From French monks batting the ball around with their hands in the 12th century to the first game of tennis at Wimbledon, racquet sports have long enamored athletes and spectators of all ages with their fast-paced games and competitions.
With the evolution of racquet sports has come one of today’s hottest trends – pickleball, a combination of ping-pong, badminton and tennis.
Since pickleball’s creation in 1965 by Washington congressman Joel Pritchard and family friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, the sport has grown rapidly in popularity. Earning a legion of enthusiasts around the world that have made their presence known, especially in Florida, the United States alone was home to 4.2 million pickleball players in 2020, according to the 2021 Topline Participation Report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Capitalizing on the latest sports craze that has cities across the nation building courts to accommodate pickleball enthusiasts, the City of Holly Hill is ahead of the curve, unveiling the world-class Pictona at Holly Hill facility in June 2020.
A unique mix of public and private partnerships was painstakingly crafted to bring the project to fruition and the result has been the creation of something even more exciting than just a sports venue.
It’s a new gem in Holly Hill!
Overcoming hurdles since the concept’s origination in 2015, it was willingness on the part of the City of Holly Hill to envision what could be and a forecasting of opportunity that enabled city manager Joe Forte and the city commission to take a leap of faith. Committing $1.3 million of the city’s resources to the project, combined with a $400,000 ECHO grant from Volusia County, the city transformed the little-used Hollyland baseball/softball complex into Pictona.
It was also a willingness from the private sector to ‘put skin in the game.’ Concept creators and sports industry experts Rainer and Julie Martens contributed $4 million through Marten Charities to see the project realized, and a number of significant sponsorships from leading businesses in the community including Brown & Brown, S.R. Perrott and AdventHealth, helped open the doors for the world-class facility.
“As pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., players are seeking unique opportunities to visit and play at pickleball facilities, such as Pictona,” said Stu Upson, USA Pickleball CEO. “With 24 pickleball courts and expanding, Pictona will bring exciting opportunities to the Daytona Beach area by being able to host large tournaments that will draw hundreds of players and globally recognized sponsors.”
Meet the Staff
It doesn’t hurt to have staff that is as in love with the sport as the members are. Among a talented team, Pictona lucked out in a big way when they landed assistant general manager Sarah Lockett.
It’s tough to find someone who lives, eats and breathes their job with as much passion as Lockett has. But as she provides tours of the facility, it’s easy to see how her love of the sport, the facility’s programs and the location itself are directly impacted by her knowledge and enthusiasm.
As an international softball player, Lockett was instrumental in building Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s softball program from the ground up, earning her a ‘Coach of the Year’ award and ERAU a Top 25 ranking during her time there. Discovering pickleball three years ago, Lockett has brought her technical expertise and skills to Pictona, helping build the programs as the events director and growing the membership base to more than 700 in the first year of operation, while still welcoming guests as a public facility.
“There are people who have flown from different parts of the country to visit this facility and we’re seeing more and more of them,” she said.
Lockett was part of the team that attracted the Bainbridge Cup tournament, hosted by the International Federation of Pickleball, to the facility in April 2021. It was the first time the tournament has been held in the United States, and buoyed by the success, Lockett says tournaments will continue to be part of Pictona’s future programming.
“Part of our vision is to become a leader in the pickleball community,” she said. “What makes Pictona really unique is Rainer and Julie’s vision for Pictona is that it’s a community center and pickleball is the activity that brings everybody here.”
Level Up: As A Community Hub, What’s Next?
The success of Pictona can be seen in the solid membership numbers, pickleball courts – 24 total, 8 of them covered, in play on any day of the week – and active use of the full-service clubhouse.
The facility is further enhanced by a Senior Activity Center (SAC), sponsored by Florida Health Care Plans and available for the community’s use at no cost. Amenities include the outdoor recreation courtyard where adults and youth from the local area enjoy a variety of sports such as bocce ball, shuffleboard and croquet, or they may spend time in the 36 plot community garden complete with hydroponic towers onsite, providing fresh, leafy greens for use in the onsite restaurant, ‘The Kitchen,’ available to both players and the community.
The facility has generated $800,000 since opening according to Mark Shaw, marketing and sales director for Pictona at Holly Hill.
“We’ve had more than 55,000 visitors to Pictona since we first opened. This includes members, visitors, tournament players and Senior Activity Center participants,” shared Shaw.
The popularity of Pictona as a community hub has put the City of Holly Hill on the map as a destination, and local businesses outside of the sports arena are also benefiting.
“Over the past year the City has seen evidence that the development of Pictona and its success has brought positive attention to the City. Pictona is well known around the United States and is often referenced by players at other facilities as a wonderful destination. Several people from outside the area have contacted the Chamber of Commerce looking to relocate their homes closer to Pictona in the same way golfers try to live on or near a golf course,” said Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte.
“There have been several business opportunities that have grown as a result of Pictona. For example, an increase has been seen at the local CBD (Cannabidiol) business that offers products to several members. More recently, a local business owner is working on developing a large tract of land into a recreational RV park. Many pickleball players are also avid RVers who like to travel to destinations like Pictona and this RV park will be the perfect accompaniment.”
Taking Pictona to the next level, a $5 million expansion will create a championship court, stadium seating for 1,200 people and skyboxes that overlook the stadium, along with an additional 24 courts and a 5,000 sq. foot education center, solidifying the facility’s established place at the highest levels of the sport.
“The City of Holly Hill feels this was such a great investment in this project that the City is now committing another $1 million to the development of Pictona, Phase 2 which is expected to begin construction in October and be completed in one year,” he said, noting the economic momentum created as a result of Pictona.
“The attraction of local and out of town visitors to Pictona has improved the overall impression of Holly Hill and, with the increase in positive comments about the city, has increased interest in several other areas.”
As for the co-founders, it’s a dream come true.
“We’re proud to be working with the City of Holly Hill to provide a community center that promotes health and physical activity,” said Rainer Martens, while wife Julie notes, “and building all these courts provides a “fix” for our own positive addiction to pickleball.”