Up until 2019, Scott Fliegelman didn’t know pickleball existed.
“Honestly, I didn’t know if it was tossing a pickle in a jar,” said Fliegelman, who is a former professional tennis player and now plays in the pro pickleball circuit. “I knew nothing about the sport.”
That abruptly changed about four years ago when a friend introduced him to the game, thinking his tennis experience would give him an upper hand.
“Tennis was a big cheat, a quick on-ramp to the whole thing,” Fliegelman said. “Within a week, I was pretty much hooked.”
After only two weeks wielding a paddle, Fliegelman started Boulder Pickleball, an organization dedicated to the sport. He bought the boulderpickleball.net domain and launched an Instagram handle and Facebook page. Though he didn’t yet have a grand plan for the company, Fliegelman felt he was onto something in creating a hub for local “picklers.” During the pandemic, Boulder Pickleball went offline, too, as he trained players at his friend’s private pickleball court in town.
“In short order, I knew that there was going to need to be some sort of physical facility,” Fliegelman said.
Over the last half decade, the popularity of pickleball — often described as a mix of tennis, badminton and ping pong — has exploded across the country and in Boulder.
Invented in the 1960s in Washington state, pickleball was played in every state by 1990, according to USA Pickleball, albeit on a small scale. Today, it’s the fastest growing sport in the U.S. with more than 4.8 million participants last year, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association claims.
Since launching Boulder Pickleball, Scott and his wife, Kari Holden Fliegelman, the organization’s co-owner and director of operations, experienced a surge in demand for their services — “more than I can handle,” Scott said.
To keep up, the Fliegelmans took the next step and opened Boulder Pickleball’s own courts at 3550 Frontier Avenue on May 15, 2023. The indoor location is Boulder’s only dedicated pickleball facility and offers lessons and clinics.
The facility has 19,000 square feet consisting of five courts, plus a few singles and practice courts. It also contains a workout space and a classroom. Courts are available for $11 an hour per person. Or, if you visit a few times a week, you can pick from one of two membership options.
Fliegelman, who is an instructor through the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association, said the organization is filling a gap in multi-week pickleball training programs in Boulder.
Despite having six other coaches, though, Boulder Pickleball still has a waitlist for lessons.
Before Boulder Pickleball opened, the only other public pickleball courts in town included those at the North, East and South Recreation Centers. But those indoor courts are made out of wood, which causes the pickleball ball to skid, Fliegelman said.
“There’s a million lines on the floor for all the multi-purpose sports that are going on, so it’s kind of hard to know which ones are yours,” Fliegelman added.
The recreation centers’ outdoor courts are also multi-purpose, used for pickleball and tennis. The courts are made of asphalt or concrete, which many consider superior, according to Fliegelman. Even better are courts coated with acrylic paint and latex, as they are at Boulder Pickleball.
Since opening, Boulder Pickleball has had a couple hundred visitors, Fliegelman said.
“All of our courts were filled a lot of the day because there was interest and demand, and the weather turned a little bit,” he said of the recent rain, which restricted outdoor pickleball play.
The lack of courts as demand grows — both for tennis and pickleball — is a known problem in Boulder, and is possibly getting worse. The private tennis facility at the Millennium Hotel is expected to close due to redevelopment of the site for student housing. And the development of the CU South property could affect the tennis complex there, too. The City of Boulder is launching an effort this June, which will continue through the end of the year, to come up with a plan for new courts and paying for them.
Boulder Pickleball has already received feedback from those seeking “open play” options, or who come in without a partner or group and want some friendly competition. As a result, it now offers open play every morning from 9 to 11 a.m. and several evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. for three different ability levels.
“I think it’s the essence of pickleball,” Fliegelman said of open play. “That’s what people really enjoy is playing with a range of different players.”
Boulder Pickleball will host its official kickoff on June 1, from 6 to 9 p.m. The event will feature several vendors and have a ribbon cutting. Neighboring Sanitas Brewing will offer drink specials afterward. There will also be open play sessions, plus an overview of membership options and available clinics.
“We really want to be more than just a court rental facility,” Fliegelman said, “and have our programs, clinics and learning opportunities be super dialed.”