GULF SHORES - Pickleball, a sport that until recently you may not have heard about. It actually started in the 1960s, but didn’t really catch on until the last ten years when it took the nation by …
GULF SHORES - Pickleball, a sport that until recently you may not have heard about. It actually started in the 1960s, but didn’t really catch on until the last ten years when it took the nation by storm, quickly becoming one of the fastest growing sport in the country. There’s been a rise in pickleball courts and tournaments everywhere, including here in Baldwin County. Pickleball Ambassador Eddie McDonald gathered a group of people who were ready to play, and the Bama Beach Pickleball Club was formed in Oct. 2017. There are now approximately 100 members. The group plays at the Gulf Shores Church of Christ Mon.-Sat. from 9 a.m. to noon and from 6 - 9 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. The cost is $3 per person, and a typical day sees around 35 players on the courts.
“All the money we collect from this we give to the church in exchange for them letting us play here, so it’s a win/win for everyone,” said McDonald. “We have a place to play and they get additional income. We started collecting money in Nov. 2017, when we had around 227 players, then in Nov. 2018 it jumped to 415 players, and then this past January we had 974 players.”
McDonald said snowbird season is the busiest time of year in our area, with the numbers doubling. Since Nov. 2017, the Bama Beach Pickleball Club has made over $35,000 to give to the church at just $3 per person, which McDonald states testifies how rapidly the sport is growing. Pickleball is a mix of ping pong, badminton, and tennis and is played on a smaller court than tennis.
“Most players are retirement age, but people can play pickleball at any age,” McDonald said. “We get a lot of people who love tennis but can’t play it anymore due to hip replacements or knee replacements, but they can play this sport. It’s given them a new lease on life as far as something to do.”
As a Pickleball Ambassador, McDonald organizes the local club and tournaments as well as trying to locate more places to play. This is problematic due to the rise in popularity of the sport and the number of new players looking to enjoy it as well. McDonald has been working closely with the cities of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Foley to dedicate pickleball courts in the tri-city area.
A few charitable tournaments have been hosted by the Bama Beach Pickleball Club over the past two years, one at the Gulf Shores Tennis Center with 170 players and two at the Foley Event Center with 90 players the first year and 204 the next. More tournaments are already planned, and new members are always encouraged. Membership is $20 a year and gives access to tournaments, community events, and club get-togethers and cookouts.
“It’s fun to see people doing this who would not normally be doing anything, it’s a lifesaver for lots of people,” he said. “I’ve heard stories from people who say how it has rescued them from health issues and mental health issues, because the great thing about this sport is it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can play. It’s so much fun to see people who have never held a paddle in their hand playing all the time: it’s a fun and addictive sport.”
Those who are looking for a place to play can download the Places to Play app and input your location to get a detailed map of nearby places that offer pickleball courts. For those who want to join the Bama Beach Pickleball Club, they have organized courts from beginner to advanced, so you can play with those who have similar levels. The sport is very social and offers lots of talking and laughing during the games, and when people aren’t playing at the club then they’re often chatting as they wait for an open court. And if you’re still unsure about the growth of pickleball in our area, you can find a YouTube video made by the Bama Beach Pickleball Club featuring a song written and performed by a club member here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxhOASFAktg. If you’re interested in learning more about the Bama Beach Pickleball Club, check out their website at https://bamabeachpickleballclub.teamapp.com.