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Anyone for pickleball? | The Royal Gazette:Bermuda Tennis/Squash

Sam Murley

Published Apr 3, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 2, 2019 at 10:53 pm)

Return to sender: Judith White is just one of a number of local people who have started to play the sport of Pickleball at Pomander Gate Tennis Club  

(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Return to sender: Judith White is just one of a number of local people who have started to play the sport of Pickleball at Pomander Gate Tennis Club (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Eye on the ball: Anne Neher plays a forehand shot at the Pomander Gate Tennis Club

(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Eye on the ball: Anne Neher plays a forehand shot at the Pomander Gate Tennis Club (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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What do you get when you combine elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis?... that’s right, pickleball!

No, this is not a late attempt at an April Fool’s joke and you did read that correctly, pickleball, a sport that combines a badminton-sized court with a modified tennis net, using an oversized plastic table-tennis bat and plastic ball with holes.

Intriguing by name and nature, since its inception in 1965, the game has now become one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, with more than 2.8 million players and played everywhere from elementary schools, community centres, country clubs and even behind bars in several jails across the country. It is also the latest sporting craze to hit the shores of Bermuda after Pomander Tennis Club members Andrew Doble and Christine Brenchley fell in love with the sport so much in The Villages in Sumter County, Florida, that they brought the game with them home to the island.

Since then, the club has helped pioneer the sport’s integration into Bermuda’s already bulging active and recreational scene, with its popularity growing.

“We have a number of members here who are also members at clubs abroad and they had the idea to try the sport in Bermuda,” said David Thomas, a Bermuda tennis player and marketing and communications officer at the Hamilton club.

“Initially, we put down temporary lines and then, because it really took off, we put down permanent lines. We are the pioneers of the game here in Bermuda and that is a big thing the club are trying to focus on.

“I know a number of other clubs are looking into the sport, but we have that head start on others and we are trying to grow it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I think everyone who hears the name will have that initial intrigue and scepticism, but once you see it and have a go, you’ll be converted, no doubt.

“It’s a minority sport for sure at the moment, but if we can improve that going forward, then who knows how big it could get.

“Because it has caught on so rapidly, we’re looking to turn our combined tennis and pickleball court into a permanent pickleball court with four separate courts on it.

“I’m not saying we are going to become an exclusive pickleball club, but the sky is the limit. If the popularity that we’ve seen continues to grow as it has, then it is certainly promising.”

As well as being a major boost for the club itself, with more than 20 new members signing up solely through the introduction of pickleball, Thomas, who works closely with the Bermuda Tourism Authority, also believes its burgeoning popularity could have a positive effect with attracting people to the island in the future.

“In the US, it is known as the fastest growing sport and we are trying to capitalise on that, both from a sport aspect and in terms of tourism,” he added.

“There are tournaments up and down the East Coast of the US and if we can put something similar on, then we can attract a host of new tourists to the island. You can build on that and create something over a number of years.”

Aside from its future marketing potential, Thomas revealed the most satisfying immediate aspect about the sport’s introduction to the club has been the benefits on their elder members.

“I’m very much a tennis purist, but this is amazing for the club from the point of view that we are getting more people out and being active,” he said. “Even if it’s not tennis, they’re passionate about what they’re doing and that makes it easy to support.

“It is no secret we have an ageing population and it is a fantastic sport for them to get involved in.

“We have an older generation predominantly that are playing regularly, but for any player, particularly the very young, it is a great way to build their motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination with the bat and ball.

“It is also great from a social aspect. It gets people together and allows them to get out and be active together while socialising, which is also massively important.

“It’s easy to pick up, is great fun and a really inclusive sport. I can’t recommend it enough.”

One such person to benefit from its introduction is Anne Neher, who has become a regular player and echoed Thomas’s sentiments about the positives of the game.

“As a former tennis player, I love pickleball,” she said. “It’s one of the closest sports to tennis, but without the side-to-side motion, which helps if you have injuries like myself.

“You don’t have the same pressure on the knees and it is just a little easier to get into.

“For me, it’s the perfect sport and activity to get into for our ageing population.

“You pick it up pretty easily; it’s a great workout for anyone and is just a brilliant thing to get involved with.”

Another regular player, Pomander Tennis Club president Ed Sousa, elaborated further on the sport’s holistic and wellbeing benefits as he sets his sights on continuing to aid its already rapidly growing participation.

“One major advantage of the sport is that it isn’t as strenuous as tennis or badminton,” he added. “Myself and a number of the older players have injuries and so while we can’t play tennis any more, we can play this.

“We tend to play for two hours a day, if not more, and that has fantastic benefits for the older generations to keep us active and healthy. It’s much easier to master than say tennis, which takes years. Pickleball is far more forgiving and can be picked up a lot quicker by anyone, which is one of its big appeals.

“The social side of the game is great as well; we all rotate and play one another and you get to meet different people.

“However, it isn’t just for the older people; we’ve had people of all ages play the sport and they all loved it.

“I think over time you’ll see people of all ages playing the sport in Bermuda.

“Our aim is to be the centre of pickleball on island and we’d love to host tournaments in the future.

“For us as a club, it isn’t a question of tennis or pickleball; we can offer both and see both sports coexist and thrive.”

. Anyone interested in trying out pickleball can do so with Pomander Gate Tennis Club offering a drop-in session rate of $2 a session with equipment included, on Monday to Saturday between 9 to 11am. There is also a special pickleball individual membership rate at $300 a year. Anyone interested can contact the club at pgtc@northrock.bm or by calling 236-5400

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