What’s All the Racket: The Battle Between Tennis and Pickleball

Utah leads the nation in pickleball players. Has tennis met its match?

They represent all ages and fitness levels—from converted college tennis players to middle-aged empty nesters seeking the fountain of youth. All across the state of Utah, grandmas are giving frat brothers an on-court walloping, former couch potatoes are signing sponsorship deals and RVers are trading in destinations like Mount Rushmore and Myrtle Beach to chase pickleball tournaments in places St. George and Las Vegas. 

These are the “Picklers.” Reflecting a surge in the sport’s popularity, they dominate public courts and strut around like they’re Rafa Nadal. They have their sights set on massive competitive tournaments like the Southern Utah Shootout, the Turkey Brawl, the Sagebrush Spectacular or Dink The Halls.

Assuming you even knew what pickleball was 10 years ago, your court and equipment would have amounted to DIY chalk lines on a tennis court, a ping pong paddle and your nephew’s Little League wiffle ball. And you would have definitely ticked off tennis players. Not only were you stealing their turf, you would have defaced a tennis court with your stick of chalk. How gauche.

Now, though, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., up 160 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon with superstars like Tom Brady, Drake and LeBron James cashing in on high-profile endorsements. And the picklers have their eyes fixed on tennis, specifically space-hogging, oft-empty public courts. Utah leads the nation in pickleball players, and they argue that cities across the state need convert tennis courts into pickleball play spaces. (Vive la révolution!)

It’s no surprise that many tennis players aren’t whipping out the welcome mat. Purists consider pickleball to be a game, not a sport and deride it as  “lazy man’s tennis.” They assert it requires far less skill and, mainly, that it makes too much noise. In rare instances, their rage explodes as it did in Santa Rosa, Calif. 

A tennis player poured motor oil on pickleball courts and called other tennis players “chickens” who weren’t doing enough to pickleball’s encroachment.   

Pickleballers snap back with revolutionary zeal, paddles raised like pitchforks, calling tennis players elitist snobs who take up too much room for a sport that costs too much to master. Can they coexist? 

Click on the players to below to see where they lie on the Tennis vs. Pickleball debate

Pickleball Open Play Etiquette

Most venues have an open play policy intended for crowd control. This player rotation system has many benefits, including the ability to show up on your own and meet new people—if that’s your jam. Before hitting the courts you should know:

  1. Rules are posted at every public court
  2. No singles play if more than one person is waiting
  3. Five minutes to warm up
  4. The first team to score 11 points wins the game
  5. In most cases, all four players are required to rotate off the court at the game’s end
  6. Paddles are then placed back into the rotation 
  7. Players await their turn and play again

Pickleballers Take a Stand

Members of the mostly-Polynesian Die Hard Pickleballerz Club, who play on Salt Lake City’s west side, were among the voices calling for more pickleball courts closer to home. The city agreed to repurpose half the tennis courts for pickleball and four new ones at Glendale Park. Likewise, Park City residents are fighting for more public pickleball space. Access has become such a hot-button issue that last year, Park City Council candidate David Dobkin made pickleball a central issue of his platform. 

Where to Play Free Outdoor Pickleball in the Salt Lake Area

Mill Race Park
1150 W. 5400 South, SLC
2 Courts

11th Ave Park
581 Terrace Hills Dr., SLC
6 Courts

Centennial Park
5408 W. Hunter Dr., WVC
12 Courts

West Valley City
Family Fitness Center
5405 W. 3100 South, WVC
2 Courts

Central Park
2797 S. 200 East, South SL
4 Courts

Fairmont Park
1040 Sugarmont Dr., SLC
6 Courts

Second Summit Hard Cider Company
4010 Main Street, Millcreek
4 Courts

Murray City Senior Recreation Center
10 E. 6150 South, Murray
3 Courts

Lodestone Park
6170 W. Lodestone Ave., SLC
2 Courts

City Hall Park
4568 S. Holladay Blvd., SLC
2 Courts

Poplar Grove Park
750 S. Emery St., SLC
2 Courts

Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center
5624 S. Cougar Ln., SLC
6 Courts

5th Ave. and C Street
230 E. C St., SLC
2 Courts

Murray City Park
170 E. 5065 South, SLC
6 Courts

Midvale Boys & Girls Club
7631 S. Chapet St., Midvale
8 Courts

Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center
7500 S. 2700 East, SLC
9 Courts

Where to Play Free Outdoor Pickleball in the St. George Area

Green Spring Park
1743 W. Green Valley Ln., St. George
2 courts

Vernon Worthen Park
300 S. 400 East, St. George
6 Courts

Little Valley Pickleball Complex
2149 E. Horseman Park Dr., St. George
24 Courts

Shooting Star Park
1320 E. Black Brush Dr., Washington
2 Courts

Bloomington Park Pickleball
650 Man O War Rd., St. George
7 Courts

Sullivan Virgin River Park
965 S. Washington Fields Rd., Washington
6 courts

Archie H Gubler Park
2365 N. Rachel Dr., Santa Clara
6 Courts

Larkspur Park
812 N. Ft Pierce Dr., St. George
2 Courts

Green Springs Park
1775 N. Green Spring Dr., Washington
2 Courts

Boiler Park
301 Buena Vista Blvd., Washington
4 Courts

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