How do five guys playing pickleball on a condo parking lot become Vero Beach Pickleball Club with 12 dedicated courts and over 240 members? Well, it certainly helps if one of those guys is Ken Roberts!
In 3 Short Years
Denise and I visited Vero Beach to visit a friend in the Spring 2015. Our friend had taken up pickleball and was so excited to have us visit and play. We lived in Vero Beach until 2007, and when we left no one played pickleball. What we found in 2015 was 6 temporary nets, chalked lines on 2 old tennis courts, and a bunch of very happy players. Most of the players were beginners or 3.0 players, but everyone was having a heck of a lot of fun. They happiness was elevated by the fact that the Vero Beach recreation department recently agreed to foot the bill to convert the 2 tennis courts to 6 dedicated pickleball courts.
Now just a little more than two years later, they are opening the largest dedicated pickleball facility on the Florida coast, between Jacksonville and the Keys, with 12 dedicated pickleball courts.
Denise and I visited Vero Beach again over New Year’s weekend (2016) and what we found was truly impressive. The Vero Beach Pickleball Club now has over 240 members. The level of play has improved significantly, having converted a number of very talented former tennis players. The membership though primarily over 60, includes a substantial group of youngsters and working age adults.
USAPA Ambassador, Ken Roberts has not only spearheaded the growth of the Pocahontas Park location but also founded Pickleball University to foster the growth of pickleball in Sebastian and other surrounding communities.
Vero Beach Pickleball: Keys to Success
We asked Ken to identify a few of the keys to the success the club has enjoyed. He pointed to only two:
- Keeping it Social: Chuck Ohanion an active club member said, “Ken really promotes the social aspects of the club.” While Vero Beach Pickleball has offered junior clinics, PB 101 instruction, and brought in a number of outside instructors for its members; the social aspects of the club are the biggest key to its success. Every month they offer a special event during play time. While we were there, a group of volunteers manned a Hot Dog table in a nearby shaded area. The club sponsors the Happiest Hour each month which is a true win-win for members and restauranteurs. Local restaurants agree to provide free appetizers to club members. Club members pay for any drinks they consume and purchase raffle tickets. The raffle proceeds are used to purchase restaurant gift cards providing additional revenue for the restaurant and value for the club members. If you spend some time looking at their Facebook page you will see this group has a fun on and off the courts.
- Public – Private Partnership: While the city bore the full cost of converting the first two tennis courts to six dedicated pickleball courts, the club has funded ongoing improvements including benches, windscreens and shade sails. At the cities request, the club purchased liability insurance and pays a modest rent to the city each month for club member’s use. This year they began charging members a $36 initiation fee, and a $36 annual fee. The initiation fee funds a capital improvement budget. This enabled the club to go to the city in November, with the full support of the Recreation Department, to convert the remaining tennis courts to pickleball courts without requesting funding from the city. (You can watch their presentation to the City Council here. Prior to this presentation, they surveyed their members and you can find these results here.)
Treasure Coast Pickleball is Growing
Pocahontas Park, in downtown Vero Beach, is not the only place to play. Folks are playing at:
- Schumann Drive Park in Sebastian
- Indoor play is available at the Jungle Club in Vero Beach
- Intergenerational Center (IGC) in Vero Beach
So if your pickleball travels include the Treasure Coast, stop by and visit with the growing Vero Beach Pickleball Club. You can drop in for only $3.00 and play with the club during open play up until 2pm on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday; and the courts are always free after 2pm. As many members have traveled across the country to play in tournaments, it is likely they will be hosting a competitive event in the coming year as well. Regardless or when or why you go, you’ll find a friendly group that provides fun on and off the court every day!