Middle Man Wayne Bullock on the Tennis vs. Pickleball Debate

“Pickleball isn’t going away,” says St. George resident Wayne Bullock. “And when you’re a tennis coach and a player hands you a pickleball paddle and says, ‘You have to try this,’ you can’t ignore it.”

Wayne says he tried to ignore it at first. His hands were full teaching tennis—he didn’t have time to dabble in knock-offs. It took him a year to get around to it, but the moment he did, he saw its potential and knew he couldn’t dismiss it any longer.

“Pickleball is just so much easier to pick up than tennis,” he says, describing the latter as more technical, with rackets that can produce far more speed. “In our instant-gratification world, that makes tennis a harder sell.”

Wayne helped put Utah on the pickleball map and pickleball on Utah’s map. Working with a small community group of passionate picklers, they convinced the city of St. George to build some of the first public pickleball courts in the state. Wayne developed programs and clinics, tracking the wild uptick in participation and showing city officials that pickleball had a future. Soon, the city asked him to head up programming for both racket sports. 

“It wasn’t that long ago that we were just trying to grow and build the sport,” Wayne recalls, describing creative events and tournaments to generate interest. St. George’s well-known Fall Brawl kicked off for the first year in 2012, and a slew of others have followed. The sport’s top players have competed in St. George, including the world’s number one player, Ben Johns

“Now pickleball is so popular here, we don’t have enough courts for all the players,” Wayne says. “I’ve even been yelled at by some to stop teaching new people because it’s threatening their court space.”

While Wayne insists tennis isn’t dying, he admits no new public tennis courts have been built in St. George in a while and more of the city’s current revenue is drawn from pickleball than tennis. He says that’s because it’s easy to learn.

“By comparison, pickleball is very easy to teach. Within 30-40 minutes, a new player can rally and play,” he says. “Tennis is the exact opposite. On average, it takes me 3 to 4 months before I can get a brand-new player in a match, assuming they do a private lesson 3 to 4 times a week.”

Wayne says pickleball’s party culture doesn’t hurt either, nor does its inclusive ideology.

“It’s a little louder and rowdier, it’s a hangout, you camp out, and many people play all day,” he says. “The culture is more social and the smaller, tighter courts lend to that. Tennis courts are kinda spread out all over the city.”

So, Wayne. Must we choose either “Team Pickle” or “Team Tennis?”

“I see lots of people playing both, I teach both, I promote both, I love both,” Wayne says. “People will honestly corner me and ask, ‘Which one’s your favorite?’”

“Do you really wanna know?” he asks. We really wanna know.

“Tennis,” he says with a laugh, “Nothing’s more satisfying than crushing a forehand.”

See what else tennis and pickleball players have to say about their court-side feud.

See more stories like this and all of our culture and community coverage. And while you’re here, why not subscribe and get six annual issues of Salt Lake magazine’s curated guide to the best of life in Utah. 

Heather Hayes
Heather Hayeshttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
A Salt Lake native, Heather Hayes has been a voice for Utah’s arts and culture scene for well over a decade, covering music, dance and theater Salt Lake magazine. Heather loves a good yarn, no matter the genre. From seatmates on ski lifts to line-dwellers in a grocery store, no one is safe as she chats up strangers for story ideas. When she’s not badgering her teenagers to pick up their dirty socks or spending quality time with her laptop, you can find Heather worshiping the Wasatch range on her bike, skis or in a pair of running shoes.

Similar Articles