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Racquets Sports’ Louder Presence

Padel is different from the sport known as paddle tennis.

Padel is typically played as doubles in an enclosed court with artificial turf that is roughly one-third the size of a tennis court. Scoring is the same as tennis, and the play starts with an underhand serve. Padel players use a paddle or racquet with no strings and a lower compression ball than tennis that is easier to control.

Tennis has historically been a natural complement to golf, and both sports played important roles in laying the foundation for the country club industry’s growth throughout the U.S.

While golf is still in many ways the same game that took hold in this country more than a century ago, tennis has been the cornerstone for a variety of racquet sports that have emerged through the years, adding diversity to clubs’ recreational activities and helping broaden the appeal of club membership.

There are indoor and outdoor versions of almost every racquet sport, and the various racquet-based games can draw support from different demographic groups. Some such as handball and squash have smaller and more regional—but still fervent—followings, while others such as platform and paddle tennis are highly social in nature and most popular as off-season offerings.

And while some sports, such as racquetball, have burst on the scene only to fade in popularity, new options such as pickleball or most recently, padel, have emerged to expand interest in racquet-based activities. In fact, thanks largely to the pickleball boom, golf’s surge in popularity as a result of the pandemic still only represented the second-largest growth among participation sports at many country clubs, resorts and golf course communities, according to a recent Forbes report. That report also noted pickleball’s widespread appeal, as a sport with an average participant age of just over 38 years old and almost a 60-40 split in participation between men and women.

Many prominent golf-centric properties such as the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla., (see p. 10) now report that pickleball is firmly entrenched as an essential recreation amenity. While racquets-based clubs and other clubs without golf face special challenges as they seek new ways to not only maintain but add to their appeal, they can look to examples such as Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Pa., which traces its roots to 1865, for guidance and encouragement.

Originally built around tennis, cricket and croquet, Merion Cricket now offers an array of other sports and social and recreational activities, including a full complement of racquet sports. It has now fully embraced pickleball, with four indoor and four dedicated outdoor, hard-surface courts, to go with indoor and outdoor tennis, singles and doubles squash, and platform tennis, for which it recently built a new complex with a spectacular pavilion overlooking four new courts.