Not only can you play pickleball on clay courts, but this style of play is increasing in popularity. Clay court pickleball now has its own national tournament—the US Clay Court Pickleball Championships.
The explosion of popularity of pickleball has meant the number of players has started to exceed the number of available pickleball courts. Alternative courts must be found to allow supply to equal demand.
Clay courts are one of those options. While some players have hesitated to embrace clay courts due to the irregular bounce they can produce, other players appreciate mixing up their pickleball game by playing on clay.
Why Did Pickleball Move To Clay Courts?
The availability of hard courts has been insufficient to cope with the growing number of pickleball players. Even modified tennis courts weren’t satisfying the demand, hence the adoption of clay courts.
Most tennis clubs have both clay and hard courts, so moving pickleball to clay courts was an obvious choice.
Even though the sport has been around since 1965, the U.S.A. Pickleball Association reported an interest increase of 650% between 2013 and 2019. This surge in new players is probably down to two things: the sport now attracts a younger demographic, and its relatively inexpensive start-up costs (entry-level paddles begin at about $30 on Amazon).
Jarrett Chirico, Director of Racquets at Baltimore Country Club, says that pickleball players have grown from 250,000 to over 3 million in the last five years. He also believes it will soon be the most popular racket sport in the U.S., outstripping ping pong, badminton, tennis, and racquetball.
These numbers mean alternative playing surfaces have to be tried if there are going to be enough to satisfy the interest.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Pickleball On Clay Courts?
- Safer: However, this problem is offset by the softer surfaces being kinder on muscles and the knee, ankle, and hip joints. This factor is important for older players and those who wish to play long-term.
- Longer Rallies: Players who have used clay courts also report that the slightly slower bounce allows for longer rallies and more excitement. More exertion also means more of a cardiac-friendly workout.
- Less Predictable: Another unexpected attraction of playing pickleball on a clay surface is the challenge and different skill levels it brings. The clay game is slightly slower and less predictable, and these factors appeal to those players who like a challenge when they step onto the court.
- Cheaper to Build: Clay courts are cheaper to construct than most other court surfaces. Clay courts cost $30,000-$75,000 to build, while concrete courts can cost as much as $120,000 and asphalt courts cost up to $100,000.
- Irregular bounces: The bounce issue is the main concern for people playing pickleball on a clay surface. Bounces on clay surfaces can be irregular, making it hard to know where the ball is going.
- Maintenance: Clay courts have an ongoing maintenance cost, while concrete courts are cheaper to maintain (though more expensive up front).
Advances in Clay Court Technology
The irregular bounce issue has been mitigated to a certain extent by introducing more sophisticated clay court options, such as the Har-Tru Surface.
Har-Tru courts—rather than red clay courts—were used for the U.S. Clay Court Pickleball Championships in 2017. The tournament went with the Onix Pure 2 Outdoor Pickleball ball, which has bounce characteristics similar to the Dura 40 on hard courts.
It is worth noting that these clay-court competitions are non-sanctioned by the sport’s governing body, The U.S.A. Pickleball Association.
Characteristics of Har-Tru Courts
- Har-Tru manufacture three types of surface: American red clay, European red clay, and green clay.
- Although Har-Tru tennis courts and pickleball courts are quicker than traditional red clay, the surface is slower than a hard surface court. However, red clay provides more grip and allows for easier direction changes.
- Har-Tru is made from “billion-year-old metal basalt green stone.” This stone is angular and very hard, helping to provide stability.
- It is also very suitable for use as an outdoor court, as it dries rapidly after heavy rain and is still playable even during light showers. As it is a loose substance, it will not crack over time.
- Har-Tru can be spread over many types of surfaces, and its porous qualities mean it will help to disperse surface water.
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