World-renowned golf instructor Hank Haney has said that pickleball will be bigger than golf in the coming years. In fact, according to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), pickleball is America’s fastest-growing sport, especially with older players; 75 percent of all pickleball players are 55 and older.
Michael Baldwin, Director of Tennis at The Club at Mediterra in Naples, Fla., describes pickleball as a hybrid of tennis, ping pong, and badminton.
“It is one of the fastest-growing sports in America and is exploding in popularity in our area, especially among adults,” Baldwin says. “It can be played as singles or doubles and is much easier to learn thanks to the short paddles, small court [20’ wide by 44’ long], and the light ball, which is basically a ‘Wiffle’ ball.”
Mediterra currently has about 200 active pickleball players, Baldwin says. “This happened in just over a year since we built our three courts,” he reports. “Member interest has come from a combination of existing tennis players and those who were not playing tennis before.
“The largest percentage of our players came from our golfers,” he adds. “Then we have many who have added pickleball to their tennis [activity]. And we have those who were doing neither and decided to learn pickleball.”
In addition to its three pickleball courts, Mediterra has eight clay tennis courts and an active tennis community. Now having pickleball as an amenity and a program has also become a significant factor in people deciding to choose to live at Mediterra and become members, Baldwin says, as well as a major contributor to member retention.
And while it’s still relatively early in pickleball’s time at Mediterra, Baldwin also believes the sport has generated a tangible bump in food-and-beverage sales.
“Since we’ve added travel league teams, we have started providing snacks and refreshments when hosting matches,” he says. “Our most popular times for play are 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. It is hard to measure, but with members being active here at the club’s pickleball courts and then staying for lunch and/or dinner, it seems very likely to [have resulted] in an increase in F&B.”
The growing demand for pickleball has led Mediterra to increase its staff slightly, Baldwin says.
“We chose to add a dedicated pickleball professional in addition to our tennis professionals also getting certified to teach pickleball,” he reports. “The demand for lessons has far exceeded our expectations. We thought it might be that people would just want to learn the rules and play on their own. But we are seeing a strong demand for ongoing group and private lessons.”