If pickleball is still America's fastest-growing sport, Bakersfield is completely in the game. After popping on the scene two years ago, the pastime has a new tournament, set to draw players from throughout California.
Bakersfield Racquet Club, which has helped contribute to the new sport's local growth, will host the first Coconut Cup Pickleball Tournament on Saturday.
For those who think pickleball sounds more like an hors d'oeuvres than a sport, here's a primer: The game, invented in the mid-1960s by a Washington state father trying to keep his kids entertained, is a cross between tennis, ping-pong and badminton. Matches, usually played in doubles, last about 15 minutes.
Players young and old are drawn to the game that emphasizes quickness.
Alex Balfour, who is helping promote the inaugural Coconut Cup, said he took to the game after being introduced to it by his friend Patrick Birchfield last fall.
"It's overwhelmingly addictive, and the learning curve is quick, although still challenging if you want to get to higher levels," he wrote in an email. "I don’t think I have introduced a friend to the sport who didn’t end up loving it."
Balfour plays with friends at the racquet club and said the community there ranges in age from late teens to players in their 80s. Along with fun, it ends up being a good workout.
"We have some friends who started playing with us who have lost 25-plus pounds," he wrote. "We will sometimes lose track of time and leave the courts nice and sweaty."
When pickleball started to gain steam in Bakersfield around 2016, the racquet club resurfaced a tennis court, turning it into a pair of pickleball courts. It also introduced a new, lower-price pickleball membership. It costs $40 per month ($70 for families) and includes pool and fitness center access.
Along with the cup, promoted by pickleball enthusiast and Coconut Joe’s owner Joe Coughlin, the club also hosts the Kern County Pickleball Championships in the fall.
Jastro Park, also a pickleball hotspot, has three tennis courts with striping for both pickleball and tennis. Players also pop up at Greenacres Park and Community Center and Riverview Community Center.
Competition will be fierce on Saturday with more than 100 players taking part throughout the day. In a departure from usual tournament play, teams will consist of two women and two men. There will be round robin matches for men, women and mixed doubles.
Balfour, who will be competing Saturday, said he's excited to see the game's popularity continue to grow in Bakersfield.
"Our group of friends who joined BRC for pickleball started with four people," he wrote. "Now we have grown that to somewhere over 20, and I know BRC has more than 100 pickleball memberships. It seems to grow every day."