Pickleball, which started in 1965 as a children’s backyard game in Washington, has become so popular that it drew more than 1,400 players and more than 5,000 spectators to a tournament in Rockwall.
The Oasis Pickleball Club off Highway 205 was the place to be this past weekend for the Baird Wealth Management Texas Open as professional and amateur players competed on 42 courts that are designed just for pickleball. The event also included food trucks, vendors and entertainment areas for children.
“I had this tennis facility in 2014 and I made the decision to convert these courts to pickleball because you see the momentum,” said Darren Rack, owner of the Oasis.
Pickleball has been called the fastest growing sport in the U.S. with more than 4.8 million players, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
“It’s a very inclusive sport,” said Rack.
Players of all ages and skills from nearly 20 states competed in the tournament from Wednesday through Sunday. Some players made the trek to Rockwall from Washington state, California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Brooklyn, New York, among other states. Teenagers competed as well as players in the 70-plus age division.
Local players from Rockwall and Greenville were also on the entry list.
The players used paddles to hit a ball of a durable molded material with evenly-spaced holes on courts that are the size of badminton doubles court. The sport resembles tennis, badminton and table tennis with volleys and forehands and backhands.
Pickleball fans could keep up with the action in stands brought in for the championship match, plus some of the matches were broadcast live on a YouTube. Pickleball has also been televised on CBS, Fox, ESPN and the Tennis Channel.
Among the spectators watching the tournament were Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and former pro basketball star and commentator Rick Barry.
The Oasis has more pickleball courts than any facility in Texas.
“I think we’re all proud of what we’ve developed,” said Rack. “It’s been a team effort between us and the ambassadors of pickleball. They basically told me if I build it they will come.”
Some of the top players in the world competed including Ben Johns, who ranks No. 1 men’s open singles on the Professional Pickleball Association’s pro tour plus Riley Newman, who ranks fourth.
Anna Leigh Waters, who’s just 15, is No. 1 on the PPA’s women’s pro tour. She won the women’s open pro doubles event at the Oasis with her mother Leigh Waters as her partner and the mixed doubles event with Ben Johns as her partner.
Johns and his brother Collin Johns, a former professional tennis player, won in men’s doubles, 13-11, 7-11, 11-2, 11-9, over the team of Newman and Matt Wright.
Anna Leigh Waters downed Lea Jansen, 11-4, 11-2, in the pro women’s singles final though playing with an injured knee.
Tyson McGuffin took the men’s singles final in a spirited match with Ben Johns, 11-8, 11-9.
The Oasis has been the site for local tournaments in 2022 and will stay busy in 2023.
“We’ve scheduled 15 more events for 2023,” said Rack.