Pickleball serves up health and fellowship


Posted by Tiffany Merlo Phelps

Laura Gainor had just started a marketing firm, Vossberg Gainor, when she was living in Chicago when Pickleball hit her radar by accident in 2019.

“I was introduced to USA Pickleball through my husband because he had George Bauernfeind as a client at a previous agency. George is the chief marketing officer for USA Pickleball, ”said Gainor, whose husband works in sports marketing.

USA Pickleball became Gainor’s client, and Gainor quickly realized that she wanted to learn how to play the sport in order to be a more effective pickleball marketing advisor.

“On my one year anniversary of launching Vossberg Gainor, I renamed my website to have the unique niche of pickleball marketing. USA Pickleball is still a customer, among other things, ”she said.

In October 2020, Gainor and her family moved to Nocatee, particularly because of the 12 new pickleball courts (only for Nocatee residents). She usually plays twice a day every day.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the US, and it’s a thriving social sport with a huge network of friends,” said Gainor, 38. “It actually became more popular during the pandemic because people could play outside and socialize safely. ”

Gainor’s enthusiasm for the sport can be felt all over Ponte Vedra beach, both indoors and outdoors.

Reza Shafii plays pickleball three days a week every morning at the Ponte Vedra YMCA. He’s been doing this since 2018 when he moved from Maryland, where he also enjoyed playing pickleball. There he saw the number grow from 20 players to 300 before he and his wife moved to Florida to be around their daughter and grandchildren.

“When you start this game you don’t know when to quit,” Shafii said. “The basics are key. My goal is to encourage people to play better. ”

Shafii said the camaraderie in pickleball is very different from other sports and also provides excellent cardiovascular workouts. He added that any Ponte Vedra YMCA member can join the game at any time and the Y has wooden paddles for beginners.

“The advantage of this game is the community,” said Shafii, 71.

Shafii taught his grandchildren to play pickleball and loves the intergenerational aspect of the sport. It’s an easy way to teach respect and compassion for one another, he said.

Pickleball Ambassador Mike Guyot, a resident of Nocatee, was introduced to pickleball 14 years ago at The Villages near Ocala. It didn’t take long for him to become an instructor with a rating of 4.0 (skill level ratings range from 0 to 5.0 in half a point increments). Guyot next led teams and became a member of the Pickleball Community Volunteer Group. After moving to Nocatee, Guyot kept playing and looking for ways to reach more pickleball players. At this point he became the American pickleball ambassador.

“The main goal of an ambassador is to help the sport grow, welcome people and train players,” said Guyot, 72.

There are 4.2 million players in the United States, according to reports from USA Pickleball, and the median age of all players is 41 years. 2020 will be the 55th anniversary of three fathers inventing the pickle ball to keep their bored children active in the summer. According to USA Pickleball, there are two stories about the origins of the game name. The predominant one is that about a year after the game was invented, one of the fathers got a dog and named it Pickles. The dog would often run away with the ball, and when an official game name was needed “Pickleball” would get stuck.

Pickleball’s growing popularity has not gone unnoticed by Austin Taylor and Mike Miles, finance and operations managers and general managers, respectively, of The Yards. They took over the Oak Bridge Club after it failed as a golf course and country club, Miles said. At this sports and social venue in Ponte Vedra Beach, 12 pickleball courts are currently being built at the Oak Bridge Club in Sawgrass and are due to open in October. It also includes a renovated 12-hole golf course.

“After a lot of research, we landed on Pickleball and our entire business model is for profit,” said Miles. “This is pay-to-play and we may or may not have memberships. There will be no fighting for space on the pitch as you will be given your own spot and will be treated as a member during this time. ”

Miles said Pickle Garden at The Yards will include LED lighting, covered social areas, a cabana for rent, and a pro shop with equipment rentals. Taylor added that this is a place where clinics, tournaments and programs are held while the needs of all types of players are met by a reasonable hourly rate – all open to the public.

To find public spaces and show times, Gainor recommends looking at sites2play.org.

Photo by Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Mike Smiley, a Nocatee resident, recently played pickleball on one of the 12 courts in the area.