Pickleball Rules in Brunswick County
The paddle sport is a smash hit in Brunswick County.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Michael Cline
Pickleball. The name might sound obscure, but the game, described as a cross between tennis, badminton and Ping Pong, is certainly not. Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the nation, and it’s booming in retirement communities throughout Brunswick County.
Seniors like it because it’s a low-impact version of tennis, with all of the fun but easier on the joints. Communities like Brunswick Forest and Compass Pointe can’t build courts fast enough. Seniors are showing up in droves. Gone are the placid pastimes of bocce ball and shuffleboard. Across Brunswick County, pickleball is the new game du jour.
“Pickleball is here and it’s here to stay,” says Marty Smith, local pickleball ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association (USAPA). As ambassador, Smith is charged with introducing and growing the sport in the area. In addition to owning his own pickleball paddle business (BF Pickleball Paddles), Smith teaches training classes up to four times a week. He estimates that he’s taught thousands to play in Brunswick County.
The bug has bit heaviest in Brunswick Forest. In 2011 the development had two pickleball courts and 10 or 12 players, Smith says. Today there are 10 courts, and the development’s Brunswick Forest Pickleball Club boasts nearly 500 members. The courts are busy seven days a week.
Pickleball has become so popular that pickleball courts have become a selling point for developments looking to woo potential customers. Agents often drive clients past the courts while on property tours.
“More people retire every day, and they’re looking for something to do,” Smith says. “Pickleball is one of the top choices. It gets people away from the computer and the television and gets them out of the house.”
There’s also a social aspect to the game, Smith adds. Players often get together for coffee after a match, and more than 150 people showed up recently for a pizza party thrown by the Brunswick Forest Pickleball Club, whose motto is “Get out of the kitchen and onto the court.”
“It brings people out together and meeting people,” says Jennifer Ludwig, an avid pickleball player and Brunswick Forest resident. At a friend’s suggestion, Ludwig and her husband tried pickleball a few years ago. They were hooked immediately. “I have not seen anyone pick up a paddle and play and not want to come back and play again,” she says, adding that the game reminds her of high school and college, when she participated in organized athletics.
Pickleball is played on a court the size of a badminton court, much smaller than a tennis court. Players hold paddles about twice the size of a Ping Pong paddle and volley a lightweight wiffle ball back and forth until someone faults by missing the ball or hitting it out of bounds. Teams or singles play until one of them reaches a score of 11. Ludwig said it’s like playing Ping Pong while standing on the table.
Smith rebukes the notion that pickleball is anything like tennis. “It’s not as invasive on the joints as tennis is,” he says. Also, a tennis ball can travel 100 mph, while a pickleball is a wiffle ball that practically floats.
Pickleball is a little safer for the senior set. “In tennis you step backward to hit, in pickleball you step forward,” Smith says. He coaches players not to step backward while playing pickleball to prevent falls. He also instructs them to wear the proper shoes.
Pickleball can be played at a much slower pace, Ludwig says. “You can play at all different levels, which makes it fun for everybody. I don’t know many sports besides golf that you can play at any age.”
The origins of the game can be traced to a backyard on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965. Two men, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, arrived home one cloudy day to find their families moping around the house. The kids were getting on each other’s nerves, so Pritchard and Bell sent them outside to play. The two men scrounged up some Ping Pong paddles and a wiffle ball and arranged a makeshift court on the blacktop in the back yard. They assembled a badminton net and instructed the kids to volley the ball with the paddles back and forth over the net. Hours later the kids were still at it, and Pritchard and Bell thought they might be on to something.
The next week they introduced the new game to the neighbors and before long the entire block was playing it. The rules were based on badminton with a few variants. The net was lowered from 60 inches to 36 inches to allow players to hit the ball on a bounce. Other rules conformed the game based on obstacles in the yard. For instance, there’s a rule in pickleball that the server must have one foot within the baseline during serve. This rule was crafted because there was a tree behind the baseline in Joel Pritchard’s yard. The only way to avoid hitting the tree during the backswing of the serve was to have one foot within bounds, a rule that survives to this day.
As to the name of the game, the story goes that the Pritchard’s owned a cocker spaniel named Pickles. Every time the ball would land off the court, Pickles would pick it up and run away. “Pickle, ball!” the players would shout and the dog would bring the ball back. When it came time to name the new game, the choice seemed clear.
The men formed a corporation in 1972 to protect the creation of the new game. In 1976 Tennis magazine published an article titled “America’s Newest Racquet Sport,” and the rest is history. Today, the sport has its own national governing body along with Pickleball Magazine, websites dedicated to the sport, YouTube videos and “The Pickleball Show” weekly podcast. The game is played as far afield as India and Spain.
Smith thinks pickleball might someday find its way to the Olympics. “It’s a sport of the future,” he says.
Want to play?
For a list of public pickleball courts in Brunswick County, visit usapa.org. To learn the game, call Marty Smith at (703) 928-1619.