Pickleball has found a home in Southern Arizona

Pouring money into pickleball

GREEN VALLEY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Shirley Schaller and her husband moved to Green Valley from Boulder, Colorado four years ago to play golf. She was a one handicap and had played in three senior women’s amateur championships.

But something happened one day while they were practicing golf on the range. They kept hearing this popping noise coming from nearby courts and went to investigate.

They discovered pickleball.

“We didn’t even wait, we drove right to Tucson and bought pickleball paddles,” Schaller said. “By the next day we were taking lessons.”

And the rest, shall we say, is history.

“This is my 98 percent sport,” she said. “I play golf about 2 percent of all my activities now.”

There are five public clubs in Green Valley now, including the Green Valley Pickleball Club which boasts 700 members.

“We had about 100 members eight years ago,” said club president Jeff Harrell. “Our courts are packed all the time now.”

So much so, the recreation center is spending $2.5 million to add another 24 courts to the 11 it already has.

The Saddlebrook retirement community north of Tucson sports 600 members.

The 16 courts in Quail Creek we are told are “always filled.”

Pima County has plans for 20 pickleball courts in its new multi-million dollar Kino South sports complex.

The sport was created in 1965 by accident on a seldom used badminton court in Washington State. It wasn’t until the 1990s that it was introduced in all 50 states. It’s name, legend has it, was taken from the creators family dog, Pickles, who kept taking the ball and running.

But it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular sport among the over 55 set.

It’s a low impact, fairly high cardio workout on a court about half the size of a regular tennis court.

It’s not a power sport, it’s more about finesse which puts men and women on equal footing.

It’s about the moves.

“If you put em' on a guy who’s six-foot-six and make him bend and miss a shot,” she said. “You go yeah.” (that yeah with a fist pump)

A game is to 11 points and it generally takes about 15 minutes to get there. It can be played singles or doubles but at Green Valley, it’s mostly doubles.

“You make so many new friends,” Schaller said.

She says she’ll play about two hours a day which is generally the rule for the players.

“When you’re done, you go home with a smile on your face,”he said. “Knowing you had a good workout.”

The equipment is cheaper than golf.

A paddle runs about $75 to $150 for a good one, which will last three years or more. And the wiffle ball used in the game doesn’t hurt if a player gets whacked.

“It stings a little, but goes away pretty quickly,” she said.

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