Tennis Purist Laury Hammel on the Pickleball vs. Tennis Debate

Laury Hammel just doesn’t get pickleball’s appeal. “If I hear ‘pickleball is the fastest growing sport’ one more time, I’m going to throw up,” he says. “And then people go around bad-mouthing tennis. Why?”

Laury essentially grew up on a tennis court,  chasing balls at the Salt Lake Health and Tennis Club where his dad was the manager. Decades later he bought the place. 

“My friends would make fun of the little white tennis shorts,” he chuckles. He didn’t care, nor was he surprised when the sport boomed during his youth in the 1960s and tennis courts (and little white shorts) started popping up everywhere. “By the time I was in high school, it was the ‘in’ sport.” 

Laury insists pickleball is a long way from eclipsing his beloved game. “It’s ridiculous to say tennis is elitist therefore I refuse to play,” he says. “I call that reverse snobbery. If you refuse to hang out with ‘tennis snobs,’ doesn’t that make you a snob?”

He points out the tireless work of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and himself (as a club owner) to bring all income levels into the sport, and insists free courts are not hard to find. Plus, he says, more people globally play tennis, and it has the highest-paid female athletes in the world. Bottom line: tennis isn’t going anywhere.

Still, his buddies try to push pickleball on him.

“I’m confused as to why,” he says. “I want to say: you can pick it up in a day, no one’s sweating—it doesn’t seem to be a very good workout. To me, it’s a hit-and-giggle sport, and yet somehow you’re always getting injured.”

Instead, Laury politely declines and keeps his mouth shut. As a Salt Lake facility owner, he’s even caved and added a few pickleball courts. “Not near the tennis courts, though,” he quickly adds. “That ‘pop-pop-pop’ noise is enough to make you crazy.”

To Laury, tennis is akin to a martial art. “With around 60 different shots, it takes a lifetime to learn: Novak’s elegant swing, Alcaraz’s beautiful drop shot…there’s such an art to it.” He sighs as if sinking into a hammock or smelling a glass of wine. “You can’t say that about pickleball. At the end of the day, tennis is my love.”

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

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Heather Hayes
Heather Hayes
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.

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