Retail Opportunities:
Taking Advantage of the Pickleball Phenomenon

Lisa Goulian Twiste is in her 24th year as senior apparel writer at PGA Magazine. She also writes for pgamagazine.com.

Pickleball has been America’s fastest-growing sport over the past few years, with participation rising 159 percent from 2019 to 2022. There are almost nine million people now playing the game, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

Described as a combination of ping-pong, tennis and badminton, pickleball appeals to people of all ages and skill levels with a lower entry barrier than sports like golf or tennis, which means it’s giving the 55 and older crowd a way to stay fit while having fun with friends and family.

“It seems with pickleball there is less mobility needed than tennis, so those with injuries have an easier time jumping into pickleball over tennis,” says Justin DeFont, PGA Head Professional at Audubon Country Club in Naples, Florida. “Also, in a community environment, members tend to have days set aside for golf and other days for additional activities such as tennis or pickleball. It’s a great way to exercise outside and find a little competition in a shorter time than golf.”

Audubon is one of countless golf facilities taking advantage of the rising enthusiasm for the sport by offering pickleball courts, programming and products to golfers and other members and guests. The club, which opened two pickleball courts in 2021 (with plans to add two more next summer), offers pickleball gear in the tennis/pickleball/fitness shop and has also added revenue through league play and lessons.

“Primarily, we carry a variety of pickleball paddles, balls and sweatbands,” DeFont says. “Tennis apparel tends to work for pickleball, as well, so our retail location already has what pickleball players are looking for.”

Quail West Golf & Country Club, also in Naples, Florida, appears to be all-in on the pickleball craze, with participation up 300 percent over the last year, according to PGA Director of Golf Casey Brozek. The club, whose pickleball participants range in age from five to the mid-80s, has four lighted pickleball courts centrally located near the court sports pavilion, tennis courts, playground and basketball court.

“Golfers are attracted to pickleball because it requires less racquet skill and movement than tennis. The learning curve for the sport is extremely short and the duration of games is short, so it requires little time commitment,” says Brozek, who carries paddle and court sports apparel in the golf shop, as well as paddles, grip tape and balls in the court sports pavilion. “The natural connection between golf and pickleball is that it’s one of the few sports where people of mixed abilities can play each other and still have a good time.”

The eight pickleball courts at Wichita (Kansas) Country Club are busy throughout the day, according to PGA Head Professional Bobby Jacks, and when the golf course is closed next year for a renovation, he plans to partner with the tennis operation to organize specialized pickleball events, including a Member-Member, Member-Guest, Summer Long Match Play and Evening “Twilight” Round Robin.

“Pickleball is huge in Wichita with men and women, juniors and seniors,” Jacks says. “A lot of our golfers play early morning and late evening pickleball; many of them are competitive, but it’s also a great workout. There’s a natural connection, and you can do both at the club.”

Wichita CC Golf Shop Manager & Merchandiser Riley Sherwood adds that the golf shop has been stocking T-shirts, hats and hoodies for pickleball players and recently added accessories, while the Tennis & Fitness Center features a display that includes tasc athleisure apparel and pickleball gear.

“As a society, we are 100 percent moving in a more casual, athletic direction for apparel,” Sherwood says. “Since our Tennis & Fitness Center does not have a shop, it was a great way to get our merchandise over there and catch some people who don’t normally stray into the golf shop.”

Among the golf-related companies offering pickleball gear are Katherine Way, which introduced a women’s Pickleball Print collection for spring 2024 with a wide variety of colorful prints in a quarter-zip, pleated skort, V-neck, sleeveless tank top and crew-neck T-shirt; G/Fore, whose selection of “Pickled Again” logoed products includes caps, T-shirts and men’s and women’s court shoes; Ame and Lulu, with its collection of themed bags, sweatshirts, T-shirts, caps, visors, socks, water bottles and other accessories; and Renwick, whose Pickle Sweater features rib trim at the cuffs and hem, a slightly longer back than front and double trim at the neckline, and can be paired with the company’s pickleball tote and hat.

“Golf and pickleball cater to a similar demographic – those who spend time at clubs or resorts and are looking for some healthy competition,” says Renwick president Sarah Morse. “Pickleball is more low impact than tennis so you can play it longer, which is similar to golf. It’s a great way to spend hours outside with your friends in the fresh air.”

Sport Haley features two pickleball-specific collections going into the new year, both featuring a cooling nylon-blend fabric and 50+ sun protection. “It’s hard to ignore the popularity of pickleball and the fact that it is the fastest growing sport in America,” says Tim Conlin, Sport Haley’s VP of Design. “We designed a pickleball line for a major retailer two years ago, so we thought it was time we launched a Sport Haley version for our green-grass partners. While the collection of skirts, tanks and tops are designed for performance, we included some graphic tees to celebrate the social aspect of the sport.”

In the area of accessories, Imperial Headwear is offering pickleball products like performance visors, rope caps and bucket hats, as well as a new five-panel rope cap for spring, while Glove It presents sport belt bags where pickleball enthusiasts can store essentials. In addition, Devant’s product line includes 16-by-32-inch towels with nine different pickleball designs.

Many golf shops are also dipping into the category by offering paddles, including Golftini (black paddle with a pink martini logo), johnnie-O (white model with the company’s surfboard logo in gulf blue) and Renwick, whose paddles are made in collaboration with a company called Recess Pickleball and coordinate back to Renwick apparel.

Brozek says pickleball paddle sales have increased exponentially at Quail West, and while they used to retail for $40-$100, players are now willing to pay up to $220. “The unique thing about paddles compared to tennis racquets is the lifespan on these is two years max,” he adds. “This is a portion of the retail sector we will be breaking into further in the upcoming year.”

Mike Williams, a PGA Professional and Vice President of Operations at Landscapes Golf Management, also notices a huge uptick in pickleball play at many of the facilities his company manages, including River Run Country Club in Davidson, North Carolina, Dakota Dunes (South Dakota) Country Club, Hillendale Country Club in Phoenix, Maryland and Oak Hills Country Club in Lincoln, Nebraska. He agrees that golf facilities have a great opportunity to cater to members by offering pickleball courts and programming, and to rack up some additional sales by stocking related merchandise.

“Clubs risk relevancy without a cogent pickleball program for all genders, ages and skill levels. That translates into lost revenue, especially among the younger crowd that represents an enormous lifetime value to the club,” Williams says. “Many golf shops are experiencing an uptick in merchandise sales. If you don’t have pickleball equipment and tennis-like apparel, they’ll spend their money elsewhere.”