For Raritan Valley Country Club, 2021 is a landmark year. As it commemorated its 110th anniversary, it also forged new territory in its racquets offerings by building four new pickleball courts.
This curiously named sport might be trendy, but it is far from new. It was invented in 1965 by two dads, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, on Bainbridge Island, Washington, who cobbled together elements of tennis, badminton, ping-pong and Wiffle Ball on an old badminton court to entertain their bored families. The game took root, was organized and caught fire nationwide, with a USA Pickleball Association and an International Federation of Pickleball established to develop the sport worldwide.
The game is played in either doubles or singles on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net. The paddles—larger than those used in table tennis but smaller than tennis rackets—are used to hit a lightweight ball with holes, similar to a Wiffle Ball. Easy to learn and accessible to all ages and skill levels, pickleball can develop into a quick, fast-paced game as players become more experienced.
There are two speculations as to the origin of the name: It was either a nod to Prichard’s dog, Pickles, who would chase stray pickleballs, or is a reference to a pickle boat in rowing, which is made up of leftover oarsmen from other teams. Prichard’s wife once drew a parallel between the leftover athletes in the pickle boats and the fact that the new sport her husband created was based on “leftovers” from other racquet sports.
“We introduced pickleball in fall 2019 and it just took off with our members,” said Jennifer Panaia, membership and club communications director. “We started offering clinics and adding pickleball courts to our amenities became part of our long-term plan.” Once word spread that the country club planned to build pickleball courts, people started calling to join.
The four permanent pickleball courts opened this summer. “Where tennis is more of a spring-summer sport, pickleball can be extended into the fall as long as the weather's nice,” Panaia says.
Pickleball is an excellent sport for older tennis players who enjoy a fast pace but can’t run back and forth as much as they used to on the courts. “It’s played on a smaller court, so the movement is not the same as would be on a full tennis court,” says Brett Michel, director of racquets. “It certainly requires a lot of the same hand-eye skills as racquet sports like tennis, badminton or squash, but it has its own nuances, strategy and scoring so it’s not just tennis on a smaller court.”
The country club offers introduction to pickleball classes for members who are new to the sport or for those who want to brush up on scoring and positioning. “As players go through our classes, we are finding they just want to play,” Michel says. “So, we offer a round-robin on Sunday mornings after the intro clinic.”
There are men’s open play nights every Monday for tennis and pickleball; on Friday nights, members can enjoy socials for both sports. “We have very strong ladies’ and men’s tennis teams and junior programs,” Michel says. “Adding pickleball brings another dynamic; they complement each other well.”
The pickleball courts are an exciting addition to the country club’s anniversary year, which also marked the centennial of President Warren G. Harding’s signing of the Knox-Porter Resolution, which ended United States involvement in World War I, on the estate of Joseph S. Frelinghuysen Sr. in Somerville. “The event ties in with our anniversary because after President Harding signed the Resolution, he came here to play golf,” Panaia says. To commemorate the anniversary, the country club held a Knox-Porter golf tournament on July 2, the day that the resolution was signed.
“The country club is growing, adding amenities and has big plans for the future,” she says. “So, 110 years is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Find out more about Raritan Valley Country Club at rvcc1911.org.