Nfld. & Labrador

New place for pickleball participants to play, as popularity positively pops

It's an oddly named sport that's surging in popularity — and now enthusiasts in the St. John's area can swing their paddles at the Green Belt Tennis Club.

The game is a mix of tennis, ping pong and badminton, played on a badminton court

Ed Buckingham is the general manager of Green Belt Tennis Club, which recently began offering pickleball on its courts. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

It's an oddly named sport that's surging in popularity — and now pickleball enthusiasts in the St. John's area have another place to play, with Green Belt Tennis Club offering up its courts for sessions.

 "The response has been phenomenal," club general manager Ed Buckingham told The St. John's Morning Show. 

The game is a mix of tennis, ping pong and badminton, played on a regulation size badminton court. It's is particularly popular with seniors, due to its low-impact nature.

Buckingham says the tennis club is a great place for players to use, since one regulation size tennis court can be split into four pickleball courts.

"As the program grows, we'll expand this across other courts," Buckingham said. "We have times during the middle of the day when our courts are underutilized. So what we find is that a lot of the pickleball players are in the demographic where they are available that time of day."

The demand for pickleball is so high, Buckingham is already adding more pickleball sessions to the court's schedule.

"A week ago we put out an email and a Facebook post that we were going to offer three learn-to-play sessions," Buckingham said. "And in less than 18 hours, we had all three sessions filled and a waiting list."

Green Belt member Steve Kennedy decided to try pickleball after hearing about the game from friends.

"I like it a lot," Kennedy said. "Very welcoming here, it seems to be an interesting game. Gets you up off the couch, and why not?"

Buckingham says the response to the sport in the area has been 'phenomenal.' (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The game was invented in 1965 in Washington with the name a reference to a rowing term, the "pickle boat," whose crew is made up of oarsmen from other boats. The game's popularity may be surging now, but a core group of players have been playing the game in the province for years. 

One of those players is Leonard Lye — often called "the pickleball pioneer" in St. John's.

"When we started it was just my wife and I playing," Lye said. "Now if you go to Field House in the morning, every morning, there's a whole bunch of completely different groups of people playing. People playing Wednesday nights, another 20-something playing Saturday mornings. Almost every morning."

Lye said bringing the game to Green Belt is great news for the city's pickleball community, as more spaces to play are always welcome.

"It's really good that a tennis club is including pickleball," Lye said.

Leonard Lye, the 'pickleball pioneer,' teaches people how to play the game. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Buckingham says bringing pickleball into Green Belt allows more of its older players to stick around and enjoy time on the courts.

"We have a lot of tennis players who are perhaps getting to a point where tennis hurts a bit more than it should," Buckingham said. "So pickleball becomes a really good exit point from tennis."

Buckingham hopes tennis players like Kennedy and pickleball players like Lye will be able to coexist at the club.

"I think as the popularity grows … it will just become part of the Green Belt community,"

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton and The St. John's Morning Show


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