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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
© 2022 Dan Fellner