In case you haven’t picked up on the obvious, pickleball is clearly where it's at in the racquet-sports realm these days.
From the visible influx of pickleball courts at South Florida parks to the now more than 4.2 million pickleball players in the U.S. alone, folks near and far are paddling it out like never before as the sport, which originated in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in the mid-1960s, continues to gain momentum.
On March 2, Broward County helps kick off the inaugural Association of Pickleball Professionals’ (APP) Plantation Open. More than 600 total players — encompassing top-tier pros as well as amateurs — will compete for glory and prizes alike.
In the pro division, more than $40,000 in prizes is at stake in the tournament, which runs through Sunday, March 6.
“If you haven’t experienced a pro pickleball game, once you see it up close it is a bit different,” says Carl Foster, CEO of Foster Events Group, a partner of the APP Tour that has produced similar pickleball events in Boca Raton and Delray Beach. “Every day, more and more people are playing pickleball, so we’ll see how this grows through the years.”
The APP Tour has signed a three-year agreement to host the Plantation Open at Plantation Central Park. To host the event, the park had to add five courts, including a 300-seat court for marquee matches. In total, there will be 17 courts for players.
Among the notable pros gearing up for the Plantation Open is the number-two ranked player in the world, Zane Navratil, along with local pros JW Johnson and Johnny Goldberg. Between the pro and amateur brackets, Foster says the entrants’ ages range from 13 to 80, noting that “more and more, the younger generation is getting into pickleball, too.” Beyond the pro tournament, amateurs are divided into tournaments based on skill level.
Similar in layout to major tennis tournaments, guests can simply walk up and observe matches on the non-stadium/feature court. In addition to first-come seating at the stadium court, for a fee, there will rows of preferred bleachers as well as 32 VIP high-top tables that include complimentary snacks and beverages. Rounding out the tournament’s vibe will be 20 sponsor tents, selling everything from pickleball paddles to jewelry, and seven food vendors.
With year one of the Plantation Open in motion and player registration sold out, Foster and organizers are already looking to expand its footprint for year two.
“Perhaps next year we can expand to even more courts as the sport grows,” he says. “The first year is always a challenge, but everyone in Plantation has been great and there is such a strong base of players to work with.”
Association of Pickleball Professionals Plantation Open. Wednesday, March 2, through Sunday, March 6, at Plantation Central Park, 9151 NW Second St., Plantation; apptour.org. Admission is free; VIP and preferred-seating tickets cost $20 to $500 via eventbrite.com.