Pickleball courts are seemingly popping up everywhere throughout St. Johns County and one of the places that has seen an influx of interest and growth in that area over the years has been at the Brown Family YMCA in Ponte Vedra Beach.
According to the location’s assistant executive director Cara Roach, the facility was using its gym to provide three pickleball courts, but the demand was getting too much, and it led to the addition of five outdoor courts as part of the new Maguire Family Pickleball Center, which has made a huge difference since its construction.
“We did our first tournament in the fall and there were 103 people that came out, so we had enough to even create a 70 and older division,” Roach said.
The next tournament hosted by the YMCA is scheduled for April 26-28 and is expected to be even bigger, as it will be three days long and the format will consist of teams instead of a round robin approach.
There has been so much interest of people wanting to get involved that they have begun offering a class for beginners to learn the sport of pickleball from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We had it in our gym pre-COVID and about 20 people were coming out, but then we started getting about 50 or so people during COVID, so it really seemed to escalate it,” Roach said.
They even have 130 people in the recently started pickleball club and are preparing to begin league play next month with different categories depending on age and experience level.
However, one of the aspects that Roach loves most about pickleball is that people can play together and have fun no matter what experience level they may have, which is something very rare among most sports.
She has also seen that pickleball is a sport that is relatively easily picked up by most everyone that tries it, which makes it a game that everyone can enjoy.
“I love the mixing of generations that takes place on a pickleball court,” Roach said. “I’ll walk around and a lot of times after school I’ll see middle schoolers will be playing with adults and everyone is just having a fun time.”
According to research by USA Pickleball, roughly 9 million people are pickleball players in the United States, and the Association of Pickleball Players performed a study that found nearly 50 million have played pickleball in the world within the last year.
There are various courts located across the First Coast and plenty of Facebook groups created to help spread the word about them and expand the ever-growing pickleball community in the area.
One of the promoters of pickleball locally is Laura Gainor, a Nocatee resident and creator of “Pickleball in the Sun,” which is a lifestyle brand and experiential pickleball marketing agency with the goal of highlighting premier pickleball experiences and destinations to play and how Northeast Florida fits into that.
“Travelers are now increasingly packing not just their golf clubs, but their pickleball paddles and tennis rackets when selecting their vacation destinations,” Gainor said.