Pickleball explosion

Players of all ages are flocking to the Ocala Pickleball Club to enjoy this fast-growing sport.

Pickleball players participate in the Kings of the Courts event which took place at Coehadjoe Park in Ocala, Saturday, December 2.

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Posted December 12, 2023 | By Amy Panaia Davidson

Tucked away in Ocala’s Coehadjoe Park is a relatively unknown opportunity for Marion County residents to play one of America’s fastest-growing sports.

The park, at 4225 NE 35th St., offers eight pickleball courts where tournaments, practices and lessons regularly take place.

John Hunt, chairman of the Ocala Pickleball Club, said he has seen membership grow to 648 members and 144 active players since he established the LLC in 2019.

Pickleball attracts players of all ages and lifestyles, he said.

“We have people in their 80s who play here, and people of all ages,’’ Hunt said. “We do have some young players, but if you come here in the mornings, those are the retirees. The working class plays in the evenings.”

According to USA Pickleball, 4.8 million players nationwide have gravitated toward the sport. Even professional athletes including tennis star John McEnroe and former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Drew Brees compete in the sport.

It’s a sport that doesn’t require advanced athleticism or a deep financial investment, and it has been known to improve the quality of life for participants.

“You can develop a skill, and there’s a social aspect of it,” Hunt explained of the appeal of the game. “The benefits, in terms of longevity, it extends your life. It’s very addictive and the rules are very easy to follow.”

The cost to get started playing is substantially less than that of golf and other popular activities. Hunt said it’s simple to get started; new players need only a paddle and some pickleballs.

“For about $100, you can get started as a new pickleball learner. In fact, there is a local firm Engage Pickleball, located in Oxford, Florida, and they make the paddles there, and they have a retail store,” he added.

Marion County Parks and Recreation Director Jim Couillard was a catalyst in 2015 for the development of the courts when he saw a need and projected that if Marion County didn’t build pickleball courts, people would travel to other communities to enjoy the sport.

He spoke on what’s on the horizon within the county for pickleball players.

“We have two tennis courts that are crumbling in Belleview, so we’re going to rebuild those for tennis, but next to it we’re going to add some pickleball courts, hopefully by the end of 2024,” Couillard said.

Those interested in learning the game with a certified pickleball instructor can do so for a $5 donation on Tuesdays, Thursdays and once a month on Sundays at Coehadjoe Park. In addition to Marion County’s courts, players and new learners can use apps such as PicklePlay and PickleUp to connect with other players and to find courts all over the world.

“Light competition, where no medals are awarded, is another appeal to this game,” Hunt said. “This is for fun, this is for glory, this is for bragging rights.”

For more information, visit Ocala Pickleball Club, LLC.


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