MY WIFE AND I tried playing pickleball for the first time on a cold, crisp and somewhat windy fall afternoon on a restriped tennis court on Bainbridge Island.

We lunged unsuccessfully at passing shots, sent serves flying out of bounds and kept whiffing at what should have been easy returns. Arrggh!

Cover story: Pickleball began on Bainbridge Island in 1965 as a summertime diversion for bored kids and since has ballooned into a full-fledged sport for all ages.

We’re both fairly athletic. We ski, bike and hike; I pretend to play golf, but neither of us has spent time playing racket games. Thus, our initial frustration with pickleball.

Then, on a trip to the California desert a while back, we happened upon some pickleball courts at the resort where we were staying and, along with relatives, decided to try it again.

With basic instruction from an oldster on an adjoining court, who took pity on us after hearing us moan and groan, we figured out the game rather quickly and were having a blast in no time.


While neither of us is a pickleball fanatic today, we do understand the game’s appeal. It’s easy to learn — even if you don’t have an athletic bone in your body — and is both fun and challenging for people of all ages.

“It’s one of those sports that if you played tennis, Ping-Pong or squash, you can pick it up in 10 minutes,” says Clay Roberts, an avid player in my hometown of Bainbridge Island, and the man responsible for helping to raise $50,000 to build the Founders Courts.

Bainbridge is the home of pickleball, and the place where three buddies and their families created the game back in the mid-1960s, naming it after one of their family pets.

Roberts and a group of loyal followers want to honor their legacy by completing the new set of courts — finished this past summer — and eventually adding an archway, plaza, kiosks and other tributes to the game’s founding.

On a soggy day last October, 93-year-old Barney McCallum, the last surviving founder (he died less than a month later), sat huddled in a wheelchair as more than 100 people, including Gov. Jay Inslee, showed up to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new courts.

“Bainbridge Islander(s) have enjoyed the game immensely,” McCallum said later, and there’s “a [nice] balance between male and female” players.