CULTURE & TRAVEL

Pickleball Entrepreneurs See Green as the Fast-Growing Sport Takes Off in Columbus

After Pickle Shack’s summer opening, Pickle & Chill enters the Central Ohio fray this fall, with more public and private courts on the way in 2023.

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Monthly
Pickle Shack owner Dave Ganim (left) and operation manager and head pro Paul Frentsos (right) teach senior editor Joel Oliphint techniques of the game.

Dave Ganim, owner of Pickle Shack in Delaware County, says there are two types of people: Those who love pickleball, and those who’ve never played it.

A mix of tennis, pingpong and badminton, pickleball originated in the 1960s but has exploded in popularity in recent years, becoming the fastest-growing sport in the country. Ganim first picked up a pickleball paddle a few years ago after playing racquetball for most of his life. He took to it right away and eventually installed four pickleball courts at his house, where he hosts some of the area’s top picklers on Monday nights.

Goofy name aside, Ganim says pickleball offers some advantages over other racket sports. “With tennis, you have to get to a certain level before you enjoy that sport,” Ganim says. Racquetball is similarly easy to learn, but the sport is often confined to athletic clubs, creating cost and accessibility barriers.

Pickleball, on the other hand, requires only a racket that looks like a rectangular, oversized pingpong paddle; a perforated, Wiffle-like ball; a net with posts; and a hard surface the size of a badminton court (20 feet by 44 feet), which can be adapted to tennis and basketball courts or even a driveway. “You can go on Amazon, buy a couple paddles and a net, and you’re up and running,” Ganim says.

Compared to tennis, pickleball doesn’t require players to cover as much ground, especially in doubles matches, which is partly why the game first gained popularity with older adults. But while the running is kept to a minimum, competitive pickleball incites all manner of lunging and twisting. “It is a workout—for your legs, for everything,” Ganim says. “It’s a lot of short bursts.”

After selling his medical equipment company earlier this year, Ganim decided to get into the pickleball business. In mid-June, he welcomed more than 400 people to the grand opening of Pickle Shack at 3218 U.S. Route 42, southwest of downtown Delaware. Ganim already has plans to expand the facility’s six indoor courts to 10 and add a bar and several outdoor courts. He also wants to build a Pickle Shack in Sunbury.

Pickle Shack owner Dave Ganim on the court at his Delaware County club

Over time, Ganim hopes to have 15 locations, including one near his other home in Scottsdale, Arizona. “We want a Pickle Shack within 15 minutes of everybody’s house in Columbus,” Ganim says, estimating that four local sites should suffice.

Pickle Shack isn’t the only game in town. Communities across Central Ohio, including Bexley, Dublin, Westerville and Worthington, have added dedicated outdoor pickleball courts. In July, Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther announced plans for a three-season pickleball facility at Mock Park on the Northeast Side and new outdoor courts at four other city parks.

More pickleball businesses are on the way, too. On Oct. 14, David Kass, president of Continental Real Estate, and his wife, Cari, will open Pickle & Chill at 880 W. Henderson Road. Housed at the same site as another Kass venture, Tennis Ohio, the new facility will start with six indoor courts surrounded by murals and graffiti on 40-foot-high walls. Next year, Pickle & Chill’s second phase will add a bar, lounge and food options, along with five outdoor courts.

A rendering of Pickle & Chill

Kass, a former professional tennis player, also owns a Major League Pickleball team, The Bus, which will compete in a tournament with other MLP teams from around the country during Pickle & Chill’s opening weekend. He cites the pandemic as one factor in pickleball’s explosive growth.

“People were looking for something to do. … We put tape down in our driveway and had a half pickleball court,” Kass says. “I think the parity between people is much less than other sports. You can find a competitive game with a broad group of people. I can play with my family, but I’m also playing with some professional hockey players.”

Pickle & Chill and the Pickle Shack will have more competition next year when Chicago-based Real Dill Pickleball Club opens its first Ohio location near Topgolf and Ikea at Polaris. “There’s plenty of demand to go around,” Kass says, adding that pickleball seems to foster a sense of community wherever courts are found. “It’s social and fun, and you can have a few beers if you want, but you can also call it exercise.”

This story is from the October 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.