Pickleball could fuel St. Johns County sports tourism

Pickleball could fuel St. Johns County sports tourism

It’s a funny name for a sport that could have a serious impact on St. Johns County.

A group of local players is pushing to transform the area into a pickleball tourism destination.

Pickleball is played with paddles and a ball similar to a wiffleball on courts that are about half the size of tennis courts.

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“Pickleball is a combination of tennis, of ping pong, of racquetball,” said Pickleball Club of Del Webb Ponte Vedra chairman Tony Cutright.

It’s exploding in popularity across the country because the rules are easy to learn and it’s accessible to players of all ages.

“It’s a baby boomer sport. So, all of the retirees -- instead of running as much as you have to do in tennis, you have a smaller court,” said Cutright.

Cutright and several other members of his club are pushing to start three annual tournaments in St. Johns County.

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The U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in Naples bring in 2,000 players from 47 states and 20 countries, according to the tournament’s organizers.

The tournament also reportedly brings 10,000 spectators to the southwest Florida city.

“If you look at East Naples Park, where they have the U.S. Open Pickleball Championship, that park is 46 acres. St. Johns County has Treaty Park, which has 47 acres,” said Cutright.

Treaty Park already has eight pickleball courts, but to have a tournament, the county would need more.

Cutright is urging the county to construct more courts or temporarily convert the tennis courts there into pickleball courts for the tournaments.

He said profits from the tournaments could go to a veterans’ charity.

Cutright and a group of pickleball players plan to talk to county leaders about the future of the sport in at the May 21 commission meeting.