Pickleball is the nation’s fastest-growing sport, and your neighbors won’t shut up about it. Here’s why, plus where to play pickleball in Northern Michigan. 

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I started playing pickleball about a year ago. A visiting friend brought his paddles up to Traverse City. After an hour, I was hooked.

And I’m not alone. In 2022, there were 8.9 million players in the United States, according to a report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, with participation increasing by 159 percent over three years.

Now, I can’t speak for all 8.9 million, but I can tell you why I’m passionate (read: borderline obsessive) about pickleball:

  • It encourages mindfulness, gentle consistent breathing, competition, cooperation and camaraderie all while being disguised as a game. It’s a source of sustained low-impact cardio and improves your reflexes. The strategic aspects of pickleball provide mental stimulation, enhancing cognitive functions and concentration.
  • You’ll see a 15-year-old playing rec ball with their grandparents. And 36-year-olds getting schooled by 80-year-olds.
  • The competition is fierce, from beginners to seasoned players, but when one of the main components of the game is called dinking (YouTube it), you can’t take yourself too seriously.
  • There are no apologies in pickleball. For a point to be scored, a mistake has to be made, so there’s no need to apologize for a bad shot. Games are normally played to 11 points, win by two, and no one wants to hear “Ope, I’m sorry” that many times. Even our Midwest politeness has its limits. (We might apologize for a netter, maybe a body shot … but we don’t really mean it.)
  • The sport’s team-oriented nature and the sense of belonging it provides proves beneficial for people from all walks of life, including those who have struggled with interpersonal relationships in the past. It’s a creative game where you compete against yourself and collaborate with others, sometimes a complete stranger.
  • Game time is always a social hour (… five hours), and I’ve met some incredible people on the courts. I started playing shortly after moving to Traverse City, and I’ve found a home within the pickleball community.
friendly pickleball group of 7 players standing on a court on a summer day

Photo by The Friendly Pickleball Group

Where to Play Pickleball in Northern Michigan

Playing pickleball becomes more accessible each year, with the addition of new courts by dedicated groups and organizations. USA Pickleball maintains a robust database of courts called Places 2 Play. Pickleheads.com helps you easily find a court nearby as well as lets you find games, recruit players and sign up to play.

My pickleball home in Traverse City has a host of ops for players of all levels and abilities: “The Dog Park” at Slabtown Corner is lovingly maintained by the Friendly Pickleball Group and provides a fun, casual atmosphere. The Boardman River Courts, managed by the Traverse Area Pickleball Association, offer a more competitive setting for players looking to reserve courts, challenge themselves and play hard. On Old Mission Peninsula, six new outdoor courts are being built this summer at Bowers Harbor Park, and about 20 minutes south of town, Grace Macdonald Park is tucked away and scenic. The Grand Traverse County Senior Center Network also hosts games and lessons. In the winter, head indoors at the South YMCA where courts can be reserved, open play mixes in and beginners can get tips and learn the rules on Wednesday nights. Pickleball U in Acme, opening soon, will also have indoor courts.

James OBryan is a Traverse Area Pickleball Association board member. Want to talk pickleball? Email obryanwithawhy@gmail.com