Pickleball is growing in Santa Clara.
“You can think about it as a cross between ping-pong, tennis and badminton,” said Brandon Mackie of Pickleheads.com, the largest database of pickleball courts in the country, which helps people find courts.
“The game plays very similar to tennis on a miniature version of a tennis court about a third in size,” said Mackie. “But the equipment’s very different – a plastic paddle and a plastic ball, like you might use in ping-pong.
“It’s just a ton of fun,” continued Mackie. “A really easy sport for people to learn – and it’s been growing a lot over the last couple of years.”
Pickleball, a sport praised for its democratic fairness, was nevertheless started by a Republican, Joel Pritchard.
“I think there are two big reasons,” said Mackie in response to pickleball’s title as the country’s fastest growing sport. “Number one is just how easy the sport is for people to learn.
“Anybody, regardless of skill level, athleticism, or age can learn to play. Even in their first time out on the courts, you can win games – which really is not true of more technical sports like golf and tennis,” continued Mackie. “I think that’s really motivating for people and makes them want to come back and play again.
“And number two is the social aspect of the sport,” said Mackie. “There are lots of opportunities for conversation and I think a lot of people leave the courts with new friends – and that’s another reason why people come back and play.”
Mackie attributes the recent success of pickleball in Santa Clara to several reasons.
“I think a lot of what’s driving the growth is that pickleball is a sport you can play anywhere – indoors, outdoors, in gymnasiums. But from the data we see, there’s clearly a preference to being able to play outdoors,” said Mackie. “[The] Santa Clara area benefits from having really nice weather, which I think has really driven the sport forward.”
It remains to be seen whether the physical and social benefits of the game – which has attracted not only curiosity but controversy for its noise – will be appreciated by most Santa Clara residents.
The present popularity of the sport has been ascribed to the pandemic when people wanted something to play outdoors.
“One of the biggest periods of growth was during the pandemic,” Mackie said. “And we went from pickleball being played primarily indoors – in gymnasiums, YMCAs – to being played outdoors. And I think that’s drawn a lot of curiosity.”
Besides being the fastest growing, pickleball is the third most popular sport in the United States.
“The latest data we saw said that there are 36.5 million pickleball players in the US, which would make pickleball not only the fastest growing sport in America but one of the largest, just behind running and cycling, which are about 50 million each,” Mackie explained. “In the Santa Clara area, we’re seeing similar growth.”
For locals wanting to get their feet wet, there are currently a few options.
“There are a couple of options for people to play in the Santa Clara area,” said Mackie. “There’s an indoor facility at the Bascom Community Center. For outdoor courts, the Bay Club in Santa Clara is one of the top courts that we follow and it’s a really beautiful facility.
“And in the surrounding area, there’s an abundance of courts south of San Jose,” continued Mackie.
“I just hope everyone will get a chance to try the sport,” Mackie said. “It’s a ton of fun and anybody can learn it.”