An estimated 250 pickleball enthusiasts and supporters attended the grand opening celebration of Newnan’s new 15-court facility dedicated to the sport.
The event featured a short opening ceremony before players and observers headed off to mix it up with each other as they christened the courts, collectively known as the House of Pickleball – “The HOP,” for short.
“We had people from all over,” said Billy Perkins of the Newnan Pickleball Club, which hosted the event. “They came from Griffin, Opelika, Brooks, Carrollton, Peachtree City, north Atlanta … most of them were members of their local clubs, and they’re excited about what’s going on in other places.”
Perkins estimated about 25 percent of those attending were new to the game and wanted to see what pickleball is all about.
By the end of the day, he said, membership in the Newnan Pickleball Club had exploded. And that was no surprise to Perkins, who also serves as the USAUnited States Pickleball Association ambassador for Coweta County.
“Pickleball is a real draw for people,” Perkins said.
When the courts opened for play, those new to the game were directed to courts for learn-to-play clinics and family clinics with their children.
“Our goal was to get people on the courts where they could play the game, feel the paddles and see how the balls bounce,” Perkins said.
Initially embraced by the senior community, pickleball now attracts a wide range of players regardless of age or ability. To bring home that point, the Newnan Pickleball Club arranged exhibition matches featuring high-level players, including a “Gen Z” game of players in their 20s and another of players ages 70-plus.
And there was a bonus challenge match as well.
“The 70s wanted to take on the 20s,” Perkins said. “And the 20-year-olds had to fight tooth and nail to beat the 70-year-olds. There’s a lot of parity in it.”
For experienced players, it was all about mingling with other pickleball enthusiasts. They took to the courts and paired up with new friends at 10-minute intervals in a busy meet-and-greet format. It’s a golden opportunity for some of them, Perkins said, because despite its growing popularity (and the occasional conversion of tennis courts to accommodate the sport), dedicated public pickleball courts are rare.
“So many people are looking for places to play,” he said.
On behalf of pickleball fans, Perkins – who acted as emcee for the grand opening – thanked the city of Newnan for the facility.
“The mayor, the council and their administrators and employees all had one thing in mind and that was to build a beautiful, functional, player-friendly pickleball complex,” he said at the event. “Boy, did they, and it’s all for us.”
According to Perkins, pickleball has been around since 1965 but did not make its way to Coweta County until about a decade ago. The sport – which is played on a badminton-size court – combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, according to the USPA.
Players participate as singles or doubles, using a large, lightweight paddle to hit a plastic ball back and forth across a net for points. Its steady rise in popularity has pickleball courts popping up everywhere from resorts to RV parks.
“The demand for pickleball court construction is soaring,” said Mitch Headley of Headley Construction, which built the Newnan complex as well as indoor courts at the Lithia Springs Senior Center and student courts at Auburn University this year. “We are so proud to build better recreational spaces for our neighbors.”
Headley Construction also built the Newnan Public Safety Complex, The HOP’s neighbor on Joseph Hannah Drive, in 2013. Both are built on the former site of Hannah Homes. The deteriorating public housing development stood vacant for years before the city demolished the old buildings to make way for a sorely needed central location for the Newnan Police Department, which had long outgrown its Jefferson Street headquarters.
“These uniquely situated public facilities are a perfect example of why the community planning process is so vital,” Headley said. “Continuous improvement of facilities for first responders keeps our community safe, and fun recreational spaces keep our community healthy. When we repurpose outdated sites over time through thoughtful planning and careful management of SPLOST funds, everybody wins.”
Perkins said the final touches are still being added to The HOP but anticipates that the facility will be fully operational – including restrooms and concessions – within the next couple of weeks. Operating time is expected to be from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Perkins said, and courts will be open unless special events are in progress.
For more information and schedules, visit www.newnanpickleball.com .
By Rebecca Leftwich for The Newnan Times Herald