The new Pickles and Play club at 740 Merritt Capital Drive, Wake Forest, North Carolina, was, as usual, operating at full capacity early one morning last week, with all seven of its courts being used. Players ranged from 8 to 73.
The overwhelming response came as no surprise to Lane Ethridge, even though it only took six weeks from opening for the 18,000-square-foot facility to reach near-capacity.
“Shows How The Sport Is Growing”
“People have been craving this for a long time,” Ethridge said. “The thing I’m more surprised about is the level of skill we have at our club.
“I think because members have been waiting for this for so long, it’s attracting really high-level players.”
Ethridge emphasized how the pickleball public was demanding a convenient space in response to busy public courts.
“It just shows that the sport is growing,” Ethridge said. “A lot of the public courts are overcrowded. People are looking for a really welcoming place to play where they don’t have to wait 45 minutes to an hour to get out and go play pickleball.”
A Popular Choice
The facility, offering five membership options ranging from $89 to $199 per month, has quickly become a popular choice, reflecting the growing interest in pickleball.
For those unsure about membership, a $20 drop-in play option is available, allowing participants to stay as long as they wish.
Free introductory classes on Thursdays contribute to Pickles and Play‘s community engagement strategy.
Ethridge said, “I have found that this sport changes people’s lives in ways that they don’t understand that it can.”
“I’m Here Every Day”
Player testimonials, such as Beth Clement’s almost daily presence since the opening, underscore the facility’s significance.
Beth said she started playing seven or eight years ago and now plays pickleball almost daily: “Sometimes, I take the weekends off, but [on] weekdays, I’m here every day,”
Clement said she used to play at public parks and recreation centers before Pickles and Play opened.
“It didn’t used to be really crowded, but now, since COVID, it seems to have picked up the crowds,” Clement said.
Joint-Friendly Cushioned Surface
Shawn Johnson praised the indoor setting for its joint-friendly cushioned surface and the efficient online court reservation system.
“I try to get out here a couple times a week,” he said. “I enjoy playing inside. [It’s] a lot easier on the joints, and I get in a good workout.”
“I felt like it was going to open up opportunities to play,” Johnson said. “As pickleball is growing, sometimes it’s a little harder to get onto the court outside because a lot of families will come.”
A Godsend In The Winter
The indoor courts, shielded from weather elements, were designed with a focus on player comfort and longevity.
Pickles and Play’s indoor courts mean wind is never a factor, with the added pleasure of playing rain or shine in a temperature-controlled environment – a godsend in the winter.
Ethridge said he and his partners focused on creating the best possible courts for players.
“We have clients here who literally, they say after they walk off the court, they’re not sore,” he said. “They don’t have knee pain. They don’t have hip pain. They don’t have joint issues like they normally would if they go play at a normal place.
Nine Millimeters Of Cushioning!
The emphasis on physical well-being extended to the construction of the courts, featuring nine millimeters of cushioning for optimal ball bounce and joint protection.
Ethridge proudly shared the testimonial of a member over 70, attesting to the extended playing ability due to the quality of the courts.
“He was hesitant of joining, to be honest, and after day two, he talked to me and was like, ‘Man, I think I’m going to be able to probably play three or four years longer than I expected just because I don’t have the issues that I have where I play other places because of the quality of the courts you guys have.’”
Perfect lighting, climate control, and permanent netting were identified as crucial elements for an exceptional playing experience, aligning with Ethridge’s goal of promoting health and fostering community through leagues.
Clement, at 69, appreciates the opportunity to play year-round indoors, highlighting the facility’s impact on the sport’s accessibility.
“Last year, before this opened, I was playing – it could be 38 degrees, and I’d be outside playing,” she said.
About Lane Ethridge
Lane Ethridge’s personal involvement in pickleball and his background in sports, coupled with his certifications, contribute to the facility’s credibility. The decision to open in Wake Forest and future plans for Chapel Hill and western Wake County are strategically aligned with population growth and demand.
Ethridge had served as pickleball director and lead pro instructor at Northridge Country Club and Lifetime Fitness of Raleigh.
“I just took everything that I thought was good and bad about each of them,” Ethridge said.
Plans For The Future
Ethridge said Pickles and Play plans to open up the second facility at 7310 Millhouse Road in Chapel Hill in January. The Chapel Hill location is a new build, Ethridge said.
The Chapel Hill location is around three miles from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Last year, their school pickleball club won the 2022 DUPR [Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating] Pickleball Collegiate National Championship.
“It’s going to be a Division I sport soon,” Ethridge said.
A third location is also planned for western Wake County, according to Ethridge.
Pickles and Play, under Ethridge’s guidance, has successfully tapped into the demand for high-quality pickleball facilities, creating an environment that not only meets but exceeds the expectations of its members.
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