Although the opening of owner Brian McCarthy's Pickleball Club, at 1195 Sarasota Center Blvd., has been pushed back to November, members are still getting together to talk about the booming sport.
A Member Appreciation Party was held March 24 at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing in Lakewood Ranch and was hosted by the Play for Life Foundation, which was formed by McCarthy and his wife, Valerie.
Many attendees live in Lakewood Ranch; the Pickleball Club is just south of Lakewood Ranch's Waterside Place.
The Pickleball Club will feature 12 indoor courts, two outdoor courts, two drill courts, a pro shop, full locker rooms and a cafe aptly named Pickles. Along with the rest of the nation (an estimated 4.8 million players), pickleball is booming in Lakewood Ranch, which doesn't have any indoor courts.
McCarthy is selling memberships to the club and he already has 150 players committed. The party was sold out at 100 members and could have attracted more if not for COVID-19 protocols, which set a limit on attendance.
The members mingled, and McCarthy introduced his executive staff, which included he and his wife, General Manager Dominic Catalano, CFO and General Counsel Matthew Gordon, Director of Pickleball Erica Love, Director of Marketing and Membership Nova Grande, Club Controller Victoria Rodriguez, and Food and Beverage Director Ryan Praefke.
“I love how friendly it is, how social the community is,” said Julie Stewart, a pickleball instructor who attended the party. “Anyone can do it on some level. Pickleball is the simplest way to make friends, especially for the elderly.”
McCarthy said his pickleball complex will cost about $10 million to build and will be the first of four to be built in Florida. Other Pickleball Clubs are under development in Port Saint Lucie, Fort Myers and Bonita Springs. He hopes to eventually expand the business to 15 locations in Florida.
One of the main topics during the party was the Play for Life Foundation, which was founded in 2021 to be devoted to introducing veterans, first responders and children to the growing sport. Brian McCarthy is a Vietnam veteran.
Valerie McCarthy, who serves as the foundation's executive director, said the community outreach that has begun has been promising.
She said the foundation has been inspiring people who might not be able to get to a club to play the sport.
"It's been a great way to bring pickleball to the community," she said.
The nonprofit has been giving groups a Club-N-Box, which contains nets, paddles, balls and instructional materials. All that is needed is a court or playing surface.
She said two fire departments in Manatee County already are using the equipment to provide exercise at the stations. She said local fire districts offer incentives if their employees perform 30 minutes or more of cardio exercise during a shift.
“They’re pulling the trucks out and putting the nets up in the fire stations, which is kind of fun,” Valerie McCarthy said.
Foundation secretary Christine Tollette and board member Karen Conkel also attended the event and told members about the foundation.
Valerie McCarthy said she is reaching out to veterans affairs groups to find ways to get more veterans involved.
Brian McCarthy said it doesn't take much to get players of any age interested.
“Parents can play with their kids. Grandparents can play with their grandkids,” he said. “It's a game that's easy to pick up, but it takes a lot to master it. Unlike tennis, with pickleball you can go out and have fun the first time.”
Brian McCarthy said that intergenerational appeal has sparked the growth of the sport, which began its rise primarily in the senior demographic. He said schools throughout the region are adding the sport to their physical education programs.
Whether the sport's growth involves a steady stream headed for his club when it opens in November, social outings such as their party at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing or participation in gym classes at schools, Brian McCarthy said he enjoys helping the sport grow.
“I'm excited about it,” he said. “What better job could you have than doing this?”