Pickleball, Anyone?

Bringing Pickleball to Central Georgia’s Premier Retirement Community

There’s something taking over Carlyle Place—pickleball! This pastime has become so popular here at our active adult community in Macon, Georgia, that we’ve installed a brand-new court for residents to use all year long. The reliably pleasant climate is sure to draw many to the tennis-like sport.

Never heard of pickleball? You’re not alone. While still a pretty niche little game, it’s become a true American sport with its own national league and championship tournaments shown on ESPN. It’s not something you’ll see at the Summer Olympic Games, but that could change as its international popularity grows. How did this backyard game become so ubiquitous in retirement communities? 

Origins of pickleball

In the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island (off the coast of Washington State), a group of vacationing families were struggling to keep themselves entertained. There wasn’t much to do for kids on the Seattle-adjacent island at the time, so Congressman Joel Pritchard and envelope mogul Bill Bell tried to start a game of badminton. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any of the badminton-specific racquets. Undeterred by a lack of equipment, the two men improvised with ping pong paddles and a plastic whiffle ball they had around the cabin. They made the game up as they went along, borrowing rules from tennis, ping pong and badminton. After establishing some makeshift rules of play, the families spent the rest of the weekend popping the plastic ball across the little net. The inventors were so enthused by the game that they wrote out specific court dimensions and scoring criteria so they could recreate the game at home.

When the families returned to suburban Seattle from Bainbridge Island, Bill Bell used his band saw to create the first pickleball racquets out of plywood. It just so happened that the width of their residential street was the same as the court dimensions they had determined. The Pritchard children, who had been on the family vacation, were enthusiastic to share their fathers’ new game with neighborhood friends.

In 1967, the first official pickleball court was constructed on paved cement in the backyard of Pritchard’s neighbor. By word of mouth, the popularity of the game spread. Bill Bell started getting requests from friends and neighbors for their own sets and nets. Although Bell was a businessman, his industry was stationary. He formed a small company based around the game if only to keep track of the money they were making. Soon after, the game was incorporated to protect the copyright on the rules and equipment.

When then president of The New York Times got wind of the new game, he asked the inventors if they’d consider commercializing it. And so Pickle-ball, Inc. was born. After that, the orders for kits came flying in. Bell bought all the badminton nets and Kazam balls he could find to satisfy the demand. The children of the inventors appeared on the original packaging.

An article in the National Observer in 1975 really put pickleball on the map. The game was picked up by local universities as well as family recreation destinations around the United States. By 1984, the game was a smash hit. The first official rulebook was published, and the founding of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) occurred. The rest is, as they say, history. In 2015, pickleball was recognized as the fastest growing sport in the United States. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but the game has taken an especially popular role in retirement communities.

The pickleball phenomenon in retirement communities

In 2002, a popular Florida retirement community held the first national championship establishing pickleball as a popular sport for active adult communities. The 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association report on pickleball notes that of the 1.4 million regular players, 60 percent are 55 and older and 33.7 percent of those are 65 and older.

What is it about this game that appeals to the 55 and older crowd? For one, it’s a game that encourages socialization. Making new friends and having a good time is what life at Carlyle Place is all about. Countless studies show the importance of making new connections at any age, and games are a great way to spend time with new people.

Golf remains a popular sport with people older than 50, but there are only so many times one can swing a club in the mid-day heat before the game becomes a little stale. Pickleball is a faster pace and keeps participants in more active play without some of the rigor of traditional tennis, making it easier on the knees and joints. The court in pickleball is much smaller, which cuts down on the amount of running back and forth players must do.

Aerobic activity is an essential part of staying healthy and limber as we age. Any game that kicks up a little sweat and maintains hand-eye coordination is perfect for retirees. Not to mention, it brings laughs and smiles to players and lowers the risk of depression and isolation that can be a common issue in aging populations. At Carlyle Place, we see so much value in the health and social benefits of pickleball that we collectively funded impressive new courts to keep the fun going!

New courts at Carlyle Place  

In May 2022, we celebrated the dedication of our new courts. Since then, there hasn’t been a moment that residents haven’t heard the frisky squeaks of tennis shoes on hot pavement. Carlyle Place is the first and only active adult community in the central Georgia area to boast an official pickleball complex on campus.

One resident, a former tennis player, Mavis Trice spoke to WGXA News about her love of the game. “As a resident, visiting with others who are observing and watching and talking pickleball, this is fantastic.” She now prefers this sport to regular gym workouts. “It has cut my time in the gym, every day, to stay fit.”

We invite you to come see what all the fuss is about and cheer on our residents as they play doubles. Bring your tennis shoes and play a round or two! For more information, call 478-405-4500 to arrange an on-campus visit or speak with one of our Life Plan Advisors.

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