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From Humble Beginnings

Conner Murphy, Treat Bui, Scott Mitchell, Joe Caruso (July 31, 2012)

By now we can probably assume that most, if not all, of the 1,000 Landings Club members who play pickleball, even infrequently, know that the sport was created by three friends on Bainbridge Island in Washington State in 1965. But did you ever wonder how pickleball came to The Landings?  Looking at our amazing and rapidly expanding pickleball campus today, it’s hard to believe that virtually none of it existed a decade ago.  So how and when did pickleball arrive on the island?

In the late summer of 2009, Landings tennis players Ed Masa, Dave Dawson and their wives visited The Villages in Florida and discovered a game that was easy to play and growing in popularity in that state.  Ed, in particular, saw the potential for the sport at The Landings and returned determined to introduce it to The Landings Club. It was not an easy task and initial efforts fell on deaf ears.  In 2009, the court sports program was led by Scott Mitchell who, like most (non-Florida) tennis pros at the time, viewed tennis as the primary reason for being.  

With very little support, resources or facilities, Ed, Joe Caruso and a small band of merry picklers kept the spark alive by playing on the tennis courts occasionally and learning the game from off-campus sources, including traveling to Sun City to look at their courts. By 2011, more people, including Jan Bishop and Melissa O’Brien, were playing on one of the old hard tennis courts, located where pickleball courts thirteen and fourteen are today. 

That April, Joe took the initiative to block out a pickleball court on what is now court thirteen. He used yellow duct tape and a net, which was borrowed from the Special Pops tennis program. Although the net was not quite regulation height, it was close enough, and all they had. At some point that year, the Club scraped up enough money to invest in four wooden paddles and one ball. From those humble beginnings pickleball began its ascent at The Landings Club.

After gaining that tenuous foothold, some members took it upon themselves to introduce other members to pickleball.  Between 2011-2013, Jan and later Melissa were instrumental in bringing more women to the game.  Jan arranged for visiting coaches to give clinics, and both led clinics for women.  Melissa gets credit for breaking the gender barrier at The Landings and was among the first women to play in the “men’s game” on the weekends.

Though still embryonic, the pickleball community here was growing and enthusiastic. In July 2012, Joe and Connor Murphy challenged Scott Mitchell and Treat Bui, who was the court maintenance supervisor, to a match on the makeshift court. This was the first time Scott had played pickleball and the experience convinced him that the Club needed to accommodate the growing interest in the sport.  It helped lay the groundwork for the first permanent court at the Landings—located on one side of the tennis wall—the following year.  While a small victory, that little court established a foothold that allowed the game to explode on campus, especially after pickleball advocate Chris Kader took over as Courts Sports director.  

NOTE: This is the first of a series of articles we will write covering the history of pickleball at The Landings Club. The next installment will deal with the rapid rise in pickleball popularity after Chris Kader arrived.



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