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Pickleball Group Hopes To Expand Nations Fastest Growing Sport In Lubbock

Rob Avila
Texas Tech Public Media
Davis Wright leads a morning pickleball workout at the Lubbock Country Club

Pickleball is a sport that’s both easy to pick up and hard to master. It can be described to beginners as simply “ping pong on steroids” or described by those who play it competitively as akin to “4-Dimensional chess.” It’s this range of play — accessible to all ages and skill levels —that has allowed pickleball to blossom across the U.S. and has one Lubbock group looking to build a dedicated facility for the sport.

Pickleball is a racquet sport combining elements of badminton, tennis and ping pong. It is played with paddles and plastic balls with holes, similar to wiffleballs. The sport started in Seattle in 1965 as a casual way to pass time one summer. You can see this in its name. Pickleball was named by a founder of the sport, after his dog named Pickle.

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America. A 2021 Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) report estimates the sport grew 21.3% from 2019 to 2020 up to around 4.2 million players.

Lubbock Country Club pickleball instructor Davis Wright said, he’s seen the sport grow amongst members and across the city, with most retail stores now carrying pickleball equipment.

“We’ve gone from not being able to find stuff to now you can find it at Academy, Walmart — it’s just people pick [pickleball] up quick,” he said.

The club recently converted tennis courts to host newly dedicated pickleball courts. Members are now offered morning group workouts and an evening social session of pickleball.

The sport has grown both recreationally and competitively. It even has its own national association — USA Pickleball — and features a professional tour. The Professional Pickleball Association, which manages competitive tournaments, recently partnered with Fox Sports to broadcast championship matches starting this October.

“The big thing about pickleball is, it has a broad spectrum of very social and recreation and pick up type, situations where people can just walk up and play,” said Hunter Blanchard, president of the group, Lubbock Plays Pickleball. “And then it gets competitive where it’s pros like the PGA tour.”

The group holds a featured presence promoting the sport in the city. Some members have played pickleball for around ten years, starting with a dedicated group playing on reappropriated tennis courts at Davis Park.

The group has since expanded their presence across Lubbock County. They’ve grown in members who socialize and communicate through their Lubbock Plays Pickleball Facebook group. Their main location is the city’s public Burgess-Rushing Tennis Center (BRTC) where they have eight dedicated pickleball courts.

In 2019, the city budgeted $262,260 to add an additional eight courts to BRTC. But Blanchard said the expansion isn’t enough for the groups anticipated growth.

“National statistics show if you add eight, you’ll need to double in the next few years,” he said. “That would be fine but [at BRTC] we basically would run out of land with the lake and storm water drainage.”

The group's plan is to build a dedicated facility for pickleball with around 16 courts, some indoor, covered and outdoor, estimated to cost around $2 million. They plan to invest the initial budget into the project and are currently seeking non-profit status to raise the additional funds.

Blanchard said in talks with the city, the potential location could be McAlister Park. But the group is waiting for a decision from the City of Lubbock’s Parks and Recreation department in their upcoming Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Master Plan.

The plan is still in development. Until then, you can find the group playing pickleball Monday through Saturday at Burgess Rushing Tennis Center.

Rob Avila, J.D, is a reporter at Texas Tech Public Media. You can follow him on social media @Robavila_TTUPM.