Pickleball growing sport in Macon-Bibb


Courtesy of Macon Pickleball

Two pickleball players play a match at Tatnall Tennis.

Paul Midkiff was intrigued by the name the first time he heard someone mention pickleball.

He was introduced to the game, which he describes as a combination of ping pong, tennis and badminton, by a friend who had a pickleball court and has been hooked ever since.

“I was leaving that guy’s house and I told myself, ‘I want to go out and play tomorrow,’” Midkiff said. “It’s addicting.”

Midkiff said he fell in love with the game and started to play four or five times a week. 

Pickleball can be played in singles or doubles with an approved pickleball paddle, a whiffle ball, and a pickleball court. A tennis court can be modified to be used for the smaller pickleball racket.

According to the USA Pickleball Association, they had 39,000 registered members in 2019 — almost double their registered members from 2017. 

Midkiff said that when the game was first created it was popular with the older crowds, but now the median age keeps falling due to younger enthusiasts. 

“There was such a community around this sport that I felt we needed a way to kind of grow that community,” he said.

Midkiff founded Macon Pickleball and what started as a group of pickleball enthusiasts is now a registered non-profit.

“When we hold round-robin tournaments and things like that, and we need new nets or balls, we will be able to pay for those things ourselves, instead of asking the city,” he said. 

However, the city has made accommodations for the growing number of pickleball players in Macon.

Robert Walker, director of parks and recreation for Macon-Bibb County, said the game’s popularity “hit us really hard, really fast.” 

“It started off with just a couple people wanting to use a few junior tennis courts,” he said. “And the next thing you know we had what I would call a pandemic.”

The county has 32 courts and 17 of those are dedicated only to pickleball. The dedicated courts are in Tatnall Square Park, but you can still play at the John Drew Tennis Center and the South Bibb Recreation Complex. 

“I think we are one of the few places where they actually have pickleball dedicated courts,” Walker said. 

The new courts in Tatnall Square Park are former regulation tennis courts converted into pickleball courts. The money for the conversion came from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax or SPLOST. 

Clay Murphey, Macon-Bibb’s SPLOST coordinator, convinced the local tennis association to convert Tatnall’s courts.

“We recognized that we were underserving the pickleball community,” Murphey said. 

Murphey convinced the tennis association to give up regular tennis courts at Tatnall because of the new tennis facility at the South Bibb Recreation Center.

The association agreed in part because Tatnall did not meet the guidelines made by the United States Tennis Association for tournaments.

For Murphey, the success was not just a professional victory. Midkiff and Murphey grew up together. Years later the two reconnected and Midkiff introduced Murphey to pickleball.

“Paul roped me into it and I started playing one night a week and then it became five or six nights a week,” Murphey said. 

Macon’s pickleball courts reopened last month. If you are interested in getting involved with Macon Pickleball  you can visit their website maconpickleball.com or find them on Facebook.