Once an obscure pastime favored by the gray-haired set, pickleball is now the fastest-growing sport in America, with nearly 5 million players nationwide. Invented by a trio of Seattle-area dads in the 1960s, the game is a quirky mashup of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong. With Atlanta’s year-round temperate weather and booming tennis scene—the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) boasts over 80,000 members—it’s easy to see why pickleball is catching on here.
Like many new fans, Kristin White, a 52-year-old account executive, started playing regularly during the pandemic. “It allowed me to be outdoors and social at a time when not much else was going on,” she says. She also finds pickleball “easier, more fun, and less competitive” than recreational tennis, which she has played since she was in high school.
Like tennis, pickleball can be played singles- or doubles-style, but on a badminton-sized court with a 34-inch-tall center net, which makes it “slower-paced and beginner-friendly,” says Luke Baker, a 30-year-old brand writer who picked up the sport a couple of years ago. He moderates a group chat of more than a hundred 20- and 30-something local enthusiasts who meet for weekly games at Peachtree Hills Park and other spots across the city. While the game has a few odd rules—players can only score on their team’s serve, and there is a seven-foot no-volley zone known as “the kitchen” on either side of the net—it’s accessible to newcomers, Baker adds. “What’s great is you can just show up at a court and rotate in and out, and it ranges from people who barely know the rules to people who take it way too seriously.”
White, who plays at Hammond Park and Sandy Springs Tennis Center, where two of the tennis courts have recently been converted to eight permanent pickleball courts, agrees. “People are really welcoming to beginners,” she says. “It’s an easy sport to pick up, and you can be relatively competent at it quickly.”
The sport is also affordable. Paddles are available for $35 or less at sporting goods stores. Balls, which are lightweight, perforated, and resemble wiffle balls, are also cheap.
Game bars are coming soon. Painted Pickle—a 32,500-square-foot venue with eight indoor pickleball courts, full bar and kitchen, and an outdoor, BeltLine-facing pickleball court and patio—is slated to open at Armour Yards in late 2022. And Pickle & Social, a Topgolf-like entertainment venue with pickleball courts and a rooftop bar, broke ground in Gwinnett County in March, with a second outpost in Alpharetta planned for later in the year.
Pickleball vs tennis
Pickleball: 44 feet long by 20 feet wide for singles and doubles
Tennis: 78 feet long and 27 feet wide for singles; 36 feet wide for doubles
Serves per person or team
Pickleball: Games are normally played to 11 points, win by two. Tournament games may be to 15 or 21, win by two.
Tennis: Four points win a game, six games win a set, and two or three sets win a match (best of three or five).
Length of game
Pickleball: 15-25 minutes
Tennis: 90 minutes (three sets) to two hours, 45 minutes (five sets)
This article appears in our May 2022 issue.