Four players stood in the gymnasium of the Brier Creek Community Center in Raleigh, equipped with large paddles and a neon ball as holey as Swiss cheese.
The players lobbed the ball back and forth over a net. They carefully avoided the “kitchen,” a small rectangle near the net that’s off limits.
Was this a large-scale game of ping pong or a weird form of badminton? Maybe some sort of tennis match?
Nope, it was pickleball.
Enthusiasts of the sport say pickleball is gaining popularity in the Triangle. The object of the game is to get the ball over the net without sending it out of bounds.
“The sport is so addictive,” said Bubba Grant, 58, an active pickleball player who lives in Cary. “When you’re playing, you just can’t stop laughing, it’s so much fun.”
Grant helped organize an effort to encourage the town of Cary to renovate the pickleball court at White Oak Park in western Cary, the only outdoor court in town.
Cary plans to spend about $18,000 to expand the width of the court 10 feet to allow room for three permanent pickleball courts, complete with posts and nets. The town expects to finish the project by Aug. 15.
The new courts will be the first dedicated pickleball courts in the Triangle. Many times, pickleball players sign up for gym time at community centers and use tape to create lines and set up the nets.
Grant said he believes the Triangle has between 250 and 500 pickleball players. It can be a challenge to find a place to play.
“The community centers have gotten so crowded,” Grant said.
For the last two years, he said, about 30 to 40 pickleball players have used the lone court at White Oak Park on the weekends.
Joe Borelli, an ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association, said Cary leaders are “trailblazers” for the sport.
“We won’t have to worry about scheduling anymore,” he said.
There are plans to put six new courts near the Method Road area of Raleigh, Borelli said. He hopes construction will start in the fall.
Pickleball players come in all ages, but Grant said the game is particularly ideal for seniors. It requires less mobility than tennis or racquetball, but still possesses the same fun and fast-thinking elements.
“I like to try and stay active,” said Claude Brasseale, a 76-year-old from Wake Forest who started playing pickleball nine months ago.
Dennis Brennan of Wake Forest started playing almost three years ago. He was a seasoned tennis player but had to take a break after shattering his right wrist.
That’s when he turned to pickleball. But what started as a rehab for tennis turned into a pickleball passion.
“From there I was hooked,” said Brennan, who looks for courts to play on and even built a personal court in his yard.
Grant, who encouraged Cary to build the courts, has been playing pickleball for three years. He and his wife stumbled upon the sport after coming across an ad in a town of Cary newsletter.
“We were getting close to retirement, and we wanted to find a hobby for us to do,” Grant said.
His wife went to a lesson and loved it. She tried to persuade Grant to come along, but he was hesitant at first.
“I was like, ‘pickleball? Are you kidding me?’ ” Grant recalled.
He eventually gave in, grumbling about being dragged to the court. But after his first swing, it was love at first sight.
“All it took was one time,” Grant said. “I ordered a paddle online the next day.”