STAY N PLAY – NAPLES FLORIDA
North Carolina Pickleball
Stay N PLAY
EAST NAPLES, Fla. – Collier County tourism officials seem to have found a tap into burgeoning underground sports markets.
Weeks after landing the World Championships of the Pro Watercross Tour, complete with back-flipping Jet Skiers and watercraft races, Collier County is set to become the host of the first ever U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in 2016.
Commissioners are expected to approve a three-year deal with Open officials Tuesday that would bring the championships to East Naples Community Park in 2016, 2017 and 2018
The tennis-like sport, which has been around since the 1960s, has surged in popularity across the country over the past several years. But Florida in general, and Naples in particular, have been hotbeds for the sport, said Chris Evon of the U.S. Open Championships.
“It took a while for it to take off, but it really did once it started getting brought into the senior community,” Evon said. “For people who want to stay healthy, active and have a good time, pickleball came in and offered that. People who have torn a rotator cuff or have a bad hip or knee and couldn’t get on the tennis court anymore are able to play pickleball.”
Collier County parks officials have been working to add enough pickleball courts, with a hard surface and low tennis net, to keep up with demand.
The game is played with a hard paddle and a Wiffle ball on a badminton-sized court. It started as a backyard game, but has slowly grown into a national and international sport.
It’s grown, too, among younger players and in school gym classes. The No. 2 ranked player in the country, Kyle Yates, picked up the game while at Cyprus Lake High School in Fort Myers.
The USA Pickleball Association holds a national tournament each year in Arizona.
The U.S. Open will feature some of the best players in the world in a weeklong event, Evon said.
While the top-ranked players compete, events will be held for players of all ages and skill-sets.
The event is expected to draw 1,000 players and 10,000 spectators, said Rob Wells, sports marketing manager for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau. It would raise an estimated $500,000 in direct tourism spending, Wells said.
“A lot of players are very dedicated to the game and this will be followed very well,” he said. “Their goal is to find a home and keep it there, just like how the U.S. Open of tennis is held in Flushing Meadows every year.”
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