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The Future Is Today

There’s no telling how long the pickleball craze might last. There is the chance it might go the way of bowling alleys, hula hoops and Davey Crockett coon skin caps. Those who remember such things will recall that Americans simply couldn’t get enough, until enough was enough. Each ran its course, only to be deposited in the dust bin of history. Right, I know some Landings bowling enthusiasts will cry foul. The Landings does have an active bowling league where spirited ten pinners match skills at a bowling lane somewhere in Savannah. But that somewhere, wherever it is, is a lot different than the number of lanes we had in the 50s and 60s. The bowling alleys of the 50s and 60s became supermarkets and warehouses in the 70s and 80s. Why did bowling (along with hula hoops, coon skin caps and so many other fads) run its course and fade away? The reasons are subject to debate, but whatever the reason, it did.

The pickleball craze on the other hand seems to be different. Those who doubt the durability of the sport might look to two leading growth indicators: The Landings Club and China. I wandered down to Franklin Creek at 11:00 on a recent Saturday for a semi-regular opportunity to live vicariously through those who are not sidelined due to some sort of injury. Not only was every court in use, courts nine through fourteen, which were reserved for New Neighbors were overflowing with people waiting their turn. According to Bob Lily, who currently organizes New Neighbors pickleball, fifty-five people had signed up to play. What that means is that instead of the six courts they are currently allocated, New Neighbors needs twelve courts! Lisa Tocci, the New Neighbors pickleball tsar two years ago says the number of participants exploded in 2022 and shows no sign of slowing. 

Many of the regular pickleball groups are populated by current and former New Neighbors picklers. Eric Larsen now heads the group I originally assembled five years ago. Many, if not most, of the group got their starts in New Neighbors. It might be said that the best indicator of future pickleball growth at The Landings is New Neighbor participation. Right now, they are telling us that we need more courts. Be patient, new courts are forthcoming.

China is often a reliable indicator of global trends. According to several online sources, China estimates it will have 10,000 courts and 100 million pickleball players in the next five years. Three things come to mind. First, if they have that many players, they are grossly underestimating the number of courts they’ll need. Second, the Selkirk family would be prudent to open pickleball stores in China. Imagine how wealthy the family will be if 100 million new Chinese players buy just one Selkirk paddle apiece. And finally, pickleball is similar to ping pong and China has some of the best ping pong players in the world. They might well move the needle on DUPR ratings.



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