Turks & Caicos

Serving up Pickleball by the Beach

By | Sports Abroad, Turks & Caicos | No Comments

Growing number of Caribbean resorts offering pickleball as an amenity

The Arizona Republic — October 30, 2022

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos – Water slides, glass-bottom boats and swim-up pool bars are good fun.  But all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean are increasingly serving up another amenity to lure travelers — pickleball.

Rabbi on horseback

A growing number of warm-weather resorts, including Beaches in Turks and Caicos, are adding pickleball to attract travelers

At the Beaches resort on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, about 600 miles southeast of Miami, the resort added eight permanent pickleball courts last year with the flexibility to convert an additional eight courts being used for tennis to accommodate large groups.

All three Beaches resorts in the Caribbean — the other two being in Jamaica — now offer pickleball.  And Sandals, Beaches’ sister resorts with 17 properties throughout the Caribbean, also has expanded its pickleball footprint.

When it comes to pickleball, resorts are finding that if you build it, they will come.

“It’s become a phenomenon,” said Jamie McAnally, who has been general manager of Beaches Turks and Caicos for 10 years.

“I’ve not seen a sport take off like this in the last decade or even longer.  We need to make sure people have the amenities they want to enjoy themselves.  And pickleball is certainly one of them.”

Pickleball is a racket sport that combines elements of tennis, table tennis and badminton.  Paddles are made of wood or composite materials; the plastic ball resembles a wiffle ball.  While the sport can be played with two or four players, doubles is far more common.  That means Beaches Turks and Caicos can accommodate up to 64 players at once.

Beaches Turks and Caicos

The Beaches resort in Turks and Caicos has enough courts to accommodate up to 64 pickleball players at once

According to a report released in 2022 by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball has 4.8 million participants in the United States — a number that’s increased by nearly 40% over the last two years, making it the fastest-growing sport in America.

Chuck Menke, the chief marketing officer for USA Pickleball, the sport’s governing body that is headquartered in Surprise, said a pickleball vacation “delivers a uniquely interactive, social angle that happens to be a key driver behind the sport’s growth.”

While Menke said there is no hard data about the growth of pickleball-related travel or the number of resorts adding facilities, it’s clear that pickleball players taking warm-weather vacations don’t have to look hard to find a game.

“Pickleball travel vacations have become extremely popular in the past five years, with many of them led by well-known professional players, highlighting another aspect of the sport’s accessibility,” he said.  “Well-known resorts in U.S. vacation spots, Mexico, the Caribbean and — most recently — Europe, frequently host pickleball clinics and competitive tournaments.”

At Beaches Turks and Caicos last winter, the resort hosted two groups from the U.S. of about 40 pickleball players each, who not only enjoyed getting out on the courts each morning for round-robin and tournament play but also taking part in group activities like cocktail parties and award dinners.

Grace Bay Beach

The white-sand Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos was ranked by TripAdvisor in 2022 as the top beach in the world

Beaches’ pickleball courts are a five-minute walk from the acclaimed white-sand Grace Bay Beach, ranked by TripAdvisor in 2022 as the top beach in the world.  (Varadero Beach in Cuba ranked second, followed by Turquoise Bay in Australia).

Turks and Caicos Islands is a British Overseas Territory in the Atlantic Ocean consisting of 40 islands and cays, only eight of which are inhabited.  Providenciales (known as “Provo” by the locals), is the most populous and developed island with about 23,000 residents.  It’s home to Beaches, several other resorts and Turks and Caicos’ only international airport.

Alexander Milan, Beaches’ tennis and pickleball instructor, had never even heard of pickleball when he started working at the resort nine years ago.  Now, he said, he enjoys playing and teaching it as much as tennis, the sport he grew up playing in the Philippines.

“It’s easier to learn,” he said.  “Even if you’re not so good at tennis or Ping-Pong, you can still play pickleball.  It’s easier to adopt and exciting at the same time.”

Milan and I enjoyed some spirited singles and doubles matches with other resort guests, after which I would walk to Grace Bay, plop down on a beach chair and marvel at the calming turquoise water while enjoying a cold I-Ain-Ga-Lie Lager, the local beer.

Alexander Milan

Alexander Milan is the tennis and pickleball instructor at Beaches Turks and Caicos

Laura Gainor, a Florida-based founder of Pickleball in the Sun, a website that promotes pickleball-related travel, said that due to the explosive growth of the sport, “the tourism industry is taking note as pickleball enthusiasts take flight to seek warmer destinations that include pickleball to play with their family, friends and work colleagues on business trips.”

Gainor said that in addition to the Caribbean region, other warm-weather destinations with resorts adding pickleball facilities in recent years include Arizona (her website has labeled the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa a “pickleball player’s dream desert destination”), Florida, California, Hawaii and Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

“With the popularity of pickleball growing daily, pickleball as an amenity listed on a resort’s website increases a resort’s chances for travelers to choose the space for their next destination vacation,” she said.

Added McAnally of the Beaches Turks and Caicos: “We’re in paradise.  We have great weather year-round.  It’s not like we’re going to get a snowstorm that’s going to close down the courts.”

Websites for more info:
Beaches Turks & Caicos
USA Pickleball
Pickleball in the Sun

                                                    © 2022 Dan Fellner

The Hasidic Horseman

By | Jewish Travel, Turks & Caicos | No Comments

Turks and Caicos rabbi spreads Chanukah cheer on horseback

October 4, 2022

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos – A horseback-riding, kippah-wearing, menorah-toting, bearded Hasidic rabbi galloping around a tropical beach seems as out of place as a lobster roll on the menu at a New York deli.

Rabbi on horseback

Rabbi Shmulik Berkowitz greets cruise ships on Grand Turk Island (photo courtesy of Shmulik Berkowitz)

Yet if you’re on a Caribbean cruise during the Chanukah season and happen to stop on Grand Turk Island, be ready to say a hearty “chag urim sameach” to Shmulik Berkowitz, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi who has created the first Jewish beachhead in the Turks and Caicos, an archipelago about 600 miles southeast of Miami.

During a recent visit to Providenciales, the most developed and populous island in Turks and Caicos, I visited the Chabad House that Berkowitz and his wife Chaya established three years ago, just a few months before the global pandemic started.  “Provo,” as its known by the locals, is home to numerous high-end resorts and one of the world’s most acclaimed beaches.

The Berkowitzes and their two children live at the Chabad House, which is located in a villa two blocks from Providenciales’ main thoroughfare, Grace Bay Road.  There, I learned why this energetic and enthusiastic young rabbi originally from Los Angeles periodically takes a 15-minute flight from Providenciales to Grand Turk Island where the cruise ships dock.

“It’s a nice way to spread Chanukah cheer,” he said, recalling with a smile the first time he greeted passengers in Grand Turk arriving on cruise ships sailing out of Florida.  “People were very excited.  I had the menorahs, I was saying ‘happy Chanukah.’  There were many Jewish people on the cruise ships that day so it was perfect.”

Rabbi Shmulik Berkowitz

Rabbi Shmulik Berkowitz at the Chabad House on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos

With the opening of the Turks and Caicos branch, Chabad now has 15 centers in the Caribbean, including two on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.  The week before my visit, Berkowitz attended a conference in Cancun, Mexico, with the other rabbis who lead Chabad chapters in the region.

The Berkowitzes are both from families that have served as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries for generations.  They first arrived in Providenciales in 2019, three weeks after the birth of their first child, Sholom.  They were brought to the island under the auspices of Rabbi Mendel Zarchi in Puerto Rico, who founded the first permanent Chabad House in the Caribbean in 1999.

When the Berkowitzes first got to Turks and Caicos, there was no organized Jewish community and just about 50 year-round Jewish residents.

“There was nothing,” Berkowitz says.  “We were the first Jewish infrastructure on the island. Baruch hashem, we’ve seen a lot of blessings since we’ve moved down.  So thank G-d, the community has really come together.”

In his first week on the island, the rabbi organized a Chanukah celebration on nearby Grace Bay Beach, named earlier this year by TripAdvisor as the best beach in the world.  About 100 people showed up for the menorah-lighting.

Turks & Caicos Chanukah

A menorah-lighting on the beach in Providenciales attracted 100 celebrants (photo courtesy of Shmulik Berkowitz)

“That was our green light that we made the right move,” he says.

Since then, the Berkowitzes hosted 80 people for Passover seder in a giant tent and a “Purim on the Sea” event, at which 50 celebrants were taken by boat to a floating platform in Grace Bay for food, prayers, singing and dancing.

Turks and Caicos Islands is a British Overseas Territory in the Atlantic Ocean consisting of 40 islands and cays, only eight of which are inhabited.

Providenciales, which has a population of about 23,000, is home to Turks and Caicos’ only international airport.  Direct flights are offered from 11 North American cities, including New York, Miami and Toronto.

Berkowitz says the local population – 70 percent of whom are Protestant — has been “very respectful” of the small Jewish presence on the island, adding that several government officials have even come for Shabbat meals.

“There’s definitely no anti-Semitism,” he says.  “It’s a religious island.  Every block there’s another church.  On Sundays there are no cars in the streets.”

Turks & Caicos kippah

Chabad of Turks and Caicos designed its kippot in a color that matches the turquoise waters of nearby Grace Bay

In addition to holding holiday services and events, Berkowitz has established an adult education program, a once-a-week Hebrew school during the winter months (5-10 students attended classes last year), and hosts weekly four-course “Shabbat in Paradise” dinners.

“Shabbat over here is always a mix – locals, tourists, people that own second homes here,” he says.  “It’s a beautiful mix of people from all over the world.”

Eventually, Berkowitz hopes to have a mikvah built and perhaps even a stand-alone synagogue.  There are concrete plans in place for a “Welcome Center” on Grace Bay Road that the rabbi says should open in “the coming months.”

In Turks and Caicos, there is no regular bus service and taxis are expensive.  So I took a “jitney” – the way locals get around – to get from the resort at which I was staying — Beaches, an all-inclusive resort that can accommodate up to 3,000 guests at a time — to the Chabad House.

Taking a jitney is basically like hitchhiking – the cars aren’t marked and you just stick out your hand until one pulls over.  It cost me $2 for the five-minute drive.

Once I arrived, Berkowitz showed me around the villa, which includes a courtyard for a sukkah, a small sanctuary connected to the dining room, and plenty of freezer space to store kosher meat and dairy products flown in from Miami.

Grace Bay

Dusk on a quiet stretch of Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos

During the week I visited in mid-September – the peak of hurricane season (Hurrican Fiona hit Turks and Caicos a few days after I left) and thus a slow time for tourism — there were still enough worshippers for a minyan each day to say the morning prayers.

Before I left, Berkowitz gave me an eye-catching memento – a turquoise kippah, designed to match the color of the water in nearby Grace Bay.

As for living in such an idyllic setting, building a Jewish community on the island with Chaya and raising a family, the rabbi says it’s all been a huge blessing.

“Everyone has their mission,” he says.  “Turks and Caicos was the place that we were able to have as our Chabad to bring the light of Torah and the light of G-d to this island and everyone coming through.  It’s a very special opportunity.  And we hope to continue taking things to the next level.”


Website for more info:
Chabad of Turks & Caicos

                                                    © 2022 Dan Fellner