From the Majors to “Picklemall,” Texas Is Pickleball Heaven

Billionaire Steve Kuhn says pickleball can heal America — and maybe he’s got a point

August 25, 2023 7:18 am
Neon green indoor pickleball courts at Chicken N Pickle in Texas
At Chicken N Pickle, pickleball is paired with chicken sandwiches.
Key Construction

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. You probably know this already because you’ve seen the headlines or because your well-meaning friend — you know the one — won’t stop citing that fact as they implore you to pick up a paddle. (You also may be this well-meaning friend.) It’s too early to tell if pickleball is here to stay, or if it will succumb to the same fate as racquetball, which was the country’s fastest growing sport in the ’70s. But so far, the future looks promising.

Millions of people are now playing, equipment manufacturers are racing to keep up with demand, there’s a fast-growing professional league and real estate is increasingly being dedicated to new courts, in both outdoor and indoor facilities. And the demographics are changing, with more young players hitting the courts each year, which is important for the sport’s longevity.

Here in Texas, we have ourselves a sort of pickleball heaven. In the time-honored tradition of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” here’s what you need to know about the sports expansion across the state, and how to get your dink on.

Major League Pickleball

Major League Pickleball (MLP) has deep ties to Texas. It was founded in 2021 by Austin billionaire Steve Kuhn and had its first draft and tournament in nearby Dripping Springs, where Kuhn also owns Dreamland, a massive entertainment complex with 16 pickleball courts. Since then, its ranks have quickly grown, and MLP now counts 24 teams spread evenly between a Premier level and Challenger level. The league has attracted major investment from pro athletes and celebrities, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Drake and Michael B. Jordan.

Four teams currently reside in Texas, including two in the Premier level (Dallas Pickleball Club and Texas Ranchers) and two at the Challenger level (Austin Pickleballers and the Frisco Pandas). 

The Dallas Pickleball Club was formed earlier this year by a who’s who of team owners that include Mark Cuban, former Dallas Mavericks great Dirk Nowitzki, pro tennis player John Isner and Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavec. The Frisco Pandas ownership group includes Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott as well as a cadre of guys who are YouTube famous, like trick-shot artists Dude Perfect.

Rather than dedicated home courts and a season schedule like basketball or soccer, MLP currently operates via a series of tournaments. The 2023 calendar features six tournaments spread across four states, with five million dollars in prize money up for grabs.

Welcome to Picklemall

That’s not a typo. Picklemall is the new concept backed by MLP founder Steve Kuhn. The first location just opened in Tempe, Arizona, and additional locales are slated for Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and other markets around the country. The company’s goal is to rehab shopping malls and strip malls into indoor pickleball palaces loaded with climate-controlled courts. There’s open play, leagues, clinics and tournaments, plus a pro shop where players can score merchandise and equipment. Picklemall is also leaning into technology, with app-based reservations and on-court cameras to analyze play, save matches and definitively see whether that ball was in or out.

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Pickles at the food court, pickleball at the pickleball court

“Pickleball is truly the Benjamin Button of sports,” said Kuhn in a statement. “Every year, the demographics for the sport get younger and younger. Pickleball has the opportunity to cross the barriers that divide us — age, race, class — to foster togetherness and spread joy to the communities in which Picklemall will reside. That starts with getting creative about location, and the future of pickleball is indoors.”

Where to Play 

You don’t have to wait for Picklemall to stake its claim in Texas, as there are already dedicated pickleball courts across the state, as well as tennis courts and basketball courts fashioned to accommodate the game. Summer heat is a major deterrent to doing much of anything outdoors, so when it’s too hot to move, you can reserve an indoor court at Chicken N Pickle. This fun concept has multiple locations in DFW and one in San Antonio, and when you’re done, you can retire to the full restaurant and bar for restorative fried chicken sandwiches and beers.

Dreamland doesn’t have indoor courts, but a few of them are at least covered to protect you from the sun’s rays. PALA Pickleball in Spring, Texas — outside of Houston — is an indoor facility with 11 courts, and NB Pickleball Club brought indoor play to the Hill Country.

From all appearances, this sport won’t be slowing down any time soon. So if you haven’t yet succumbed to pickleball’s siren song, now may be the time.

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