With what appears to be a Wiffle Ball, an over-sized ping-pong racquet, and a popping sound going back and forth, residents of Sun City Vistoso lined up to play pickleball last week.
Pickleball is a growing trend at many of the area’s retirement communities. Sun City has more than 135 members in its pickleball club, Sunflower more than 70 and SaddleBrooke is viewed as the Northwest’s leader with many of its members competing in tournaments, and helping other groups establish programs.
While the sport may be gaining traction in Oro Valley and Marana, it has been around for decades. According to the USA Pickleball Association website, it was originally created in 1965 by three dads whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities. Its name came from an unlikely source – the co-inventors’ family cocker spaniel who chased stray balls and hid them in the bushes.
Hulett Wyckoff, vice president of Sunflower’s pickleball club, said he’s been playing for 45 years.
“I think it should be played everywhere. It’s just so much fun,” he said. “It’s fun because of the rallies. You can hit the ball as hard as you can. It’s a really physical game. You have to move around. I think teenagers would like it as much as we do.”
Just before playing a couple sets of his own on June 8, Ted Hood, president of Sun City’s pickleball club, said he moved to the area in September 2009 and had never heard of it.
“We gave it a try, and found it’s an active sport with a lot of social opportunity,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time. You can play for two hours and get plenty of exercise, and it doesn’t cost a lot for equipment.”
Despite more than 100 members, Hood said the Sun City program is fairly new, receiving input from SaddleBrooke players to learn the rules of the game.
What is pickleball?
According to the USA Pickleball Association website, “Pickleball is a fun sport played on a badminton-sized court with the net lowered to 34 inches at the center. It is played with a perforated plastic ball similar to the Wiffle Ball and a wood or composite paddle about twice the size of a ping-pong paddle. It can be played indoors or outdoors, is easy for beginners to learn – but can develop into a fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players. In addition to being fun, the game has developed a reputation for its friendly and social nature.”
The social aspect is what a lot of players are boasting about. Realtor Judy Hale joked about skills being secondary to spending time with friends at Sun City.
The Sun City group rotates its play on the two courts. It plays four players at a time, playing to 11 points and using scoring rules similar to tennis.
“The key is to keep the ball in play until your opponent makes a mistake,” said Hood. “And, that’s where your skills come in.”
Hood demonstrated his skills several times throughout the June 8 competition while he schooled some young players on the dink.
The dink is one of the most effective shots in pickleball. Its main purpose is to prevent your opponents from gaining or keeping an offensive advantage. The dink is a soft shot that is hit just hard enough to clear the net, but not so hard as to allow your opponent to aggressively volley the ball.
After playing several sets, Barbara Satterly said she uses pickleball to get moving.
“I don’t usually exercise, so I started coming here every morning,” the Sun City resident said. “It makes me move and we have a great group of people out here playing.”
From Hood and Wyckoff to Satterly, all of the players said pickleball is addictive.
“You just get hooked,” said Satterly. “If you’ve had tennis experience coming in, you are set.”
For players interested in taking up pickleball, log on to http://usapa.org/ptp/index.php for listing near your ZIP code.