The tennis courts near Portofino were converted into four pickleball courts following an increased interest in the game.
The Resort at Longboat Key Club has been swept up by the pickleball craze.
On March 21, the club unveiled four freshly painted pickleball courts at the marina next to Portofino Restaurant and Grill.
Jonathan Lester, the resort’s director of membership, said the courts were added because of increasing demand for the rapidly growing sport.
“We started these opt-in groups, these clubs within the club, and pickleball is one of them, and it just exploded,” he said. “It’s by far the largest group, and so it really coalesced tremendously.”
Originally, club staff painted lines over two existing tennis courts, but as the demand increased, the club knew it had to do more for its members.
“We always have to look at what the demand is of our membership here, so what do the people want?” Lester said. “That’s our job. To play that role.”
Pickleball has to be played on a hard surface, and the club has 28 hard clay tennis courts. Barring a massive project, Lester said converting the tennis courts at the marina into pickleball courts was what the club could manage for now.
And club members are satisfied. Following a brief ribbon cutting ceremony and remarks from Sara Cullen, an ambassador with the USA Pickleball Association, four pickleball pros took to the new courts for a demonstration.
Cullen said that 2018 brought the largest increase in pickleball interest as the U.S. now has 4 million pickleball players. Cullen said it’s ideal for all ages and is a social sport that’s centered on the concept of open play, which is something the pickleball players at the club have already learned.
Cam Maddox, a club member who was among the first to express interest to the club about pickleball, has been leading a group that meets from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Maddox, a former tennis player who picked up pickleball after a double-knee replacement, said the group has become really close-knit and hangs out off the courts.
And not only were veteran pickleball players excited about the new courts, but potential players were, too.
Mandy Peterson is a tennis player, but after watching the demonstration, she’s excited about the possibility of playing pickleball.
“I’m thinking, ‘Hey, this is something I’d like to do,’” she said.
Town leaders have heard the call, too. Courts were added to Bayfront Park during the recent renovation, and the town is considering building additional public pickleball courts near the tennis center.
Lester said he doesn’t know what the future holds in terms of making more pickleball courts, but he said the club has to always look at all the options, just as it did for golf, tennis and the beach club.
“We’ve been reimagining this club ever since OPL purchased it six years ago … ,” he said.
When Ocean Properties first purchased the resort, the spa and locker rooms were redone. Then all 45 holes of golf were revamped from the tee to the green. The resort also recently wrapped up renovations of its front entrance, and this summer, the pool and lobby area will be renovated.
“Anything is possible, nothing is off the table whatsoever,” Lester said. “We’re going to be really reactive seeing that potential growth and filling those needs as they arise. We’re not close-minded in anyway. We have to be agile and adjust for the future.”