FARGO — From sun-up to sundown, six miniature tennis-looking courts at Brunsdale Park in south Fargo serve as a daily mini-festival, with players showing up looking for a game. There are no real requirements other than a racquet.
It’s a game for small people. Big people. Older people. Younger people. Men. Women. Fast. Slow. It doesn’t really matter in the game of pickleball. Just show up and find a partner. Or play singles.
“I think it’s the quick, easy learning of the game for all ages,” said Tom Janke, the president of the Fargo-Moorhead Pickleball Club.
Welcome to the latest American-game fad that is gaining popularity so quickly that it may be here for the long haul. On a beautiful early evening earlier this week at Brunsdale, retired teachers, local businessmen and women, former college volleyball and football players and even an LPGA golfer got together for jokes, laughter and competition.
For Amy Olson, pickleball is her athletic home away from the golf course. Since the LPGA shut down in February because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can find Olson and her husband, North Dakota State assistant football coach Grant Olson, most days at the Brunsdale courts.
And all times. It’s not uncommon for them to be there at 5:30 a.m. before Grant has to be in his Fargodome football office or later in the evening.
“You have maybe your group to play with but you mix in with other groups,” Amy said. “I couldn’t count the number of people I’ve played with in Fargo. We all have a great time and nobody takes it too seriously but we’re all competitive and care and it’s really a blast.”
Don’t discount the mental benefits for a professional athlete, either. There’s an aggressiveness in pickleball that Amy has translated to the golf course, an attitude that perhaps, and not ironically, has come at the same time she’s playing the best golf of her career.
“I’ve known for two, three years that my downfall is being too conservative,” she said. “I need to be more aggressive and I very rarely am over-aggressive. I don’t know that I’m going to directly attribute it to pickleball — part of it is more confidence on the course to be able to fire at more pins — but that is definitely something I’ve taken away from pickleball.”
Olson finished second in the Australian Open in February before the tour was halted. It resumes July 31 at the LPGA Drive In Championship in Toledo, Ohio. She finished 58th on the LPGA money list in 2019 and 37th on the list in 2018 and has been in the conversation to make the U.S. team for the Solheim Cup, the women’s version of the men’s Ryder Cup.
If pickleball ability was part of the criteria, she would be an easy pick. She and her mother, Twyla Anderson, won the inaugural local pickleball league title.
“Amy and Grant play quite a bit and we have a blast,” Janke said. “They still have that competitive feel.”
Janke is correct in the game is easy to pick up. Anybody who has played tennis, racquetball, ping-pong or squash can adapt to the feel of the pickleball racquet in short order. It takes some time to figure out the serving rules and when the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce once as well as the serving team.
After that, it can be a battle of patience from the baseline or a joust at the net where quick reflexes are important.
“I played racquetball for 40-some years,” Janke said. “I still play a lot of racquetball but then started playing this and loved it from the first time I hit it. There’s so much strategy and it’s not all power but there’s a lot of finesse and touch in the game. You can be a very strong player, a fast player, a slow player and you’ve got a chance to win the game.”
Courts are a premium. Janke said on most nights there are between 10 and 30 players waiting to play at Brunsdale. It’s common for players to come from area towns Mayville, Hillsboro, Wahpeton, Detroit Lakes and Fergus Falls.
“This reminds me of when I fell in love with golf, to be here when the sun is up or when the sun is down,” Amy Olson said. “I love it and can’t get enough of it.”