Tom and Ann Earley, who began playing pickleball while traveling to Arizona, fell in love with the game and brought it back to their home in the Macedonia community of Canton eight years ago.
The Earleys had a pair of tennis courts on their property, but resurfaced them to create six pickleball courts in 2013. The courts are in use by regular players in the North Georgia Pickleball Club every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday morning.
The club has grown to include more than 150 members. Most players are retired, but Ann Earley said a younger crowd — those in their 40s and 50s — will often play on the weekends. The oldest player in the organization, William Griswold, celebrated his 81st birthday last week.
However, as time has passed, the Earleys said it has become difficult to find public facilities where intermediate or advanced players can compete against one another. Because the sport is so new, and able to be played by those at a wide range of ages and athletic abilities, new players are constantly taking up the game. That leaves the more advanced players looking for good competition.
“There are so many places to find a pickleball program for beginners,” Ann Earley said. “We are trying to cater to the more experienced players. This is our home and our exercise, too. We want to keep doing it at a level that we enjoy it. We have got intermediate players and advanced and we play four days a week.”
Tom Earley recently conducted a clinic for intermediate players that taught technique and strategy. He will be conducting another clinic July 29.
Earley works as an ambassador for the game and has taught clinics in both Georgia and Arizona. While he does not conduct beginner clinics at his facility, he has often been invited elsewhere to provide an introduction to the sport.
Ann Earley said it’s easy to get started in pickleball. Players just need a vacant tennis court and some painter’s tape to mark off the lines.
In pickleball, two or four players use solid paddles, often made of wood or some sort of composite, to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. The game is played on the court the dimensions and layout of a badminton court, but the net and rules are similar to tennis.
“It’s a $20 paddle, and the balls are about a dollar a piece and last for six months or more,” Ann Earley said. “It’s a real cheap game to get started.”
The North Georgia Pickleball Club will be hosting its eighth annual tournament Sept. 5-7, which is expected to draw more than 100 players from around the state.
Last year, the club raised $10,000 for the Cherokee County Humane Society. This year, the proceeds will be split between the Cherokee County Humane Society and the Maricopa Animal Safe Haven, a no-kill shelter in Arizona, where the Earleys spend half the year living
“We totally support anyone that is pro-animal,” Ann Earley said. “That’s just sort of our thing.”
More information about pickleball in the area can be found at south.usapa.org.