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The courts at The REsort at Longboat Key Club.

How to Take Up Pickleball at Longboat Key Club

What looks a lot like badminton, functions mostly like tennis, and is as laid-back as ping pong? The answer is pickleball, a 57-year-old sport that has picked up a huge new fan club over the last couple of years. “Interest in pickleball has definitely increased since the pandemic,” says Briana François, Director of Racquet Sports at The Resort at Longboat Key Club on the barrier island of Longboat Key, Florida. So much so that the club is in the process of adding four new pickleball courts to meet the demand. 

Why is pickleball so popular? “It’s another outdoor sport to play, less technical training is required than with tennis, so it’s easier to learn, and it’s extremely social and welcoming,” François says. “You can just show up on the court and get into a game.” Find out the history behind the sport and everything else you need to know to get started at the Longboat Key Club!


Who Invented Pickleball?

Pickleball was dreamed up in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by three friends whose kids were clamoring for a new activity. They put together equipment from various incomplete sets, made up the rules, and named the game after a cocker spaniel owned by one of the families (or so legend has it). 

Typically played as doubles on a badminton-sized court, with flat paddles, a low net, and a plastic ball with holes that resembles a whiffle ball, pickleball had been gaining popularity at a steady pace until 2020. That’s when COVID sparked the search for safe, fun ways to connect with others — and pickleball exploded. USA Pickleball, the sport’s official association, had its largest single growth year in 2021, with a 43 percent increase in membership from the previous year.

Is Pickleball Fun for All Ages?

François, who learned the game when she began working at Longboat Key Club three years ago, says it’s a multigenerational game that’s great for families. She has a built-in pickleball doubles match at home: She got her husband hooked on the sport last summer, and now they’re teaching their 6-year-old and 9-year-old to play.

With simple rules and less demanding technique than other racquet sports — but a larger variety of shots and angles — the game is easy for beginners to grasp, and can also be played at competitive levels for experienced picklers, as the sport’s devotees call themselves. There’s even a U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, with the next tournament scheduled for April 2023 in Naples, Florida. 

With some 5 million Americans now playing pickleball, the sport has made its way into popular culture and into one of our most meaningful social rituals: weddings. Couples are getting married on the pickleball court and incorporating games into their destination wedding schedules. With newly renovated luxury accommodations, a serene stretch of beach that’s ideal for outdoor ceremonies, and the largest resort marina on the west coast of Florida, the Resort at Longboat Key Club is an ideal location for a pickleball-inspired nuptials for those who are so inclined. Plus, there’s a full-service spa on site to ease sore muscles post-game.

How to Learn Pickleball at Longboat Key Club

The club, which is open to both members and guests staying at the resort, offers regular clinics for beginner and intermediate pickleball players, as well as private lessons and open play sessions. Because a pickleball game takes less time than a tennis match, it’s easier to rotate in and out and get more time on the court. The club’s pickleball pros also help set up games and are planning to establish leagues for the sport once the new courts are complete.

If you’re lucky, you’ll also catch one of the club’s special events, which often involve racquet sports. The pickleball tournaments are more like block parties than serious competitions, with music, drinks, laughter, and a few good-natured insults lobbed across the net along with the ball. “We’ve got a great community here,” François says. “With any sport there’s a certain amount of competitiveness, and with pickleball, that means lots of friendly trash talking.”

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