Kind of Big Dill
Athletes and amateurs alike relish playing the unapologetically weird sport that’s gripping the nation.
It was the summer of 1965, and we have to assume alcohol was involved.
That’s when Senator Joel Pritchard, businessman Bill Bell and co-conspirator Barney McCallum found themselves messing around on Pritchard’s old badminton court, knocking a plastic Whiffle ball back and forth and realizing they’d just invented the best sport ever.
They named their sport “Pickleball” after “pickle boat,” a term Pritchard’s wife used to describe the slowest vessel in a rowing race. Your guess is as good as ours as to why, but now you understand our assumption that alcohol was involved.
With a speed that defied its namesake, the sport immediately took off, its popularity spurred on by how easy it was to learn and how approachable it was for younger and older athletes alike. By 1990, pickleball had reached every state in the union. By 2005, it had its own governing body, the USAPA.
By 2018, it was being called the “fastest-growing sport in the world that you’ve never heard of.” As of 2019, that last part is no longer true.
“There are more than three million people playing in the U.S., growing about 12 percent annually,” said Tony Gottlieb, tennis pro at The Savannah Golf Club and avid pickleball player.
The Savannah Golf Club hosts regular matches on its tennis courts, and even welcomed top-rated pickleball player Kyle Yates earlier this year for a special exhibition. The sport has become so popular the club employs a full time pickleball pro, Jaylen Brennan, who has not only grown the program but has spread the pickleball gospel throughout the area. But when a sport is this fun, the gospel almost tends to spread itself.
“The number one word we hear when people walk off the Pickleball court for the first time is ‘fun,’” said Gottlieb. “Some people describe it as a creative mixture of ping pong, badminton, and tennis played on a 44-foot court with a Whiffle ball.”
No matter how they describe it, everyone has discovered how much fun it can be.
Getting Started You can get on a court with an investment as little as a $20 for a paddle and $5 for balls. For more information go to pickleball.com and for information on the club, thesavannahgolfclub.com