The St. James is Now Home to the Pickleball Craze

Yes, we are now home to pickleball.

The zeitgeist of the unexpected racquet phenom is undeniable: seemingly overnight, pickleball's become one of America's most popular games, attracting legions of fans and millions of active players. Your mother plays it – so do Bill Gates and DiCaprio – you might, too. According to the 2021 Sports & Fitness Industry Associations (SFIA) Report, there was a 21.3% increase in pickleball players between 2019 and 2020, more than any other sport. So how did this fledgling game with a childish moniker become a billion-dollar business and take over the athletic world?

It all started with Congress.

Pickleball's Origin(al) Story

In 1965, U.S. Representative Joel Pritchard and neighbor Bill Bell returned from a golf outing to Pritchard's summer home in Bainbridge, Washington. Maybe someone lost a bet on the course because they were still itching to play something. Badminton, perhaps? 

They had a tattered old court but none of the right gear. So they improvised: Ping-pong paddles. A lowered net (3 feet). One whiffle ball (ish). And so this slapdash Frankenstein of a game met its maker as Mr. Pritchard unwittingly legislated the most viral sport of 2022 into existence in his Pacific Northwest backyard.

"Daddy, daddy – what do you call it?" his kids may have chirped.

Pritchard glanced over at their family hound snatching the ball mid-match, its name tag clear in the flurry: Pickles. And so the game was born.

Eventually, the duo organized the pickleball rules with Barney McCallum, known for creating the accessible retail kit that helped make the game a household name. This makeshift paddle game spawned by mistake remained a low-key, quiet favorite for decades – Washington State's sports secret slowly snaking its way into the mainstream.

Pickleball Goes Public

Half a century after its humble inception, the USA Pickleball Association (USAP) opened its doors and wallets (a prize pickleball purse can now net you six figures) in 2005 – a feat its originators could hardly fathom. Its first official tournament kicked off in 2009, attracting the best 400 players from 26 states – in the meanwhile, they published the veritable Bible of the game with the official pickleball rule book and established a national membership system. The 50,000-strong USAP member community is still merely a drop in the pickle jar when considering the 3.3 million people who claim to paddle it up on the reg (that number's inevitably jumped since this writing).

There's also the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida, and a streaming deal with CBS Sports to broadcast the Pickleball Pro Association (PPA) Summer Championship in L.A., complete with corporate sponsorship courtesy of Sketchers.

Somewhere, Pritchard's laughing right now.

The Perks of Being A Pickleball

Pickleball's magnetic pull is universal: everyone seems to love the game, from curious toddlers to silver-haired retirees. It's a motley mix of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong in a sprawling 20-foot by 44-foot space. You make a racquet with singles or doubles competitions with underhand serves. And then you play again. And again. And ag–

The playing ground also features a "kitchen" — seven feet extending from the court to the sidelines, where the action gets hot.

A pickleball perk is its barely-there learning curve, i.e., anyone can play. And everyone does. There's more young blood in the leagues than you'd think, with the 18-36 demo being one of its fastest-growing. Colleges are apt pupils of this game, too, adding pickleball courts and clubs to their campuses so that pajama-clad undergrads can have a quick paddle session before cutting across the quad for their recitation. 

Pickleball spots are popping up like Starbucks – with over 38,000 courts in every state, from the DMV to Honolulu. 

The Age of Pickleball

Most sports have been around for a painfully long stretch.

Soccer predates Jesus, track relays abounded in the ancient Athenian Greek Olympics, and the American Big Three of football, basketball, and baseball all have their roots squarely in the sepia-toned 1800s.

Pickleball's a purely 20th-century game (an infant in sports years) having its cultural moment in 2022. Sports now have to contend with their complicated histories and the digital gaming industry behemoth – competing with Roblox YouTubers, Fortnite Twitch streamers, and Minecraft influencers. Kids want to be Ninja as much as they want to be LeBron (perhaps more).

Pickleball proves there's still an appetite for a new analog game, that sports can find reinvention, new life, and millions of eager players willing to try something that, as far as they know, didn't exist until a few years ago. And now, everyone can play at The St. James. Before you paddle up, note the following details:

  • Please check in at the front desk and find pickleball openings in the Court House Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 7:00 A.M. - 12:00 P.M.
  • Two courts are available on a first-come, first-serve basis (waiting players will stack paddles)
  • Free for Members, $7 for Non-Members (players must be 14 years+)
  • Please wear court shoes (no dark-soled shoes)

Feel free to bring your pickleball pals with your guest pass – check in at the front desk, and we'll see you on the court. Now, make Pritchard proud. Play ball.