Five years ago, convincing Life Time to open its tennis courts to a regional pickleball tournament was no easy task.
“We begged Life Time in Lakeville to use the tennis courts to sponsor a regional pickleball tournament,” recalled Frank Stucki, president of the Twin Cities Pickleball Club. Life Time gave in and the tournament was a huge success. “We had people from all over the country, we had 500 participants. “
Since then, sport has exploded. The USA Pickleball Association estimates there are more than 5 million players, an increase of 34% since 2017. And Life Time, based in Chanhassen, already one of the largest providers of indoor tennis in America. North, aims to become the largest operator of indoor tennis. pickleball courts around the country.
In early 2022, Life Time will open its first pickleball-focused club, a redesign of the former Bloomington North Fitness Center on 84th Street. This will follow the recent opening of new pickleball courts at Life Time clubs in Eden Prairie, Lakeville, White Bear Lake and St. Louis Park. Across the country, Life Time track clubs currently have nearly 200 pickleball courts, and that number will soon double, said Dan DeBaun, senior public relations specialist for Life Time.
Pickleball combines elements of racquetball, table tennis and regular tennis. It is played with a solid paddle and a hard plastic ball similar to a Wiffle ball. The court is about a third the size of a tennis court, which tends to make pickleball more accessible to older participants. But it also develops rapidly in adolescents and young adults.
“It’s easy to learn and grow and improve,” said Liam Halloran, a 14-year-old pickleball enthusiast from Excelsior. “You don’t have to spend that much time pickleball to have fun and feel good enough at it.”
Twin Cities Pickleball has seen its numbers rejuvenate. “At the very beginning, the average player was between 60 and 70 years old,” Stucki said. “And now we’re reaching the young executives, the 20’s and 30’s, and hopefully we get into the Junior Olympics.”
Given its broad appeal – the average pickleball player is 43.5 – Life Time began promoting the sport over the summer. “It’s appealing to all ages,” DeBaun said.
Scheduled to open in early 2022, Life Time Bloomington’s Pickleball Club will be equipped with five competition-level courts, a dedicated viewing area, bar and lounge area.
The push towards pickleball will not diminish Life Time’s interest in indoor tennis. “Pickleball makes perfect sense as an addition to our list of existing racquet sports,” said DeBaun. “As an introductory racquet sport, pickleball will only benefit tennis by attracting more players.”
Life Time has competition from boutique pickleball clubs.
The Lucky Shots Pickleball Club in Minneapolis is “all pickleball, all the time,” the tagline says. With 12 pickleball courts, avid players can participate in open play and reserve playing time. The Picklebarn, which opens next year in Mankato, is a 27,000 square foot pickleball tournament facility with eight land.
The Picklebarn plans to offer leagues, lessons, drills, walk-in games, lessons, private events and regional tournaments to “shed light on this awesome sport,” said Mitchell Elofson, co- founder with his wife Sidney. “We want everyone to feel welcome when they come in to play, whether they’re a seasoned veteran or picking up the paddle for the first time. We will offer something for all types of players.
Are pickleball centers the new bowling alley? “There’s a lot more land opening up in the Midwest,” said Laura Gainor, spokesperson for USA Pickleball. “It’s actually a vibrant market right now for all those entertainment venues that want to set up indoor courts with a bar or restaurant attached to them, giving more people the opportunity to play. “
The growing enthusiasm for the sport is creating a secondary market for pickleball accessories. You will now find a pickleball section in the sports department of most Target stores. “They come out with more clothes, more paddles, more gear,” Gainor said. “Brands like Franklin partner with professional players and sponsor tournaments, so just a wide variety of growth opportunities.”
Over the summer, Life Time hosted the Pro Pickleball Association’s Orange County Cup at their club Rancho San Clemente in California. It drew thousands of spectators and TV coverage, DeBaun said.
It’s not a fad, say pickleball enthusiasts and business owners.
“I absolutely believe it will be an Olympic sport. Besides being a fun sport to play, it’s a great sport for spectators, ”said Stucki. “It’s a real social game, but now it’s moving from social to competitive to commercial enterprise.”