Pickleball fans, rejoice! America’s fastest-growing sport is catching fire across Memphis. Not only are pickleball courts popping up at local parks, but several new clubs are slated to open soon in Germantown, Bartlett, and other spots around town. There are many reasons pickleball has become a favorite pastime for many Memphians, says Adam Clay, founder of Pickleball 901, which aims to deliver a premium pickleball experience to players of all ages and skill levels. “It’s easy to pick up and to get good quickly,” Adam says. “And it’s for everybody.”
Currently scouting locations in the Collierville area, Pickleball 901 is slated to open its own membership-based club in early 2024. In the meantime, they’re hosting pop-up pickleball events with dates in August and September to satiate Memphians’ demand for court time. Here’s the scoop on their plans, and how you can join in the fun!
More than 250 players ventured out to Grind City Brewing on a recent sunny Saturday for Pickleball 901’s first pickleball pop-up — part of its series of free pickleball pop-ups, that runs through September at venues throughout Memphis.
Players of all ages, from college-aged kids to seniors, dominated four temporary pickleball courts on the brewery’s lawn, engaging in lively matches as music pumped through outdoor speakers. They ranged from beginners playing with a certified instructor to seasoned pros. Meanwhile, small crowds of spectators gathered at nearby picnic tables, kicking back beers, chatting, and watching their friends play. Adam hopes these “pickleball parties” will encourage people to get out, see what the sport is about, and experience the sense of community that comes with it.
“People aren’t coming because they want to become the next pro pickleball players; they’re coming because they can play with their friends, and they’re making friends, too,” he says. “Because you can get good at it so quickly, you develop this bond.” Adam, a software salesman for ChannelAdvisor, caught pickleball fever just six months ago when he started playing at a local gym. “I fell in love with it and started going all the time,” he says. “I immediately recognized that I was getting good exercise, and it was giving me cardio.”
But he ran into a roadblock when he wanted to share his newfound passion with family and friends: They couldn’t play with him unless they joined the gym.
Adam struggled to find indoor courts in Memphis, and he found that many of the outdoor courts were overcrowded and not beginner-friendly. So he decided to start his own club, forming Pickleball 901. “I’ve never been a business owner, but I decided it’s time to do something for myself,” he tells us. “Going out in the sun and playing pickleball every day sounds like retirement to me.”
Initial plans for the club, slated to open in early 2024, include indoor and covered outdoor courts so people can play year-round, a well-stocked pro shop, a social lounge, and possibly a food and beverage partner. The model will likely be membership-based, providing plenty of availability for both open play and court reservations. “We want it to be very organized so no one has to fight to get a chance to play,” he says.
Adam also envisions the club offering pickleball leagues, tournaments, clinics, private instruction, and space for corporate events. Its location is still in the works — he is currently negotiating for space near Carriage Crossing in Collierville — but wherever it lands, “we want it to be more than four white walls and pickleball courts,” he says. “We want it to be a brand that embraces everything about the city of Memphis, to think differently about the aesthetic and programming, and create the best possible experience for people.”
Together with his partner, Jakob Eliason, Adam has already created a satellite operation, Pickleball Pop-Ups, to bring pickleball to customers anywhere.
Whether it’s a company picnic, team-building retreat, trade show, or birthday party, “we can show up, provide a premium pickleball experience and pack up without anyone having to put down permanent courts or draw chalk on concrete,” says Adam, who has teamed up with Mahaffey Event & Tent Rentals to provide tents and portable platforms. “We can make custom paddles, bring out tents and food trucks, and bring in coaches to teach people how to play.”
Above all, Adam hopes to use Pickleball 901 to help grow the sport, which has traditionally attracted an older crowd but now has an influx of younger players. “We want to be very beginner-friendly,” he says. “We think beginners will be the lifeblood of our operation.”
So, what’s his advice for people who are curious about pickleball but not sure it’s for them? “I would encourage them to give it a try because they’re going to discover how easy it is to start playing,” he says.
For the uninitiated, the game is similar to tennis in the workout it provides but more like ping-pong in its technique. “If you hit it too hard, it will be out of bounds, and there is a non-volley zone (called the kitchen) in the front, so you can’t get right up on the net and overwhelm people,” Adam explains. “The size of the court (20 by 44 feet) and some of the peculiar rules (like serving underhand) even out the playing field and make it easier for most people to play.” The game’s etiquette encourages camaraderie, with players kicking off matches by introducing themselves and ending by tapping paddles.
“Every time I play pickleball, I meet new people,” Adam says. “That’s why people love it so much. We all just went through a traumatic experience with COVID. We sat at home all the time and lost that muscle of going out and meeting new people. Making friends can be hard, but this makes it easy.”
Adam hopes to use the Pickleball 901 Summer Series to get more people interested in the sport and gather feedback on improving the pop-up experience. All events are free, start around noon, and include music, food, drinks, paddles, balls (and other equipment), plus merchandise for purchase. Mark these dates on your calendar and pop over to these Memphis events for some pickleball fun!
- August 5: Wiseacre Brewery (downtown location)
- August 12: Crosstown Brewing Company
- September 9: Campbell Clinic’s Germantown Campus
- September 24: Redbirds game at AutoZone Park
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