This story originally appeared in the August 2015 edition of Georgia's Cities.
Pickleball and disc golf appear to be taking many Georgia cities by storm, attracting young and mature adults to city parks and recreational facilities—without large government investments.
Pickleball, according to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), is a paddle sport designed for all ages. It is described as a combination of Ping-Pong, tennis and badminton and can be played with two or four players. Play is on a badminton-sized court with the net lowered to 34 inches at the center. The ball is a perforated plastic ball similar to a wiffle ball and the paddles are about the twice the size of Ping-Pong paddles. It can be played indoors or outdoors and is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players. Three dads started the game in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Wash. and today the game is growing in popularity across the country and in Georgia. On its website, the USAPA list pickleball venues in more than 25 Georgia cities.
“We have been in the pickleball business for about three years,” said Roswell Parks and Recreation Director Morgan Rodgers. “It came out of our mature adult program because it is a slower version of tennis. We were approached by a group of folks who played in Florida and wanted to start the game here. We started by putting down some lines with [non-gummy] tape on our gym floor and scheduled open pickleball dates. We now have leagues in two of our parks and there is also some interest at the high school level.”
Rodgers said the city invested in nets and equipment, spending less than $500. “The good news about this particular program is that there is not a lot of cost,” he said. “Most people bring their own balls and paddles.”
Retired Athens-Clarke County resident Ken Calkin plays pickleball almost every day after learning about the game from his son about three years ago.
“It is so much fun,” he said. “Compared to tennis, it doesn’t require the same skill or speed and it is easier to learn.”
He asked parks and recreation leaders in Athens-Clarke County to provide places to play and the city made provisions at the downtown Lay Park gym.
“Nobody was using the gym in the morning during the school year,” Calkin said. Now pickleball enthusiasts can play in Athens-Clarke County at various facilities throughout the week.
“At Lay Park, the seniors mostly play in the day and a few 18-to-20-year-olds play at night. Some of us 75-year-olds go out and play with them. That is the great thing about pickleball—various age groups and skill levels can play together and have fun.”
Retired physician David Block, started playing pickleball in Athens with Calkin then moved to Hiawassee a couple of years ago and promotes the game there.
“There were four or five people that I knew of playing it when I moved here, now we have close to 200,” he said. “Unused tennis courts that had fallen into disrepair were resurfaced as pickleball courts. We are now running out of court space and the county is looking at putting courts on existing tennis courts.”
Block touts the game’s health and sociological benefits to mature adults as well as the economic benefits to the area, noting that pickleball tournaments are attracting visitors to the area and helping to fill local hotels and motels.
“The game is a great cardio workout for older adults because it is easy to learn, low impact but fast moving, often lasting about 15 minutes,” he said. “With a 1-ounce ball, there is also a low injury risk. There is also the social aspect, which is important for mature adults to maintain. We play together and we often go and eat lunch together.”
Block is also working with fellow players and area leaders to teach the game to others. “Our long term thoughts are to donate paddles and our time to teach pickleball in secondary schools and at retirement homes.”
For more information on pickleball visit: usapa.org
Disc golf is another popular recreation activity in Roswell. The object of disc golf is to throw a Frisbee-style disc into a metal basket called a “hole.” The targets are arranged along a course, similar to holes in the game of golf. The winner of the game gets the most discs in the basket with the fewest number of tosses.
“We have had disc golf for about six years,” Rodgers explained. “We have an 18-hole course and all of our holes go through the woods. With that program, we had help from volunteers who cleared the course. We mapped out the course similar to a golf course but we didn’t have to take trees down, just underbrush. The baskets cost about $250 a piece. Once we put the baskets in, we had tournaments, raised money and then put in concreate tee boxes. On the tee box, a player takes a couple of steps and throws the disc.” While there was an initial expenditure to purchase the baskets and build the tee boxes, the cost to maintain the course is low, Rodgers said.
Augusta has had a public disc golf course for nearly six years. Its course is listed with the Professional Disc Golf Association and there is a local association promoting play.
“We have college kids that play, young kids and seniors,” said Tommy Anglin, the facility maintenance supervisor for Augusta’s Pendleton King Park. “It is growing. People play it constantly, just about every day. We also have tournaments.”
Anglin said when the city built the course it brought more families to the park. Maintenance is minimal with volunteers helping to maintain the course.
“Once you get the course established it is not that much upkeep,” Anglin said.
For more information on disc golf visit: pdga.com/introduction
Rodgers notes that Roswell’s pickleball and disc golf programs were implemented after residents asked for them.
“Neither one of those ideas were generated internally,” he said.
Rodgers advises city officials to keep an open mind when it comes to parks and recreation program ideas.
“Don’t be afraid to try new things,” he said. “In Roswell, we are willing to fail fast. If someone brings an idea to use, we will try it and if it doesn’t work we move on. Don’t say we can’t because…see how you can try it.