Set to open in February 2023, The Pickleball Club in Lakewood Ranch promises to be a unique, high-tech, amenity-based experience for members.

Pickleball, a sport that is fun, social and somewhat addictive is also a fast-growing business with no signs of slowing down. Longtime commercial real estate and business entrepreneurs Brian and Valerie McCarthy along with business partner Matthew Gordon are seizing the opportunity to be part of the sport’s explosion by investing $180 million for 15 indoor private pickleball clubs in Florida, the first being The Pickleball Club right here in Lakewood Ranch. 

Originally from Michigan, Brian McCarthy, who will serve as CEO for the Club, has had a 30 year military career in the Navy, achieving the rank of Rear Admiral. With an MBA from Harvard and a career as a commercial real estate developer, he’s very familiar with turning large properties into valuable business. On the local non-profit side, he has been president of the Sarasota Military Officers Association and their foundation, the first vice president of the Pops Orchestra of Bradenton and Sarasota, and he’s served as chair of the advisory council for United Way for Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties. Currently, he sits on the board of the Players Centre for Performing Arts. 

Valerie McCarthy, President and COO (and Brian’s wife) has a masters degree in exercise physiology and has been in the health industry her entire life. A former executive director for the YMCA, she will oversee the member experience at the club. Matt Gordon, a New York attorney with a passion for investment banking is the CFO. He has helped the McCarthy’s develop a strong business plan.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

The founders are confident that it’s the right time to start this venture and that Lakewood Ranch is the best place for it. “The industry was at an inflection point. We could see it going up the curve and that’s where you want to be in any industry,” says Brian. “I’m not going to throw stones at any others but, if you look at racquetball, that’s on the downturn right now. Golf is struggling, even tennis is struggling. I think something that makes pickleball unique is that it’s fairly easy to learn how to play at a level that you can have fun with, and to master it, it takes time and effort, like any sport does. There is a real propensity to want to get instruction, to learn, take lessons, take clinics.” 

In order to gauge local interest, the founders took a survey in Sarasota. They asked participants about the things they like about the sport locally and the things they don’t. “The first issue that came into play was weather,” says Brian. “Believe it or not, it gets humid and hot in the summer. It rains a lot. It’s windy, there are insects in the evening and daytime sun exposure is intense. There were a whole lot of compelling reasons to come inside.”

The Lakewood Ranch Pickleball Club will be a member-only, privately-owned, for-profit sports club with 12 indoor and two outdoor courts, a retail shop and café in a 33,000 square-foot facility. The owners are determined to make it an exceptional experience for the members. What does that mean?  “First off, we’ll use an app system to reserve a court,” says Brian. “Or, with our membership, you have free open play, so you can come whenever you want–you can sign up for open play and get on the court without waiting for hours. The other thing is that people generally, as they get better, want to play with their skill level. We can designate courts for certain skill levels. If you’re a 4.0, 4.5, 3.5 or 3.0, you can go and have open play with people of your skill level, or you can do drop-in, too.”

Using PlaySight technology, there will be cameras on every court recording all the play, all day long, every day. Members can watch their play, or send the video to instructors to critique it. There will be lessons and clinics and Pickleball Club University, where players can go from beginner all the way up to about a 4.0 player.

At the club’s high-end café Pickles, members can drop in for nitro coffee, blended drinks, sandwiches, salads, beer and wine. “Yes, we will have food and beverage, but it’s not about us selling hard liquor, it’s more about creating a social environment for everybody,” Brian says. “We will also have a pro shop called Dinks, where we will have about 70 demo paddles so you can come in and try out different paddles without having to buy one. You can talk to the pros and they’ll give you their advice on what’s good and then, a new paddle is shipped to you, right to your home the next day. All the apparel and equipment that you’re ever going to want or need is in the pro shop which eventually will evolve into e-Dinks so that you can buy the stuff online, too.”

Naturally, Brian plans to  bring his philanthropic passion into his pickleball world. “I really like to connect and give back to the community,” he says. “So we set up the Play for Life Foundation, which is independent of our for-profit company, focusing on three categories: youth, veterans and first responders, to which the Foundation will donate a complete club-n-box, which includes nets, paddles, balls and instruction. You can’t believe how much fun it is giving one of these boxes to local firefighters.They move the fire engine out, open up the doors, set up the court and they start playing pickleball in the firehouse. It is so cool to see.”

According to Brian, there are several factors responsible for the popularity of the sport. “Pickleball is a multigenerational sport, meaning parents can play with their kids and grandparents can play with their grandkids. I don’t know another sport other than checkers where you can do that.” He also credits the health aspect. “There’s a growing obesity epidemic amongst the youth because they’re all sitting behind computers, their smartphones, their tablets and gaming consoles all day. This is actually a sport that will get the youth out and doing something. It’s great for strength, mobility, balance, everything. It really does help and it burns off the calories over time because you can play it for a long time. On our special cushioned courts, if you could play for an hour outside on asphalt, you can come inside and play for two to three hours. It’s so much easier on the joints and the knees. For senior players, that’s a big issue, their joints get sore. This allows them to play longer.” With plans to open in February, there are a plethora of member events being planned, including a ribbon cutting ceremony. The company currently has 47 shareholders and has raised nearly $5 million in equity over the past year and a half and is currently accepting accredited investors. “We recently ran an ad saying if you build it, they will come,” says Brian. Based on the constant calls and inquiries from interested players, the founders are pretty sure they will come.  The Pickleball Club, 1300 Sarasota Center Blvd, Sarasota. 941-271-4444, https://www.tpclwr.us/

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan


A sport once thought of as a senior game, pickleball is catching on with kids playing in Sarasota’s very first youth pickleball league.

Pickleball, the craze that’s quickly sweeping the nation,  once had a reputation for being a senior game, predominantly played by those over 55. That is definitely not the case anymore. The sport has caught on in a big way with younger generations as evidenced by the popularity of the first youth pickleball league in Sarasota which launched early this fall at the Pompano trailhead courts. Co-founded by Gillett Cole, a teacher at NewGate Montessori School and Julie Stewart, a medical rehab therapist and certified pickleball instructor, the league is a non-profit, no-cost venture that caters to local youth in middle and high school, getting them outside playing pickleball and keeping them active. 

With donations of paddles, balls and nets from Play For Life this summer, and a partnership with Sarasota County Parks and Rec, the league took off immediately. “Once we started getting into it I quickly observed how attractive the sport was to students, particularly those who had never picked up a paddle or ball before in their lives because they were either intimidated by it or they didn’t think of themselves as athletic.” shares Cole. “I saw a light shine in them with pickleball and I’ve never seen that with any other sport.”

Cole and Stewart are planning to have four eight week sessions per year taking place every Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:00 pm. Kids can drop in anytime during the sessions–they don’t have to come in the beginning or stay until the end. This way, pickleball won’t interfere with other commitments, like football or soccer. While they are not instructing or giving lessons, the cofounders have made it clear that they are available and happy to answer questions and give guidance during the sessions. “Our ultimate vision would be for all schools to have their own teams and practice on their own time,” says Cole. “And then on Tuesdays, they would all come together and we can have matches just like they have Friday night football games. It would be awesome if all teams could have matches in the same location because that would be really cool for building those bridges between schools.”

As a ‘thank you’ to the county for the use of six brand-new courts at Pompano, the students are providing community service hours to give back to the community. NewGate students, for example, will commit a certain number of hours throughout the school year to perform service duties, such as garbage pickup along the boulevards, beach cleanups, and more. 

“Pickleball is one of those sports that anybody can play to some degree at some level. You can be playing within 20 minutes of learning, yet it takes a lifetime to master,” says Stewart. “We’re getting students from private schools, public schools, youth groups from churches and synagogues, home schools–we’re bridging those gaps with the youth, with their community. And the students are meeting people that are like-minded and are enjoying a sport together. We love the aspect of having the kids from all the different schools intermingle. An added bonus is that the kids don’t really realize that it’s exercise, they’re just out there having a really good time.”

At the moment, all advertising is by word of mouth and because there is no real funding available, the league is in need of volunteers. The response so far from the community has been fantastic, according to Cole. “We have all different kinds of volunteers that come out and they will hit with the kids and help us with them, help us referee the matches, whatever we need, really. It’s warming their hearts to be able to give back and it’s great mentoring for the kids as well.” 

For more info on the Sarasota Youth Pickleball League, sarasotayouthpickleball.org

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan


Scott Tingley is a born and raised Sarasotan, a veteran of the United States Air Force and a pickleball pro. An instructor, a teacher and a coach by nature, Tingley sat down with us to talk about the popularity of the sport and the best way to get into it.

Why do you think pickleball has become so popular? SCOTT TINGLEY: I think pickleball has taken off so well for a multitude of reasons, but I’ll give you three. The ease of the learning curve, the socialness of the game and the low cost to get into it. You can get a good pickleball paddle for $100, a pair of shoes for $80, $6 worth of balls and you’re ready to play.

Is there a typical age for the clients you’re working with or is it all across the board? TINGLEY: It’s changed so drastically over the last seven years. I don’t think seven years ago I taught anybody under age 55 to 60. As the sport has progressed and gotten younger, I’ve started teaching anywhere from seven years old, junior kids to I think 84 was the oldest person I taught. But I would say that the average age has gone from 60 to 45 really just in seven years.

How does someone learn the basics about the game if they’ve never played? TINGLEY: Nowadays there are a lot of tutorials online that will allow somebody enough information to go out and feel comfortable enough to play. The great part of the sport is that because it’s so social, if you walk up to a court by yourself and there are eight courts, within three minutes, somebody’s going to come over and ask you to play or if you want to learn how to play. That’s the greatest part of pickleball I think. As players, we all want everybody to do it because we’re all so addicted to it and we love it. But I would say that if you want to know the rules, you can go to the usapa.org website (usapickleball.org). That’s a great tool because it tells you where there are places to play in your zip code. It tells you people to contact. It tells you times that they play and it also tells you the rules and other details.

Do you find that more people request private lessons or do they prefer to be in a group or a clinic setting? TINGLEY: As a pro, I’ve held clinics every single week and they’re just as popular as private lessons. That can change based upon the needs of the person or persons and their skill or ability level. I currently teach at the US Open Pickleball site in Naples, where we have a huge tournament every year. When I teach there I do more private lessons with higher level players and the clinics are run by lower skill level professionals and they teach or cater to the lower skill level people for the clinic. Higher level people either like private lessons or they like to do what’s called a ‘three and me’ where they get two of their partners or friends and I play as the fourth person and critique their play and help them to improve their shot selection and strategies.

Where else do you teach?  TINGLEY: I get subcontracted to do a lot of work around the country. I have a side company with a business partner called ATP Pickleball, and we teach at numerous locations around the country every year.

For somebody who has never played before but wants to start, what are your words of advice?  TINGLEY: I tell everybody, make a self assessment, because with the growth and popularity of pickleball, the growth and popularity of injuries has skyrocketed. And I associate a lot of that with people that retire, that have been working for 25, 30 years, sitting in an office or behind a computer. They get out on the court and the last time they were athletic was 30 years and 30 pounds ago. And that’s where a lot of the injuries really start to happen because it looks so easy to play. Whenever I work with somebody at the very beginning I always ask them, “Do you have any prior injuries? Have you had surgeries? Anything wrong with your heart? Are you diabetic?” I ask all those questions so that I can make an assessment and try to help people so they don’t get injured. 

What do you think is the best way to avoid or prevent injuries?  Is it stretching beforehand?   TINGLEY: It’s a big part of it. Some unathletic people are going to remain unathletic, but it doesn’t mean they can’t play. So when I work with people, I teach them how to move so they don’t get injured. Kinesiology or the study of kinetics and how the body works can really help somebody from getting injured. But I just have one small phrase that I tell everybody, whether it’s a clinic or a private lesson: No ball is worth the fall. Trust your body. If you can’t get there, don’t worry about it. You’re going to see another ball at some point. Don’t hurt yourself just to chase a ball. 

What is a typical beginner clinic or lesson like?  TINGLEY: In a beginner clinic you would learn three things and it would be an hour to an hour and a half long. You would learn how to serve, you would learn how to return, and you would learn how to dink or hit the ball softly and make it bounce. Typically speaking, and if there were eight people in a clinic, the cost could be anywhere from 10 to $20 a person.

Do you think pickleball will surpass tennis in popularity?  TINGLEY: I think that the growth of pickleball is at an average of almost 12% a year where tennis is arguably growing at 4% a year. I don’t know that pickleball will ever be as popular as tennis in the sense of being on mainstream TV. Even though it’s been on CBS Sports and it’s been on ESPN, pickleball doesn’t translate that well on TV because it looks so slow. However, I would say more people are playing pickleball over tennis, but I just don’t know if everybody will ever know that. 

Will pickleball be an olympic sport one day?  TINGLEY: Pickleball is professionally played in 40 countries and it has to be in 45 countries to be considered for the Olympics. And we have an international committee that’s striving to get the last five countries involved in it. It will be a demonstration sport in the 2028 Olympics. And I would venture a guess that it will most definitely be an Olympic sport someday.

The Pickleball Club is opening in Lakewood Ranch in 2023. Do you think this trend will continue and more courts will be built in the coming years??  TINGLEY: It doesn’t matter. There are never enough courts.You can build more and they’ll come. It’s just like Field of Dreams. You build more pickleball courts and people will show up tomorrow and play.

For lessons or upcoming clinics with Scott Tingley, email pickleballacademy@gmail.com or by phone, 941-468-7867.