Pickleball may be the fastest growing sport in America, but club professionals are keeping members active on the tennis and platform courts as well. For many, it’s as much about socialization as competition.
The rapid growth of pickleball in the club industry may have garnered the lion’s share of headlines over the last year, but staples like tennis and paddle also continue to draw huge participation among members looking for opportunities to stay active and involved.
At Sea Pines Country Club in Hilton Head, S.C., where tennis and pickleball are joined by bocce, there are seven clay tennis courts—all lighted—and four lighted pickleball courts. Even with the rise in pickleball’s popularity, says Director of Tennis Matt Wuller, tennis remains king at the club.
“Our tennis program is extremely vibrant,” Wuller says. “We have many socials and mixers within the club, and also club-championship tournaments.”
Some of the socials involve special themes, including “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” the “Mardi Gras Tennis Event” and a “Holiday Round Robin.” And Sea Pines’ “Welcome Back to Tennis” program, hosted every February, is designed to provide an introduction to beginners, while also helping former tennis players “rekindle their love” of the game.
The summer junior program at Sea Pines gets approximately 100 to 125 kids for a seven-week program, and the afterschool program anywhere between 10 and 15 kids per session. “Our summer junior and after-school programs get kids of all levels playing with red and orange balls,” Wuller adds. “We are now even starting to use the pickleball courts as a good feeder program for our junior tennis players who are training in the red-ball program.”
Pickleball is really still in its infancy stage at Sea Pines, with courts that have only been open for a few months. “We offer some round-robins and open reserve play for any player to join in,” Wuller says.
Park Ridge (Ill.) Country Club has four platform courts and four Har-Tru tennis courts at its property.
Matt Davis, Director of Racquet Sports, says the club hosts Cardio Tennis Mixers, which are very popular, and Mixed Paddle Leagues on Wednesday nights, with 32 players each evening during the busy paddle season (October through March).
“Paddle has exploded with very large numbers, since it has only been in existence here for four years,” Davis says. “We have seen it grow to about 200 people playing, with seven men’s teams and six ladies’ teams. Lots of people also play for fun and are not on teams.
“Tennis remains steady with our largest program—Cardio Tennis,” Davis adds. “We bring in over 100 different members each season to do this program. Our members really enjoy our racquets programs.”
The Mayfield Sand Ridge Club in South Euclid, Ohio also has four platform tennis courts, as well as four clay tennis courts, and Northern Ohio’s only two grass tennis courts.
“Our grass courts make the Mayfield Country Club courts a desired place for tennis players across Cleveland to come to,” says Director of Tennis Alex Guthrie, USPTA.
Mayfield hosts a pair of USTA Tennis Tournaments, along with five Member Tennis Socials and one Platform Tennis Social throughout the year, which has generated added interest.
“Last summer, we offered more programming, and as a result we had an increase in the number of members using the facility,” Guthrie says. “The flexibility of the tennis staff tries to cater offerings, from everyone who just wants to try tennis to the advanced player.”
The Old and the NewIn New York state, The Country Club of Rochester (CCR), founded 125 years ago in 1895, offers platform tennis, tennis and pickleball for men and women, and platform tennis and tennis for juniors.
CCR has men’s and women’s teams that actively compete in interclub programs throughout the year, says Anne Osovski, the club’s Athletic Director. The Ladies Interclub Summer Tennis (L.I.S.T.) teams placed in the top three in all divisions last year, with a total of 65 women members participating in the club’s tennis program.
“We are very proud of the growth that our racquets programs have seen over the last several years,” Osovski says.
In addition to competitive club tournaments, CCR’s members have several opportunities to use the courts for socializing. “During the summer, we host several tennis socials and mixers, inviting tennis and pickleball players to gather for themed food and cocktails, and fun, non-competitive play,” Osovski says. “We also offer weekly co-ed drop-in drills for tennis and pickleball. These sessions attract seasoned members looking for extra practice, as well as newbies to the game.”
CCR also grows its program at the youth level. “We offer Junior Paddle, which has grown exponentially over the past few years, with over 25 juniors participating,” Osovski says. “We have a Junior Tennis Program, offering camps and individual instruction.
“Our Junior Tennis Programs follow the same developmental pathway as the USTA’s Net Generation program,” she adds. “It is a comprehensive, curriculum-based approach that respects red, orange, green and yellow tennis.”
Room for Growth
For clubs looking to expand their racquet programming, Osovski recommends incorporating members’ voices in the process.
“Great communication is the key to building the program,” she says. “It is helpful to put in place a tennis committee with members who are enthusiastic about the program and its promotion.
“Tennis mixers and socials are also a great, fun way to educate new members to the club’s racquet sports offerings,” she adds. “We host a CCR Women’s Sports EXPO in the spring, and tennis is a big component of it.”
Wuller, who says Sea Pines has hosted cookouts, cornhole tournaments and even a glow-golf event on its tennis courts, recommends keeping programming fresh for members.
“Try to add variety to your programs,” he advises. “But also make sure that once you find an event that is successful, keep it in your pipeline and tweak it accordingly, to continue its success.”
At Park Ridge CC, Davis is in favor of quick-hitting activities. “Clubs need to be aware of the changing demographic of players,” he says. “With the younger generation, they want activities that will give them a good workout and be enjoyable in a short period of time.
“Most tennis players play for an hour or so, and then move on,” he notes. “And with paddle, you can get a solid workout in an hour, which is amazing on a small court.”
SUMMING IT UP
> Socials and mixers, where members gather for themed food, cocktails and fun, non-competitive play, can build interest in racquet sports.
> Racquets programming should include activities geared to the younger generation, who want activities that will give them a good workout and be enjoyable in a short period of time.
> In addition to their popularity with adults, smaller pickleball courts can be used as feeders for youth tennis programs.