Stop by Belknap Park in downtown Grand Rapids any summer or fall evening and you’re liable to see upwards of 100 people playing (or waiting to play) the fastest growing sport in America. Pickleball, often described as a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong, is in the midst of a certified boom, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. 

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association reports that the pickleball-playing U.S. population increased by an astonishing 158% from 2020-2023 , and Grand Rapids local residents have wholeheartedly embraced the sport. Grand Rapids was named the 3rd most “pickleball-obsessed” city in the U.S. in 2023, and the area has become one of the Midwest’s best and most supportive places to play.

“The pickleball facility at Belknap Park is one of the finest in the Midwest,” confirms John Frizzo, president of the Grand Rapids Pickleball Club, which was formed in 2012, before there were any pickleball courts at Belknap. The group raised the funds to transform some of the park’s rundown tennis courts into six pickleball courts that summer. They added more courts over the next decade – it’s up to 21 outdoor courts now – and recently upgraded lighting fixtures and fencing.

Over the same decade, club membership grew from a handful of people to roughly 650 in 2021, 1,150 in 2022 and upwards of 1,500 today.  Member benefits include access to club tournaments, events and ladder leagues, a format of play designed so that players compete mostly against others of similar skill levels.

Just as importantly, members enjoy the fellowship of a friendly and supportive community while helping advance the profile and reach of the sport throughout West Michigan.

RoofTop Pickleball at the Amway Grand Plaza

Be on top of the world (or Grand Rapids) at Amway Grand Plaza's outdoor pickleball courts!

Photo by Ideology for Experience GR

A Sport for Everybody

“Pickleball is a very social experience,” explains Frizzo. “It’s a great way to meet new people.” Paul Richards, who is the Club’s Director of Advanced Play and also serves on the Board, agrees: “I’ve met so many people through pickleball that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m 70 years old and I have 400-500 new friends I didn’t have a few years ago.”

Those friends range from kids to 80somethings. While pickleball was first embraced by the senior citizen crowd, the average player age has dropped to 38 years old and the fastest growth is among players under 24. Frizzo, who played in his first pickleball tournament in 2018, says Grand Rapids is experiencing the same influx of young pickleballers.

While the Grand Rapids Pickleball Club is a pro-level facility, it’s not at all intimidating to novices. “We offer Intro to Pickleball classes and four of the courts in the back are for beginners,” says Richards. “Another six courts are for family and friends to play together. Or you can show up and play with random people, there’s always someone who’s at your skill level. Just do a little online research first.” USA Pickleball has a good primer on mastering the basics.

Pickleball court

The Beer City Open attracts pickleball players from all over the world.

Photo by West Michigan Sports Commission

The Beer City Open

Pickleballers of all ages come to Grand Rapids every summer to compete in the Beer City Open at Belknap Park. Co-founded by Richards and Andrea Koop, who ranks in the top 10 of professional women players nationally, the Beer City Open began in 2018 with 350 participants and $12,000 in prize money. Just four years later, it had become one of the biggest tournaments in the country, attracting 882 players from 38 states and five countries to compete for $90,000 in prize money.

“We have both pro and amateur divisions, and it’s a real thrill for the amateurs to see the pros in action,” says Richards. In 2021 and 2022, the Open was a stop on the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) tour and hosted some of the top-ranked players in the world. Amateurs could earn a “Golden Ticket” to the USAPA National Championships by virtue of their performance in Grand Rapids. In-person spectators cheered on the athletes and select matches were streamed on ESPN+.

In 2023, the Beer City Open offered a tournament-record $1,000 purse and attracted 1,000+ players, many of them among the nation’s best. Admission was free for spectators, who enjoyed food trucks and a beer garden in addition to the thrill of championship-caliber play.

Broad Leaf Brewery and Spirits

Head indoors at Broad Leaf Brewery + Spirits for Michigan’s first indoor pickleball restaurant

Photo by Courtesy of Broad Leaf Brewery & Spirits

Where to Play in Grand Rapids

The Club at Belknap Park is the biggest pickleball facility in the area, but it’s not the only one. “Many club members use this as their home base but they also play elsewhere in the city,” says Frizzo.

Here’s a brief look at area courts where you don’t need to be a member or be accompanied by a member to play.

Indoor Play

You can play year-round at these facilities. Check their websites for current rates and hours.

All In Pickleball Gym offers five premium pickleball courts and two training courts, with 16-foot-high containment nets to keep the balls in your own court. Open 4am-midnight 7 days a week in Byron Center.

Bella Vista Church in Rockford has four courts in its gymnasium, with open-play times for ages 55+ several times a week.

Broad Leaf Brewery + Spirits in Kentwood became Michigan’s first indoor pickleball restaurant when it installed two new courts in its taproom in January 2024. You need to sign up for a membership to book a court, but membership is free. Court rentals for members start at $30 an hour and paddle rentals are $3 each.

Grand Rapids Racquet + Fitness on the city’s northeast side has four courts – with four more coming in summer 2024 – and can re-mark their tennis courts to add an additional eight. The facility hosts regular tournaments and is the indoor backup location for the Beer City Open and the Meijer State Games of Michigan. Get the CourtReserve app or call 616-363-7769 to reserve a court ($6 per hour plus $6 per player for non-members).

Impact Dynamic Training in Hudsonville offers non-member rates for open play, court rentals and regular training classes.

The Kentwood Activities Center hosts drop-in pickleball sessions Monday evenings and Thursday mornings plus lessons, leagues and tournaments.

The MSA (Michigan Sports Academies) Fieldhouse and MSA Woodland offer non-member rates for drop-in pickleball Monday-Friday mornings.

New Community Church has three indoor courts that can be reserved on Thursdays and Fridays.

Premier Athletic Club in Grandville has open-play slots available 7 days a week for members and non-members alike.

The Salvation Army Kroc Center hosts drop-in pickleball several mornings a week. Non-members can purchase a day pass for this southeast side facility.

Outdoor Play

Outdoor court availability is dependent on the weather but are generally open from spring through fall.

A number of local parks are equipped with free-to-use courts, including:

Downtown GR’s Amway Grand Plaza Hotel has six outdoor courts adjacent to its fourth-floor Fitness Center. Courts are open to both guests and the general public. Reserve a court online or call 616-776-3279.

Here is where can you play pickleball

The local pickleball scene will get even more impressive soon, as the West Michigan Sports Commission is fundraising to add 20 pickleball courts (and many other enhancements) to the Meijer Sports Complex Championship Field in Rockford. A private developer has announced plans for an indoor pickleball and golf simulator facility on the west side of Grand Rapids, just a few minutes from downtown. And MVP Sports Clubs is building a new member facility featuring six indoor courts and six outdoor courts about five minutes from Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

If you’re new to the sport, be forewarned: “It truly is addictive,” says Frizzo. “You become addicted to the sport and the people who play it,” adds Richards. “It’s so much fun – come out to Belknap and listen to the laughter.”

Planning for the 2024 Beer City Open (July 9-14) is now underway. Keep an eye on the Beer City Open website and Facebook page for details to come – including the all-important registration date. The tournament typically sells out in less than an hour!