By Meghann Sepulveda, Special for wranglernews.com
It took a little convincing from neighbors to get Mike Rodrigues to try pickleball, a sport that combines tennis, ping-pong and badminton on a pint-size court.
The Chandler resident and business owner quickly fell in love with the sport and began thinking about ways to improve the experience for others.
Fast forward from a little more than a year ago: Rodrigues opened Pickleball Kingdom, Arizona’s largest indoor pickleball facility, on May 2 in West Chandler.
As a successful business owner, Rodrigues wasn’t looking for a new opportunity. Her felt compelled to explore his vision of an indoor pickleball facility.
“My brain immediately caught on fire,” Rodrigues said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Rodrigues was confident that he could use the same fundamentals and concepts developed in his previous experiences and apply those to a new business – but the process proved to be humbling.
“I didn’t think it would be that hard to bring this idea to fruition,” he said. “I learned that I was wrong, and it was incredibly complicated.”
However, Pickleball Kingdom finally was born. The 15-court, 40,000-square-foot facility is on the northeastern corner of Ray and Rural roads.
Those who’ve played pickleball know that most courts are outdoors, which can pose a challenge for Arizona residents during hot summer months.
Outdoor courts in the area are limited. Coupled with the increased demand from the meteoric rise in popularity of the sport, players are waiting longer for courts.
“By design, the sport is affected by wind, sun and heat,” Rodrigues said. “Now, players can enjoy an indoor, air-conditioned facility, any time of day or night.”
Pickleball Kingdom caters to busy schedules and is open from 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.
But one of the most appealing aspects of pickleball is the sense of community.
“The social element is the best part of our facility,” Rodrigues said. “There are so many friendships that develop.”
Couples, friends, coworkers and even large groups enjoy the facility. Private events are perfect for team building, graduation celebrations and birthday parties, all of which come with a private coach and a tournament.
While some may have a false preconceived notion that pickleball players tend to skew toward the retiree population, the truth is that the game is enjoyed by all ages.
“I think pickleball has shifted from an older to a younger population,” Rodrigues said. “There are many retired people who gravitate toward the sport, but that’s because you can be active without being so hard on your body.”
Rodrigues believes one good thing that came from the COVID-19 pandemic is that it helped introduce more people to pickleball, and now many individuals – including young athletes – look to it as their regular workout session.
Those interested in joining Pickleball Kingdom can choose from three membership options ranging from $85 to $190 per month with various levels of perks, such as advanced reservations, locker usage and invitations to tournaments and ancillary events.
Or, visitors can pay $15 to reserve a court and play. Paddles and balls can be rented, along with ball feeder machines to practice hitting. Locker rooms with showers, a pro shop and a snack bar are onsite.
Private, semi-private and group lessons as well as leagues are available.
The facility recently launched Pickleball 101, a free class offered to the public, which includes paddles and balls and is taught by an experienced coach.
“The class is a great introduction to pickleball,” Rodrigues said. “As ambassadors of the sport, we want to eliminate any barriers so everyone can experience the game.”
More information: pickleballkingdom.com.