The Royal Oak Summer 2013 Skill Level Pickleball Tournament, which continues through Sunday, has attracted players from as far away as California and Florida to compete in women's, men's and mixed doubles fields.
"One couple from the State of Washington drove four days to get here," said Marilyn Holladay of Shelby Twp.
In all, 179 participants entered, Holladay said. The youngest is 13 years old; three players tied for the oldest at age 74.
"Last year 100 people signed up," said volunteer organizer Nancy Robertson of Bloomfield Hills. "This year, we had to turn people away."
Royal Oak, arguably, has the best pickleball courts in Michigan, according to Robertson and others.
The game, which is popular in Arizona with active retirees, was brought to Royal Oak six years ago by resident Pat Sullivan. A lifelong athlete, former physical education teacher and self-described snowbird, Sullivan brought the game to Royal Oak after becoming "addicted" to the game in the Grand Canyon State.
Great game with funny name
"When I first heard of pickleball it sounded dorky," Sullivan said. "But when I saw it played, people were laughing and having a good time. So I tried it."
The rest, as they say, is history. To "avoid withdrawal" during Michigan summers, Sullivan initially recruited friends and acquaintances to try the funny-sounding sport at the Salter Center.
"In 2007, I started spreading the seeds of fun. When I returned to Arizona for the winter there were about 60 or 70 pickleball addicts here. When I returned that number had grown to about 300," Sullivan said.
Working with Tod Gazetti, Royal Oak's recreation director, Sullivan came up with a plan to bring the game outdoors. In 2012, the eight courts at Whittier Park were dedicated the "Pat Sullivan Pickleball Courts" for her tireless volunteer efforts to promote and teach the sport.
Today, Royal Oak's pickleball facility has the only outdoor courts dedicated strictly to pickleball in area and this weekend's tournament is one of the top in the country.
"This would not have happened if I didn't live in Royal Oak," Sullivan said.
She credits city leaders for having the vision and confidence to see the project through and it's paying off.
"The sport is exploding," Sullivan said.
So what is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a racquet game that is played on a court the size of a badminton court with a net that is set at 34 inches high. You can play singles or doubles, inside or outside.
The rules are similar to those of tennis and ping-pong in that you hit the ball back and forth across the net and try to outhit and outrun your opponent.
The ball resembles a whiffle ball–plastic with holes–but it is somewhat weighted so it “dies” a little when it hits the ground. The paddles are made from composite or wood and are shaped like a larger rectangular ping-pong paddle.
The rules are few and perfect for older athletes or those that have lingering injuries. For example, the serve is underhand so it’s better for those with shoulder injuries. The court is smaller then tennis, so the knees and hips aren’t tested as much, and the “double-bounce rule” and “no volley area rule” eliminate the serve and volley advantage.
Check it out
You can check out men's double play on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Whittier Park.
The event is free, refreshments are available to purchase and there is plenty of shade. Portable toilets are located in the park.
Grab a lawn chair and stop by. Players and vendors at the event will be happy to introduce you to the sport.
Shelly Watkins contributed to this story.