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Pock, pock. Pock, pock.
That’s the sound of pickleball season in St. Louis, where a growing number of parks and clubs are getting into the swing of this fast-growing sport. Even if you haven’t yet hit the hardcourt or picked up a paddle yourself, there are lots of places to learn this ultra-accessible sport and become a pickleball wizard in no time. “We’ve been real fortunate here in St. Louis to have, what I consider to be, exponential growth of courts, venues, and places to play,” says Mike Chapin, a local pickleball pro who helps oversee the website St. Louis Pickleball. “It’s a very inclusive sport where people want to help others get involved, and learn and grow the game. It’s something that individuals at any age can get involved in.”
Are you ready to join the legions of St. Louisans who’ve flocked to pickleball courts around the region? Use this guide as a resource for finding lessons, equipment, and how to play.
The game is played on a small, rectangular court that is divided into two sides by a low net. Players can compete in one-on-one or doubles action, and the first side to reach 11 points—with a two-point advantage—wins.
To start a rally, the player standing behind the right square will deliver an underhand serve to the player in the diagonal square. Both the initial serve and the return must bounce. From there, the teams will volley until the ball hits the net, goes out of bounds, or bounces twice. Only the serving team can score.
Be aware of the rectangular area in front of the net, commonly called the Kitchen. Players cannot hit the ball in the air while standing in the Kitchen. There are additional rules to learn and consider as you enter into more competitive play, so feel free to ask players around you for advice and tips as you develop your skills. Most players are eager to help.
To hit the court and start a volley, players don’t need much more than a paddle and a pickleball. It’s a fairly inexpensive sport that makes itself accessible to all ages. Paddles can range anywhere from $35 to $200, based on material. Like with most sports equipment, you’ll get what you pay for. (And don’t forget a pair of comfortable shoes and some breathable clothing.)
New players should be mindful that there are two types of balls: indoor and outdoor. Outdoor balls are dotted with 40 small holes that make it easier to hit in the elements. Indoor balls are slightly lighter and typically have 26 larger holes drilled into them to enhance balance. You can use either kind of ball inside or outside, but to maximize the ball’s playability, buy both and pick one for the occasion.
Among local shops, Racketman (12064 Manchester) in Des Peres has a wide selection of pickleball-specific gear, including paddles, balls, accessories, and athletic wear for men and women. The pro shop at the Missouri Pickleball Club (747 Gravois Bluffs, Fenton) carries a variety of paraphernalia, including hard-to-find grips, specialty bags, and more.
It’s been called the fastest-growing sport in the United States. In the St. Louis region alone, there are dozens upon dozens of outdoor and indoor courts available for public use. However, If you’re just getting started, consider one of these local spots to take lessons, join a league, or hone your game.
Fenton is home to the nation’s largest indoor pickleball facility, a 51,000-square-foot sports complex featuring 18 courts, five championship courts, a pro shop, and more. A team of teaching professionals works on-site to school newcomers, and share tips and tricks. Members pay $20 per month to access the club’s courts, take lessons, and compete in events. (747 Gravois Bluffs, Fenton. 636-496-7051)
Newcomers are welcome to enroll in personalized pickleball lessons at Vetta Concord, Vetta Sunset and Vetta West. Choose between one-on-one, private lessons, small group lessons with up to three other players, or clinic instruction with at least five additional players. Classes can be tailored to specific needs, with flexible scheduling. Vetta also oversees the pickleball program at Tower Grove Park. (12320 Old Tesson Ferry, Concord; 314-842-3111. 10911 Gravois Industrial, Sappington; 314-849-2327. 1330 Harvestowne, St. Peters; 636-441-0006.)
Beginning April 7, sessions on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 9 a.m.–12 p.m. will be geared toward helping new players immerse themselves in the sport. Volunteer instructors will be on hand at the Forest Park courts to field questions, observe play and offer guidance, and fill-in for games, as needed. Visit the website to learn more and reserve a spot. (5620 Grand Drive. 314-361-0177)
Year-round lessons offer points on choosing the best equipment, shot selection, ball placement, serving, advanced strategy, and more. Clinics cater to beginners, as well as experienced players looking for some extra seasoning. (12325 Manchester Road, 314-835-6150)
Throughout the year, classes and clinics catered to beginners and intermediate players are offered to residents and non-residents. Check the website for details. (2300 McKelvey, 314-738-2599)
THINGS TO KNOW
So you’ve purchased a paddle, found a partner, enrolled in lessons, and you’re feeling ready to play. Before you set foot on the court, here are some things to know:
Pickleball is its own game. Just because you’re an experienced tennis or racquetball player doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll immediately be a pickleball pro. Sure, hand-eye coordination and an ability to handle a racket are semi-transferable skills. But pickleball is a game that rewards shot placement as opposed to simply swatting the ball past your opponent.
All ages are welcome. The sport is easy enough for kids to grasp, competitive enough to keep adults hooked, and low-impact enough for it to be popular among seniors, too. Area schools are also beginning to work pickleball into physical education curriculums.
Connect with other players. Pickleball is a social sport, so not only can you get a good workout, you can make new friends and boost your mental health while interacting with your fellow players.
More venues are on the way. Beyond the abundance of public courts and private clubs already available in the St. Louis region, more pickleball courts are on the way. Last year, Chicken N Pickle, a Kansas City-based chain that also offers pickleball courts at its six restaurants, announced that it would open a new location in St. Charles. There are also plans for a pickleball-focused event space at The District in Chesterfield.
WATCH (OR CHALLENGE) THE BEST OF THE BEST
As a pickleball hotbed, St. Louis will host a pair of major tournaments this spring. Catch these high-level events when they roll into the region this May:
APP St. Louis Open, May 4–8: The Association of Pickleball Professionals will stage this five-day competition at the Missouri Pickleball Club, drawing some of the nation’s top-ranked players to the region. Watch the action unfold on site, or sign up to compete in one of the men’s or women’s events.
USA Pickleball Middle States Regional Championships, May 26–29: Some of the best pickleball players from Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota will compete for the regional crown at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park.