In my last column titled “Tournament Tough”, I discussed how much planning and preparation went into setting up a tournament and I gave some pointers on how to attend a tournament as a veteran spectator.
As an instructor at The Naples Pickleball Center and Training Academy, East Naples Community Park is my home away from home. It is where I normally spend my Saturday and Sunday mornings doing clinics and private lessons. However, last weekend I was there to attend The Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships as a spectator. The transformation of my home from the world’s largest public pickleball facility to the world’s largest pickleball party, (for me), was like suddenly being taken from my regular daily life routine to somewhere over the rainbow to the land of Oz!
I arrived early, around 9:00AM, on opening day of the tournament and even though there were numerous cars waiting to get into the entrance, parking was a breeze. It was singles Sunday for the Pro level players competition and matches were already in progress on all courts. I had been provided with a media pass which allowed me access to the Zing Zang Championship Court, and I was able to have a front row seat in the press box and watch some top-level Pro singles matches. Over the many years of my tennis career, I have attended several major tennis tournaments, both as a spectator and as a coach. The Zing Zang Championship Court definitely has an air about it and the feel of a world class sporting event.
After spending time watching several matches on the Zing Zang Court, I began just wandering around the tournament site. The outlying courts had more of a feel of a regular amateur pickleball tournament and I enjoyed observing players of all ages and levels compete. Tented and shaded three tier level grandstands provided comfortable and cool courtside viewing for all the matches. Adjacent to the blue awning covering the Zing Zang court were two giant white tents which also provided a pleasant and cool area for vendor display booths. Several major manufacturers were on site offering all sorts of pickleball related merchandise and gear available for purchase. I also discovered other recreational related activities, such as a company called Charge Bikes, who manufacture electric bicycles. Charge Bikes was offering free test rides around the walkway path that encircles the lake behind the back courts. They also were having a raffle drawing to give away a free electric bike on the final day of the tournament (which I entered, and I hope to win!)
In addition to pickleball gear vendors, there was a wide variety of food choices ranging from catering from Delicious by Design, AKA, Lulu’s Kitchen, which was located under the main vendor tent, to several food trucks stationed throughout the grounds. One of the major tournament sponsors was Landshark beer, providing adult beverages. Along with my food and beverage choices, I experienced other pleasantries like local music legend Billy Bridger providing live entertainment.
Also, (somewhat kind of behind the scenes), I would also like to give honorable mention to Gary Morton of Mor-Sports Group, who is responsible for re-surfacing the Zing Zang Championship Court, as well as making sure every court at the facility is in world class playing condition on a year-round basis!
Experiencing the tournament as a spectator and enjoying all that it had to offer was a lot of fun and I must say that after spending a year of dealing with COVID restrictions, it was nice to be in an environment that felt somewhat “back to normal”. However, there were billboards located around the grounds that politely and humorously displayed unique and entertaining reminders and suggestions on how to social distance.
Finally, and most importantly, I would like to give personal thanks to Chris Evon, Terri Graham and all the volunteers for their dedication and hard work in making the Minto U. S. Open Pickleball Championships a true crown jewel of pickleball tournaments. The tournament is a great asset to our community and is a vital part of what makes Naples “The Pickleball Capital the World”.
So, if you missed out on this year’s Open, start making plans for next year, you will not be disappointed. Until then, you can stream the championship matches on Pickleballchanel.com and follow the APP Tour on APPTV on YouTube.
Wayne Clark is a professional tennis instructor with over 25 years’ experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction and is on staff as an instructor with The Naples Pickleball Center and Training Academy at East Naples Community Park. Contact Coach Wayne by email at email@example.com, or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.