awards. Director of Tennis Courtney Nagel says the honor was “quite a surprise,” for a club in a “small-market” town of 100,000.

“I think what made us stand out is that we have eleven tennis courts, four pickleball courts, a brand new building with a gym, and great participation,” Nagel says. “Our programs are successful because we have good member support [as well as] community support for our events.”

Bentwood CC makes an effort to reach out beyond its immediate community, Nagel explains, with some people driving an hour and a half for a weekly tennis lesson. A Sunday camp is offered for high-school kids from out of town as well.

Four hundred people from Bentwood CC’s 1,000 member families now play racquet sports at the club, Nagel estimates. The club employs five tennis pros and offers club leagues, junior lesson programs and mixers, as well as USTA-sanctioned tournaments.

“We pride ourselves on programming and on having a lot more to offer than just lessons,” Nagel says. “We recruit for tennis and pickleball [by] picking up the phone and calling members, letting them know what we have going on and getting them involved.

Park Ridge (Ill.) Country Club

“We also pride ourselves on our junior program,” Nagel adds. “We’ve probably had 50 kids play college tennis on a scholarship of some sort.”

Bentwood CC was also one of the first in West Texas to build pickleball courts back in 2014. “We poured a foundation over part of our parking lot and added pickleball next to the swimming pool,” Nagel says. “We wanted to keep it as close to tennis as possible.”

The pickleball amenity is part of Bentwood CC’s substantial outdoor recreation amenity, which also includes a multi-sport field used for volleyball, half-court basketball and soccer (“Playing Outside,” C&RB, November 2017).

For pickleball, Bentwood CC has both club- and member-organized leagues. The club leagues use a ladder format, and an advanced league is being offered for the first time this year. The member-organized league is designed to introduce new players to the game and coach them along. “The membership has been really good at recruiting for their own sport,” Nagel says.

An upcoming corporate teambuilding retreat at the club even plans to include pickleball in the schedule of events. “There’s a quick learning curve, so people pick it up quickly and can have fun with it,” Nagel says.

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