How I Started Clay Court Pickleball
I’ve always believed in progress. The idea is that something done well today should be even better tomorrow. It only makes sense that great coaches, players, and sports in general, should continue to improve over time. The same can be said for pickleball.
Consider how pickleball has grown from 250,000 to more than 3 million players in just five years! That’s an astonishing number. Consider where pickleball is today. I predict pickleball will be the most played racquet sport in the country in the next three years, and legendary golf coach, Hank Haney, shares the same opinion. Taking into consideration those numbers, and that most clubs in the US and around the world have clay courts, I can tell you that clay court pickleball is a key to the growth of the sport.
I started clay court pickleball at Green Valley Country Club four years ago. Our indoor hard courts hosted pickleball seven days a week, and we saw on average 750-1,000 players every week. That is an insane number! I knew two things; first, we were exploding, and second, we needed to figure out what was next.
So, I did what every young Director would do – I sold my General Manager on the idea of clay court pickleball and invested in an untested idea that was based on a hunch. I had no idea if the lines would work or where to get them, and I really had no idea if any of the balls would bounce. Yet I was convinced we could make it work.
We had tennis lines cut in half and holes put in to be basically the same as clay court tennis lines, but only an inch wide where the tennis lines are two. We laid them on top of our tennis court and spray painted them dark red. Essentially this looked like blended lines but with pickleball specifications. Then I did what I usually do; I marketed it as if it were already huge. The next month was interesting, to say the least, but I didn’t panic.
It took that long before I could get anyone even to try it. People argued how pickleball is a hard court sport and wouldn’t work on clay. Finally, I got a group of five players on the court. The next day I had 10, and the day after that, I had 30. I went from zero to sold out in a week, and it was all from word of mouth. Pickleball on clay was finally gaining traction.
The weeks that followed led to an amazing balance at my club. We had indoor hard court and outdoor clay pickleball. People loved the clay because it was easier on their body for those who needed a lower impact sport, and it made pickleball even more athletic for those looking for a challenge. I tested many balls and found a ball that bounced perfectly. So I decided to take another chance and host a National Clay Court Pickleball Tournament. We had 180 players! They had a great time, and clay court pickleball was off and running.
Today, I am the Director of Racquets at the Baltimore Country Club, one of the top Platinum Clubs in the USA. We have 10 clay tennis courts, and I took yet another chance, I became the first Racquets Director in the world to invest in permanent clay pickleball courts. Our members love the addition of pickleball, and through our members, the idea of playing on clay has spread.
Today you can see clay court pickleball growing nationwide, and soon you will see it grow all over the world. Pickleball is not only going to be the most played racquet sport in the world one day, but it will also be played on different surfaces and at the highest levels, just like tennis. So, think outside the box and give clay court pickleball a try! Your members will love you for it!
Jarrett Chirico, PSR,PTR,PPR,PPTR,SCR,USPTA,PPTA
Director of Racquets
Royal Oaks Country Club
About the Author
Jarrett Chirico is the Director of Racquets at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, TX. He has an extensive background as both a director and former player, as well as a creator of several esteemed programs in the countryHe has directed many top tier tennis and paddle programs in the Northeast and the largest pickleball program in the country retaining over 1,000 people weekly. He is currently one of the best pickleball players in the world and the founder of clay court pickleball.
Jarrett has an extensive background in all aspects of racquet sports management including budgeting and projections; programming; marketing; maintenance; strategic planning; facility design; and pro shop management.
He was awarded Professional Tennis Registry’s (PTR) Professional/Member of the year by Racquet Sports Industry (RSI) magazine and Professional Pickleball Registry’s (PPR) 2020 and 2022 Pro of the year as well as being one of the 2020 and 2022 Champions of Pickleball.
In addition, he holds certifications from the USPTA, PTR, PPR, PPTR and the PPTA as well as being a national pickleball (PPR) clinician and Vice Chairman.
Jarrett is also a published author in numerous professional publications and a keynote speaker nationally. He has spoken at the 2019, 2020 and 2021 International PTR Tennis Symposium, 2020 Racquets and Paddle Show, multiple USPTA and CMAA events and the 2020, 2021 and 2022 national CMAA conferences to name a few.