One afternoon in the summer of 1965, Washington State Representative Joel Pritchard (later serving in the US Congress and as Washington’s lieutenant governor), Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum returned from golfing to find their families bored.
Bainbridge Island residents Bell and Pritchard set up a badminton net but couldn’t find a shuttlecock or other equipment. With a wiffle ball and improvised paddles, they lowered the net and created the game of pickleball.
They introduced the game to McCallum the following weekend, and the three men came up with rules that emphasized a fun game for all family members and all ages.
The name “pickleball” was coined by Joel’s wife Joan Pritchard in reference to “pickle boat” in crew races. The non-starters among the rowers make up the crew in pickle boat races. Some controversy arose about the name when some neighbors claimed Joan had named the game after the Pritchard family dog, Pickles. She and the Pritchards said the dog came later and was named after the game—not the other way around.
Pickleball started to spread beyond Western Washington. By 1975, an article on pickleball was published in the National Observer. A Tennis magazine story in 1976 covered “America’s newest racquet sport.”
In 1982, Pickleball pioneer Sid Williams began playing and organizing tournaments in Washington state.
The United States Amateur Pickleball Association (USAPA) was organized in 1984 to promote pickleball nationally. Williams served as the first president and executive director, and the USAPA published the first rulebook that year.
By the early 2000s, pickleball spread across the country. Pickleball was played for the first time in the 2003 Huntsman World Senior Games in Utah.
The US Pickleball National Championships are held near Palm Springs, California, co-hosted by Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle and owner of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where they have been played since 2018.
Since 2016, the US Open Pickleball Championships are played in Naples, Florida.
Estimates for active players have grown to 3.3 million in 2019 up 10 percent from 2016.
As of 2021, there were 58 member countries overseen by the International Federation of Pickleball.
The sport spread rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Membership in USA Pickleball (formerly USAPA) reached 50,000 in 2021. There are now nearly 8,500 locations on the USA Pickleball’s Places2Play map. It was named one of the country’s “fastest-growing sports” with a reported 4.8 million active players.
The Washington state legislature passed a bill in 2022 naming pickleball as the official state sport. Governor Jay Inslee signed it into law on the original Pritchard family court where the sport was invented.
On the web
Roger Belair takes pickleball to prisons
More history of pickleball at USA Pickleball
Video: Pickleball Birthplace on Bainbridge Island
Video: How to play pickleball