History of Pickleball in Sun City West

The game of Pickleball was created in the early 1960’s on Puget Sound’s Bainbridge Island, Washington, near Seattle.  The game slowly spread across the United States through high school physical education classes, recreational vehicle parks and retirement communities.


Pickleball was introduced to Sun City West in early 2002 when a new resident, JoAnn Kettman, observed the platform tennis courts at RHJ were the same dimensions to that of a pickleball court.  JoAnn had been introduced to the game through demonstrations at physical education conventions in Iowa and Illinois and commenced to add the game to her physical education curriculum in Iowa utilizing lines on the gym floor previously used for badminton. She had also played Pickleball in the Mesa area while visiting her parents at Monte Vista, coached tennis in Iowa and had joined the Racquet club in SCW upon her arrival.  Led by her knowledge and love for racquet sports, JoAnn and her husband on their own chalked the “kitchen line” on two platform tennis courts.  She had brought wooden paddles and balls from Iowa and invited friends to try the new game of Pickleball. Her friends became hooked on the new game and she ordered racquets and balls for them.  At that time a new racquet was $25 and a dozen balls cost $18.

In April of 2002, Pickleball was first referenced in the SCW Racquet Club’s newsletter “SMASH”.  The annual “Swing into Spring” tennis tournament included a Pickleball demonstration by Happy Trails to promote interest in the new sport.  Happy Trails was a nearby RV resort which had many visitors from the state of Washington and the sport took a strong hold on the residents. As stated in the SMASH newsletter, “According to CL Thompson, Racquet Club President, if there is enough interest in Pickleball, it will become a regular activity with a chairman needed to organize and coordinate play. The May issue of SMASH, listed two websites for more information on the game as well as a website where you could order equipment.  In September of 2002 platform tennis courts 18 & 19 were officially committed to Pickleball according the SMASH newsletter. In October the Racquet Club board ordered racquets and balls with the equipment available through the monitor at the RHJ miniature golf check-in desk.  Rules of the game and instruction sheets were also made available.


On January 6 of 2003 a wine and cheese social was organized by CL Thompson to introduce the sport  to the Racquet Club.  Forty people attended the social and played on four courts.  JoAnn Kettman agreed to be chairman of Pickleball activities for the Racquet Club and kitchen lines were painted on the platform courts.  Play was arranged twice a week for two hour sessions to introduce the game to SCW residents. Play was similar to what drop in play is today.  During games, JoAnn instructed participants on serving technique, rules, scoring and strategies of the game.  From January to April, participants on the roster grew to number 100 players.  JoAnn, being a snowbird, departed for her summer home and Sara Lerch agreed to coordinate activities in JoAnn’s absence.  Later that summer, Sara and her husband had to relocate to their home state and Martha Wasserman began coordinating the activities.

Interest in the sport was growing rapidly in the area as articles in the Daily News Sun and the Sun magazine appeared in July of ’03.  Communities along Bell Road from Sun City, west to Sun City Grand and Arizona Traditions all had courts and participation in the sport increased rapidly among the retirement communities.  Happy Trails had hosted Pickleball in the Senior Olympics three times by 2003.

JoAnn being a snowbird and having a devout interest in golf was willing to pass on the chairmanship of Pickleball. In September of 2003, Martha Waserman was officially approved by the Racquet Club to coordinate Pickleball activities. Martha and Charlie Robinson began giving instructional lessons and Charlie ordered racquets and balls for players.  Since we were sharing the courts with the platform tennis players, a schedule was developed for court usage.  Platform Tennis used the courts the first session and Pickleball used the courts the remainder of the day.  As players’ skills and participation increased it was apparent there was a need for organized competitive play.  Martha organized a ladder program for players with Charlie as the back-up coordinator.  The ladder provided an opportunity for players to play others of similar ability.

In early November the ladder program reached court capacity and a second session was added to accommodate the growing participation and interest in Pickleball.  The ladder became so large, it was split into two groups, AB and CD.  Martha coordinated the AB ladder and Charlie coordinated the CD ladder.  However, participation continued to grow and by the end of the year the ladder program again exceeded court capacity.  Due to the rapid growth, it was difficult to remember player’ names, therefore Martha designed a Pickleball logo and made name tags for all players.


In January 2004 the two ladder programs were combined at the request of the members to allow for more competition among members.  Two sessions were held every Wednesday at 10 and 11 and Martha continued to coordinate the combined ladders.  The scheduling of play was done manually and became very time consuming.  A member of the Racquet Club, Phil Brown, offered to write a program to simplify the process.  Drop-in play was scheduled every day except and Friday and Sunday with participation of 100 players.

Martha worked with the RecreationCenter and developed a website to post ladder schedules and standings each week and to give players an opportunity to express concerns and suggestions.  A roster of participants was included on the website as well as notifications of upcoming events, socials and tournaments.

January also saw the addition of competition outside the walls of SCW.  AB members of the ladder were encouraged by Martha and Charlie to participate in a ladder competition that included the communities of Sun City, Sun City Grand, Happy Trails and Arizona Traditions, called PICL.  The A ladder played Mondays at 1 pm and the B ladder on Tuesdays also at 1 pm.  Play rotated each week between the communities and afforded an opportunity to meet other Pickleball enthusiasts from nearby communities.  Several players from SCW also participated in the Arizona Senior Olympics held just down the road at Arizona Traditions.  Gold, silver and bronze medals were won in women’s doubles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles competition.

In the summer months of 2004 Teresa Smith took over the ladder competition in the absence of Martha and Charlie.  Teresa also signed on as an instructor and conducted free drills to better the play of anyone interested.

With the snowbirds and new residents arriving in the fall the group increased to 156 active members and changes were starting to take place.  Three timeslots were needed for ladder play.  Charlie was ordering balls and racquets every week for new players.  A decision was made to provide balls for all players.  Roberta Keating organized a fun raising trip to AK Chin Casino which raised enough money for the balls to be purchased for the group’s play at drop-ins and ladder competition.  Martha and her husband designed, built and installed pickleball holders on each court.

In October the Pickleball group hosted a table at the Rec Centers Newcomers’ Coffee to invite residents to enjoy the game and offered free lessons. Martha organized a ladies only ladder with play on Fridays at 1 pm.  Due to the growing membership and increased interest in Pickleball, a request to construct three pickleball courts in the dirt area west of the platform tennis court #20 was submitted to the RecreationCenter by the Racquet Club.

In November, Sherri Reimold took over the coordination of a ladies ladder.  Jayne Ferraro organized a couples’ drop-in which played on Saturdays at 6 pm. Due to the increased number of activities and players, the Racquet Club approved the temporary use of tennis court #2 for pickleball play to help alleviate the overcrowding of the platform tennis courts.  Two temporary pickleball nets were put up and Martha and Charlie chalked the courts with pickleball lines two or three times a week as the lines wore off or it rained.

In December the first SCW Pickleball Fun Tournament was organized by Martha and Mike Johnson, followed by a potluck dinner at the courts and awarding of prizes (made by Mike).  Membership in SCW and the surrounding communities continued to grow and the availability of courts in all communities was at capacity therefore the inter-community play, PICKL was discontinued.


In January of 2005, active players involved in Pickleball numbered 176. The newsletter SMASH reported a goal and priority in 2005 would be to construct three new courts for Pickleball on undeveloped ground just to the west of the platform tennis courts at RHJ. The racket club had already completed the paperwork and submitted it to the Recreation Center. Ground breaking ceremonies took place in August and a dedication ceremony was held in October with Ross Shimabuku of Channel 3 Sports headlining the event.

In August of 2005 the Pickleball players decided to form their own club, breaking away from the racquet club. The Sun City West Recreation Board granted this request in early October of 2005 and Pickleball officially became the 106th club in SCW. On October 20, the first charter club meeting was held. Officers were elected: Martha Wasserman, President, Charlie Robinson, Vice President, Jerry Funk, Treasurer, Sherry Reimold, Secretary and Teresa Smith, Director at Large. Membership dues were set at $10 for the year. The first by-laws were written and approved by the members. In November rules and regulations of the club were adopted. Several sub committees necessary to run the club were developed along with club members volunteering to chair the committees. Other club members volunteered their time to instruct new members.


In January of 2006 the first badges were distributed for the members of the club. The club was now utilizing five platform tennis courts and three Pickleball courts for play. The club grew to 258 members.

With the growth of the club it became evident more courts were needed to accommodate the number of players. In January of 2006 the Recreation Board Space Utilization Resource committee (SUR), a sub committee of the SCW Governing Board Property Committee requested information from the Pickleball club concerning the amount of court usage and the numbers of people playing. In April the SUR committee reported to the Property Committee, Sun City West was underdeveloped for Pickleball courts compared to other active adult communities in the area. If Sun City West wanted to stay competitive and attract new residents, more Pickleball courts should be created. The study led to the Pickleball club creating a committee with the direction of developing a 5 year plan to determine future court needs, where additional courts could be placed and how they would be financed. It was decided at this time for the Pickleball club to start a reserve fund for the construction of additional courts. Four dollars of each member’s paid dues was designated to this fund. Membership grew to 367 by the end of December.


Studies by the Pickleball Club and Recreation Center’s Space Utilization Committee in 2007 led to several ideas of increasing the number of courts for Pickleball. Studies indicated the tennis courts at Palm Ridge were underutilized. Therefore, the recommendation of converting three tennis courts at Palm Ridge into ten Pickleball courts proved to be the direction that was chosen by the planning committees to pursue. The plan was approved by the Recreation Center’s Property Committee. Cost of the conversion was set at $395,000. The Recreation Center budgeted $72,000 toward the new courts and would loan $60,000 to the Pickleball Club to be paid back over a five year period. In June the Recreation Center applied for a grant through to the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority for the remaining two thirds of the total cost ($263,000) which was later denied because the courts were not open to the public.


On April 24, 2008 The Sun City West Recreation Center’s Governing Board voted unanimously to approve the conversion of three tennis courts at Palm Ridge to ten Pickleball courts. Pickleball Club members started brainstorming on fund raising ideas. Architects were contacted to draw plans for the courts. Membership grew to 425 by the end of the year.


The construction of the new courts progressed slowly in 2009. The Governing Board approved $200,000 toward the new courts. Engineer and architect plans were completed. Permits were approved and bids for the construction were submitted. Construction began in November. The Pickleball Club voted to donate $5,000 to the Recreation Center to help light the new courts. Membership at the end of 2009 grew to 460 players.


The year 2010 proved to be an exciting year for the Pickleball Club as the dream of additional courts finally came true. Ten new courts were dedicated on January 15. The club also held an Amazing Race through Sun City West as a fund raiser to construct a bulletin board at the new facility. $1000 was donated to the club for this purpose.


It didn’t take long for the Pickleball Club to share their new courts with others. The first invitational tournament, Fun in the Sun (FITS) was held March 13-17 in 2011 and was co-chaired by Mike Johnson and Martha Wasserman. Seventy five teams from forty five Pickleball clubs and players from thirty states and Canadian provinces participated.

In the September General Membership meeting of the Pickleball Club, a motion passed to submit the necessary paperwork to the Sun City West Recreation requesting the remaining three tennis courts at Palm Ridge be converted to Pickleball courts. In October the Properties Committee of the Recreation Board ruled in favor of the request. The proposal then moved to the SCW Governing board for consideration where it passed as well. Fundraising started immediately focusing on securing sponsorships and advertising from the business community and donations from members.

A change took place on the badges when the Pickleball club decided to print the member’s resident state on the name tags. Membership in January started at 252 and grew to 683 by the end of December of 2011.


The focus in 2012 was on fund raising for the new courts. Dues were raised to $15 with $9 going to the new court fund. The fund raising committee reached out to the community businesses by selling banners for advertising purposes. This project generated $15,800 for the club. A golf cart from Discount Golf Cars of Arizona raised $4,700 in profit. The FITS tournament was also very successful netting just short of $18,000.

Other notable happenings saw the Pickleball club participate in the Arizona Centennial parade held in Sun City West. The first Snowbirds vs. Sweatbirds tournament was held. On October 12th the Pickleball club released a website available to the membership. Progress on the new courts ended with permits being in the hands of Maricopa County for approval. Membership increased to 696 Pickleball players by end of 2012.


In January of 2013 permits for the new courts were approved by Maricopa County with construction slated to start immediately after the FITS tournament in March. However revisions in the building plans pushed the starting date of construction back to October 15. Ground breaking ceremonies were held on October 2. Cost of the eight additional courts was $267,000.

To help fund the cost of the new courts, Liberty Buick committed to provide the Sun City West Pickleball club an amount of $93,750 over the next 25 years. In return Liberty Buick was granted naming rights, with a monument erected at the court entrance with the name “Liberty Courts”. An additional 15,000 was donated to the Pickleball club by Liberty Buick for the naming rights.

Additional fund raising was created by seeking businesses to sponsor Pickleball events such as the volunteers program which recognized and celebrated the volunteer efforts of the Pickleball membership. This program was sponsored by Larry Ott Realty. Seeking additional sponsors for future club events and tournaments will be an important means of raising funds for the club.

Revisions were made to the Bylaws and Rules, Regulations and Procedures to enhance the operation of the club. One Officer at Large was added replacing the Past President position on the board. Staggered election cycles of terms of office were implemented to provide better continuity from year to year and leadership transition on the board.

In December of 2013, an incentive to renew membership early (by Dec. 15) was put in place. A $100 gift certificate was given away at the 2014 January membership meeting. Membership at the end of 2013 totaled 838.

 Chris Pflueger
SCW Pickleball Club Historian