As the sport’s popularity surges, adding pickleball facilities could be a competitive advantage for senior living providers courting tenants.
Pickleball combines elements of tennis, ping pong and badminton, and is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. Nearly 3.1 million Americans play pickleball, according to the USA Pickleball Association’s 2019 pickleball fact sheet. That’s a 12% increase, year-to-year.
The sport is proving especially popular with older people. Among players age 55 and over, 75% indicated they play more than eight games a year. That demographic is also demanding pickleball courts as part of senior living communities, Kolter Homes Vice President of Marketing John Manrique told Senior Housing News.
Kolter Homes developed a portfolio of nine Cresswind active adult communities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Manrique has first-hand experience watching pickleball grow in popularity with Cresswind residents during his five years with the company.
To meet the demand for pickleball from residents of Cresswind at Lake Lanier in Gainesville, Georgia, Kolter Homes repurposed a couple tennis courts for pickleball. For Cresswind at PGA Village Verano, its newest community in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Kolter Homes built 27 pickleball courts on site, including a tournament-quality court.
“We have more demand for pickleball than tennis,” Manrique said.
The pickleball craze is no passing fad. The newly formed Prime Senior Living Group will include pickleball in its amenities package for middle-market seniors. Moceri Companies’ Blossom Ridge in Oakland Township, Michigan includes pickleball. And The Glen at Scripps Ranch, a CCRC in San Diego, will have pickleball courts when it opens later this year.
A simple, low-impact exercise
Seniors embracing pickleball are attracted to its simple rules and its low impact on knees and joints, and studies have shown playing pickleball regularly can improve fitness levels in seniors.
A 2018 study conducted by Western State Colorado University found that seniors playing pickleball three times a week saw improvement in blood pressure and cardiovascular fitness. Pickleball also helps with hand-eye coordination, Manrique said. Pickleball rules are similar to tennis, except the serving team must let the initial return bounce once before it can be hit. After that, players are free to hit the ball mid-flight to catch the opposing team off guard. Scoring in pickleball is similar to volleyball. Games are played until one team reaches 11 points, and wins by at least two points.
Pickleball courts are half the size of a standard tennis court, filled with constant net play requiring fast reflexes in order to score points. As a result, pickleball is a faster-paced game than tennis, and players are not covering as much court space.
“With less court coverage, pickleball is less demanding on the knees and players have less lateral movement,” Manrique said. “It’s a fun game for people of different fitness levels.”
A social component
As with tennis, pickleball can be played either in singles or doubles formats, but the latter is another contributing factor in pickleball’s popularity because of the added social component.
“It’s just a social and fun game,” Manrique told SHN.
Because of the faster time necessary to complete a pickleball match, couples can schedule regular pickleball dates, as part of establishing friendships within a community.
“You can play a pickleball match faster than a tennis match,” Manrique said. “You can play fewer games and be done in an hour.”
Cost effectiveness as an amenity
Because a pickleball court is half the size of a tennis court, developers can accommodate for current and future demand during the planning process, with no added cost to a construction budget. Pickleball requires a hard surface, so developers can build them — and tennis courts — with the same materials, Manrique told SHN.
Pickleball is also relatively simple to retrofit on existing tennis courts. All it requires are portable nets and a provider can have two pickleball courts on one tennis court. Basketball courts are even easier to convert for pickleball use because there is no crossover with the doubles alleys and service lines found on tennis courts, Manrique said. At Kolter Homes’ all-ages communities, basketball courts also serve as pickleball courts.
“As long as you have the lining in place, it’s a very flexible game,” he said.