Brian McCarthy tries to savor the moment.
Even though McCarthy’s longtime project, The Pickleball Club, won’t open until January or February, McCarthy has no doubt it will be a hit. People won’t be soured on the sport, McCarthy said, long or short term. In fact, he and General Manager Dominic Catalano believe the sport’s greatest days are yet to come – which is why they aim to create the ultimate dill-luxe experience for Sarasota-area athletes.
McCarthy came up with the idea for the Pickleball Club four years ago while serving on the Board of Governors of the Bird Key Yacht Club as Chairman of Strategic Planning. McCarthy asked the council to set up a few pickleball courts on empty pitches owned by the club. The members loved the idea – but the club’s neighbors didn’t like the noise they said the courts would generate, so the idea was scrapped. But McCarthy couldn’t let the idea pass.
It wasn’t just the sport itself that interested him – although he certainly enjoys playing it – but where the sport could go. McCarthy said he felt it would soon explode in popularity at all ages due to its ease of play and the way the game encourages socialization. McCarthy hired a researcher to ask athletes what they liked and disliked about the current pickleball experience. He wanted to reach as many pickleball players in as many demographic groups as possible. Some common refrains seen in the results: People wanted a space to play indoors, especially in the summer, but wanted to do it on a surface that wouldn’t cause a lot of joint pain. They also wanted to retain the social aspects of the game while refining the matchmaking process: often there are more players in one place than there are spaces available on the courts, meaning players were waiting many more matches end before playing again.
McCarthy took that information and turned it into what would soon be the Pickleball Club, a 33,000 square foot mecca for the sport.
The club, which will be located at 1300 Sarasota Center Blvd., will include 12 indoor courts and four outdoor courts, as well as a small cafe selling take-out food and beverages, as well as a bocce ball area, a tennis area table and a cornhole area. And there will be plenty of spaces to hang out and watch sports on TV to unwind.
McCarthy compared the surfaces of the club’s indoor courts to those of the US Open tennis court, which is a multi-layered acrylic hard court. McCarthy said he thinks the surface will be comfortable and cushioned enough that people with injury histories and sensitive joints can still play.
True to the origins of all ages and all levels of the sport, the Pickleball Club will have no skill requirements. In fact, McCarthy expects most members of the club to be rookies or low-level players. But the club will have coaches available for each level in case the players want to improve their skills. Non-members can also take lessons with coaches at higher rates.
All these activities and amenities will not be free. The Pickleball Club will be a private club. McCarthy said that until the club opens, it will offer a special (one-time) initiation rate of approximately $1,000, plus a monthly membership fee of approximately $100 for adult and family packages and $55 for youth packages. These prices will increase after the grand opening. Unlike other private clubs, Pickleball Club will not require monthly food and beverage minimums. A membership allows you to play for free on the course and to use the other activities of the establishment. Members will have to pay a small fee if they wish to reserve a court, but the fee can be split between four players. Accumulated charges will be billed once a month.
“We want it to be affordable,” McCarthy said. “I’m so happy that the sport is embraced by everyone.”
McCarthy said the club had over 200 members, with more than 1,900 people requesting more information once the club officially opened.
Although the sport is still popular with older generations, the average pickleball player is getting younger with each passing year. Catalano, who is a level 5 pickleball player, said the median player is around 42, with the biggest age group being 18-34. Sports celebrities such as Tom Brady, Kim Clijsters, LeBron James and Drew Brees have all invested in or promoted sports in various forms, as have non-sports celebrities like country music artist Maren Morris.
On November 17, CBS will air a celebrity pickleball special hosted by Stephen Colbert and featuring actors Will Ferrell and Emma Watson and country music artist Dierks Bentley, among others. Catalano said the exposure can only help the sport as a whole and, by extension, the club.
Catalano said the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent months of social distancing led to pickleball returning to its roots as a family game, something all loved ones can do together. The sport has continued to ride a wave of popularity ever since – and the club aims to keep it that way.
“People just need to get over the stigma of ‘Oh, it’s pickleball,'” Catalano said. “So what? It’s a good time. Go out and have fun. That’s exactly what they’re doing now.”
For more information about the club or to become a member, visit ThePickleballClub.us.
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