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The Next Big Thing

The story behind how padel was invented helps to explain why it’s catching on as a new favored racquets alternative in many club settings.

In 1969, Mexican businessman Enrique Corcuera, who wanted a tennis court at his Acapulco home but didn’t have the space and was worried about losing the ball in his neighbor’s garden, created what is essentially tennis with walls, played on an enclosed court a little more than half the size of a standard tennis court.

With the help of his wife Viviana, a former Miss Argen- tina, Corcuera put together the rules based on a 1920s pastime from British cruise ships. The main twist is that the ball can be played off the glass walls, so there’s no such thing as “out,” leading to fast, long rallies; players use solid, stringless bats and serves are made underhanded, but scoring is the same as tennis.

In addition to the confined space that can fit well in club properties, padel is also played as a doubles game, so there’s a natural social aspect.

The game has caught on throughout the world, especially in Spain. Because it’s easy to learn, it is expanding fast, with the number of clubs across Europe tripling in five years.

Growth is being further accelerated by padel’s recognition by the International Olympic Committee in 2019 and its being part of the European Games in Poland in 2023, its first appearance in a major multi-sport event.

While it has been derided by some purists as a less intense version of tennis, padel continues to gain favor and endorsements from noteworthy converts, including Sir Andy Murray, the former top-ranked tennis player in the world and Wimbledon champion from Scotland who now backs Game4Padel, a UK-backed firm that builds courts.


SCOTT COLEBOURNE, chief executive officer of Cliff Drysdale Tennis, a division of Troon, reported that after three padel courts were installed at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne in Miami, where his company manages the tennis operations, the game became so popular that clinics and lesson sessions quickly sold out.

Padel is now at three clubs managed by the company and the firm is looking to add it to all of its properties, Colebourne said. He does not think it is too far-fetched to think it will eventually overtake pickleball in popularity.

NATE GRIGGIN, USPTA, PTR, PPR, is a corporate director of fitness and racquet sports for ICON Management Services, a Florida-based company that manages 15 golf, country club and HOA properties.

A pickleball devotee, Griffin played padel and quickly concluded, “There’s something here.”

“It’s not difficult to learn,” he said. “It’s between pickleball and tennis when it comes to learning the game and being good.”

Padel requires more finesse and strategy than pickleball, Griffin noted, and “not just power.” Plus, he added, “The courts have a very cool, modern feel, with plexiglass walls and synthetic turf.”

Players between 20 and 50 years of age are attracted to padel, Griffin said, especially if they are tennis players. It is also great for young families.

“Clubs looking for a more purist and traditional game will have padel,” Griffin predicted. “It is more upscale and more entertain- ing and interesting to watch than pickleball and is already being televised. It will be the fastest- growing sport in the U.S. and be in the bigger-market clubs, and I think it has a better business potential than tennis and pickleball.”

MARCOS DEL PILAR heads the United States Padel Association and serves as the sport’s most enthusiastic ambassador. “The padel wave is coming,” he said. He sees the game as especially well-suited for clubs and a “perfect complement” to tennis and other racquet sports.

Padel courts can cost between $40,000 and $50,000 to acquire and install, and two courts can fit in the area occupied by a standard tennis court, according to del Pilar. He recommended clubs install “three or four courts at a minimum” and says that even with that kind of investment, it will only take 12 to 16 months to break even. “This is going to happen, no matter what,” he says about the game’s potential for success in the U.S.