Everything you need to know about pickleball, the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.
Pickleball is beloved by all ages — Photo courtesy of Halbergman / Getty Images
Pickleball — often described as a combination of tennis, Ping-Pong, and badminton — is sweeping the nation. In fact, it’s America’s fastest-growing sport.
Easy to learn and fun for all ages, here’s everything you need to know about the sport with the funny name, as well as 10 of the coolest courts in the U.S. where you can play.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. There’s no steep learning curve, tempting a wide spectrum of age groups and abilities to give it a try.
The intimidation factor is low and the inclusivity factor is high. The vibe on a pickleball court is usually friendly and social, and while there are indoor pickleball courts, it’s generally played outside. The pandemic broadened the appeal of fresh-air sports and pickleball benefitted.
The game, a paddle sport in which players hit a perforated plastic ball over a net, was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by a group of dads attempting to keep their kids entertained on a rainy day using old Ping-Pong paddles and a ball they had lying around. One of the men had a dog named Pickles who kept chasing the ball, quickly becoming the sport’s namesake. The adults started finessing the game, and the first permanent pickleball court was built in 1967.
Fun fact: Players are known as picklers.
How do you play pickleball?
Pickleball is a very social sport — Photo courtesy of LPETTET / Getty Images
One of the reasons pickleball is so popular is that it’s both fun for all ages and super easy to learn. The wiffle-like ball has less bounce and less speed than a tennis ball, and since pickleball courts are much smaller than tennis courts (you can fit four pickleball courts on a single tennis court), there’s less ground to cover. You also serve the ball underhand, which is fairly simple to master, and pickleball paddles are short, light, and easy to handle. You can play pickleball standing or in a wheelchair.
Pickleball has straightforward rules and can be played as singles or doubles. You serve diagonally into your opponent’s court, and they have one bounce to return the ball. The server must then also let the ball bounce once before returning it. After that, balls can be hit before they bounce, also known as “volleying.” However, there’s a designated area called “the kitchen” that’s 7 feet from the net on each side that prohibits volleying.
A typical game is 11 points and you need to win by two points.
Now that you know the rules, here are 10 really cool pickleball courts where you can try it for yourself.
On a cruise ship on the high seas
Pickleball at sea — Photo courtesy of Holland America
All ships in Holland America Line’s fleet have pickleball courts with top-deck views of the ever-changing seascape. Try a complimentary lesson or learn the rules by watching tutorial videos on your stateroom TV. Princess Cruises’ Discovery Princess, which launched in 2021, also boasts pickleball courts.
In New York City’s Central Park
Urban pickleball in NYC’s Central Park — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Play pickleball in the middle of New York City’s Central Park at City Pickle. Open daily from April through October, 14 pickleball courts surrounded by shady trees feature the city’s iconic skyline as a backdrop. Rent a courtside cabana, join a clinic, or expand your pickleball prowess and book a lesson with a pro.
At a desert resort and spa in Phoenix, Arizona
Pickleball in the desert — Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa
Ringed by Sonoran Desert scenery, the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa looks like an oasis. The resort has 17 pickleball courts plus a pro shop that carries paddles, balls, and assorted gear. After a game, beat the heat in one of the resort’s many swimming pools.
With a side of chicken at Chicken N Pickle
Pickleball with delicious food — Photo courtesy of Laura Kemp
Chicken N Pickle is an entertainment complex that combines pickleball with delicious food. There are venues in the Midwest, West, and Texas, with more branches on the horizon.
From Newbie Night for beginners to tournaments for seasoned players, all ages and abilities are welcome. A menu of wood-fired rotisserie chicken, sandwiches, and creative salads should fortify players for a game or three.
At an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico
Pickleball at an all-inclusive resort — Photo courtesy of Club Med Cancun
With three private beaches, an array of land and water sports, and eclectic dining options, the all-inclusive Club Med Cancun epitomizes vacation ease.
Players of all levels can improve their skills via daily tournaments or play just for fun at the resort’s courts, which are only steps from the bright blue Caribbean water.
Above the clouds in Colorado
Pickleball in the clouds — Photo courtesy of The Broadmoor
In Colorado, The Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp sits 9,200 feet above sea level atop Cheyenne Mountain, offering majestic views of Pike’s Peak. Open from May through October, getting there is part of the adventure; guests arrive by mule, foot, or SUV.
It’s a stunning setting in which to play pickleball. After you’ve had your fill of pickleball drills, enjoy guided hikes and evening campfires.
While sipping rosé in Napa Valley, California
Pickleball with a glass of wine — Photo courtesy of Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection
Napa Valley is a favorite destination for wine lovers — and now, picklers.
Surrounded by vineyards, guests of Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection can enjoy courtside wine service at the hotel’s pickleball courts. Who can resist pickleball with a glass of rosé?
By the beach in Oahu, Hawaii
Pickleball in paradise — Photo courtesy of Turtle Bay Resort
Turtle Bay Resort is a luxurious hotel on Oahu’s North Shore, known for its legendary waves and beautiful beaches. Its pickleball courts give aquatic activities a run for the money, enticing guests to pick up a paddle and play on courts encircled by palm trees.
Under the stars in Huntington Beach, California
Pickleball by the Pacific — Photo courtesy of Visit Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach is soaked in California sunshine and bathed in Pacific breezes. With miles of coastline, an old-fashioned pier, and a surf museum, it’s a hub of beach culture.
Picklers are as plentiful as waves. The town’s Surf City Pickleball Society offers lessons and camps and hosts the Surf City Pickleball Tournament each summer. Worthy Park’s public courts are free and lit in the evening so that you can swing a pickleball paddle under a starry night sky.
With ocean views on Cape Cod
Pickleball near Cape Cod’s sand dunes — Photo courtesy of Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club
Cape Cod’s hundreds of miles of coastline, sandy dunes, and marshes paint a pretty picture. Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club sits on Cape Cod Bay, with a low-key vibe that doesn’t distract from the maritime beauty.
The resort’s six pickleball courts offer court time, lessons, and clinics, all with a salty sea breeze.