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Going with the Flow at Ocean Reef Club

As the largest of all club operations, with more than 5,000 members and nearly 1,000 employees, it can be expected that the Ocean Reef Club (ORC) in Key Largo, Fla. is always out front of emerging trends and changes in member preferences. Among racquet sports activities, that has certainly been the case with how ORC has responded to pickleball’s booming popularity.

Mic O’Keeffe, ORC’s vice president sports and ameni- ties, said the club responded to pickleball’s emergence the past few years by establishing six pickleball courts in addition to its 10 tennis courts. But tracking court use showed time spent on the tennis and pickleball courts had become so similar that it made sense to convert one additional tennis court to three new pickleball courts to achieve a perfect balance of nine courts for each sport.

How pickleball fits into ORC’s approach to governance, staffing and programming has also continued to evolve with its growth, O’Keeffe reported. About seven years ago, a pickleball representative was added to the club’s Tennis Committee. But within a short time, the need for a separate Pickleball Committee was evident.

Additionally, ORC has had a full-time pickleball professional for the last four seasons and with the additional courts, another pickleball pro position was created. A touring pro now also comes to the club once a month, in season, to provide high-level lessons. There is good reason to provide that level of instruction –30 ORC members played in the most recent U.S. Open pickleball tournament.

Virtually every type of event that has long been held as part of the robust tennis operation at ORC—tournaments, member-pro, member-member, member-guest, etc.—is now also held as part of the club’s pickleball programming, O’Keeffe said. Interestingly, he noted, more of the players who have embraced pickleball, as participation has doubled, have come from golf than from tennis, and that has led the club’s staff to plan more pickleball events around the golf calendar, rather than the tennis calendar, to generate maximum participation.

ORC is also taking steps to ensure that its burgeoning pickleball program will continue to gain new participants from younger generations; the club’s pickleball camp for kids had around 20 participants this year, O’Keeffe noted, and that has helped encourage them to play with parents and grandparents to improve their skills and competitive- ness and develop an affinity for the game.