DC’s pickleball problem? Not nearly enough courts

Indoor Pickleball courts at Kraken Kourts on Bryant Street NE in D.C.'s Edgewood neighborhood. (Courtesy Kraken Kourts)

There are more than 100 pickleball venues in the D.C. metro area listed by Pickleheads, a site that helps players find courts in their city, but that is not nearly enough to meet the rapidly growing number of players.

“You can talk to any local pickleball player and they’ll tell you waiting 20, 30, 40 minutes between games is not uncommon,” said Brandon Mackie, co-founder of Pickleheads.

“There are just a lot more people playing in the D.C. area than there are courts available. If you look at dedicated courts per 10,000 people in D.C., it is 70% below average, and I think that’s creating a big opportunity for folks to build more courts in the area,” he said.

Pickleheads and the Sports and Fitness Industry Association have released a report on the state of the pickleball business, and nationwide the report estimates pickleball demand will require an additional 25,000 courts to be developed to keep up with demand. That is an estimated $900 million investment.

Pickleball players have grown by 158.6% in the past three years with 8.9 million participants in 2022. And the number of new participants in pickleball exceeded the total number of pickleball participants in 2021.

The South region, including Maryland and Virginia, has led growth with 1.9 million pickleball players.

Pickleball can be a year-round sport and 37% of courts online now are indoor courts. Pickleball courts take space, and developers are getting creative.

Mackie said in more densely populated metro areas, such as D.C., developers are repurposing existing indoor infrastructure like failed retailers, parking lots or malls and turning them into pickleball spaces.

Counter to some perceptions, pickleball is not just a sport for senior citizens. They make up a large share of players, with 65-plus players ranking second, but the Pickleheads’ report says the age group with the most participants is 25-34.

Pickleball venues are not all the same.

“When we look at pickleball facilities, we like to categorize them into public facilities, which are free to play at, membership required, one time fee required and private. It is exactly 50% of facilities that are public, very popular for players to play at,” Mackie said.

Pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in America. It is good, low-impact exercise, requires very little practice and is an inexpensive sport to get into for beginners.

Pickleball is not just recreational. There are professional circuits. Montgomery County native Ben Johns was the Pro Pickleball Association’s number one-ranked pickleball player in the world last year, and a Rockville company, JOOLA, is one of the largest suppliers of pickleball equipment.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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