Pickleball is the hottest sport in the U.S. and Columbus is not immune to the fever, as the cars lined up and down W. Henderson Road this weekend affirmed.
The street traffic merely hinted at the number of people inside the Pickle & Chill, all there to catch a glimpse of the sport at the professional level.
Major League Pickleball selected Columbus to host one of its three tournaments this season.
“There’s already a great enthusiastic pickleball community here, and it’s only going to keep growing,” said David Kass, the owner of the Pickle & Chill. “Events like this and facilities like this opening up are only going to spur that growth even faster.”
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady are partial owners of MLP teams. However, one doesn’t have to be a professional athlete or a billionaire to enjoy the sport.
“All ages can play, all genders can play, all athletic abilities (and) all income levels,” MLP strategic advisor Anne Worcester said. “It’s very egalitarian.”
Worcester was the first female CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, and Kass played tennis at Michigan, where he was the 1992 Big Ten men’s player of the year. That’s perhaps unsurprising given the similarities between pickleball and tennis.
Kass, however, finds that pickleball has a somewhat simpler nature and can be learned more quickly. It’s a large part of the sport’s appeal.
It’s also very community-based.
“Pickleball is so social and so friendly and so approachable. You can show up to public courts, put your paddle in the fence, and when somebody loses and rotates out, you rotate in and you have three new friends. By the end of the match, you’re probably exchanging phone numbers to meet again to play pickleball together,” Worcester said.
Pickle & Chill features six indoor courts, a bar and lounge, and five outdoor courts. Kass said there are plans to expand the food operations and activities for children over the next 12-18 months.
But that’s only part of the reason MLP used two of the venue’s indoor courts Friday through Sunday for its tournament, which had a purse of $100,000, the largest in the league’s short history.
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“The more we learned about Columbus, the more we really liked the fact that it is a very sport-savvy city. (It’s) a very community-minded and engaged population, and the volunteer base is incredible,” Worcester said.
Pickle & Chill will host its grand opening for the public in November.