Pickleball paradise

Published on: Thu, Dec 28, 2017

Inside the Robson Ranch gates with its most energetic residents

The school bell rings on Wednesday afternoons at Argyle Intermediate School, launching students, book bags in tow, through steel doors thrust open and slamming against the bricked schoolhouse. But on Wednesdays, they barrel right past the parking lot and toward the gymnasium for one of the after-school highlights of their week – pickleball time.

For more than six years, Denton County’s Robson Ranch Texas Luxury Retirement Community has been visiting the school every week to share their passion for one of the fastest growing sports for all ages in the United States.

Pickleball, a mash-up of tennis, ping pong and badminton and one of many activities celebrated by residents and visitors “with relish” at Robson Ranch, has evolved into quite a draw in Denton. The retirement community recently completed the expansion of its world-class pickleball courts, which included taking over several of what previously were tennis courts.

Members of the Robson Ranch Pickleball Club practice on a brisk fall morning. (Photo by Isabel Deniz/Denton CVB)

“You see there?” resident and long-time pickleball player Tricia Douglas asks, pointing to what appear to be tennis courts. “These are ours now. The tennis players used to have them, but not anymore,” the sandy-haired, petite woman shared proudly. “Now we’ve got 16 pickleball courts!”

The ‘ours’ Tricia is referring to is the Robson Ranch Pickleball Club, a group of 460-plus seniors in Denton County who play on a badminton-sized court using tennis and ping pong moves on a whiffle-ball-style ball with what looks like an oversized ping pong paddle.

Although the unusual game with an unusual name might not have always been on the tips of everyone’s tongues in North Texas, pickleball is rumored to have first appeared on the scene in 1965 when several Washingtonian men were looking for something for their kids to do on a dreary afternoon. As the story is told, the fathers rifled around through their sporting equipment for something to keep their children’s attention, and ended up sending them out to play on a badminton court with a hollowed-out plastic ball and a few racquets.

Not only did the kids end up loving the makeshift game, but so did all of the neighbors and family friends. The family dog, Pickles, would often intercept the game ball, and the sport, new unintentional name and all, ended up catching on like wildfire all through the Pacific Northwest.

While sister-sport tennis is still a very popular sport both in North Texas and with active seniors in general, Mark Kellam, Robson Ranch resident and pickleball club vice president explains the draw of the sport.

“I got into it because it’s low impact. It keeps my heart rate up, and keeps me competitive. Aside from health, though?” the sports enthusiast continued, hands perched in the air as if he were clutching his winning-game paddle. “Really there are two things. First off, I’m retired. [I have] lots of time, so half of my goal is meeting people, volunteering, all of that. Two, I’m a sports junkie. I played softball, golf, basketball, soccer…and I get to travel everywhere.”

Travel? But pickleball is a friendly, non-competitive game that is played on either a dedicated or a modified court, right? And Robson Ranch now proudly boasts some of the highest caliber courts in the U.S., so there must be no motivation for local Denton County residents to go anywhere else in the name of this silly sounding sport—right?

Wrong.

Along with an average of 20-to-30 Robson Ranch residents at any given time, Mark has traveled with the pickleball club to five states this year alone, and that was just by the end of summer.

“We just got back from Georgia…Oklahoma was an easy trip, and then there was Louisiana and Mississippi.

Tricia chimed in. “Well, and Arizona, of course.” Mark nodded in a given understanding.

With more than seven million players worldwide, there are statistically at least two pickleball tournaments being held somewhere in the world at any given time. Several residents traveled to Madrid in September 2017 for the Spanish Open Pickleball Championships, which is a competitive, bracketed play held each fall by the International Federation of Pickleball.

One such player is Ford Roberson, retired Duncanville ISD superintendent and six-year Robson resident. After having played the sport for only “a touch over four years,” Roberson is now not only a die-hard pickleball fan, but also stands as president of the Robson Ranch Denton Pickleball Club.

The Robson Ranch Pickleball Club now has access to 16 courts at the upscale retirement community south of Denton. (Photo courtesy Denton CVB/Isabel Deniz)

Never having heard of pickleball prior to moving to Robson, Ford is a self-proclaimed pickleball addict. “I’ve played eight sports over my lifetime. Tennis for 45 years, then did some USTA league play,” Roberson explained. “When my wife saw [a game of pickleball] and showed me, she laughed and asked, ‘Oh, Ford— have we found your new addiction?’ and I told her that, yeah…maybe we have.”

Since Denton County holds plenty of active seniors interested in various sports, it didn’t take long for Robson Ranch to start hosting USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) competitive events for out-of-towners and residents in both scheduled and bracket play. Robson just hosted the Quad States Senior Open which, although the name refers to Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, represented players and spectators from over a dozen states.

Roberson and the RRDPC work with the HOA of Robson Ranch Denton as well as the USAPA, which is the governing body for all things pickleball, to make sure that Robson is recognized as a “reciprocal club.” This means that anyone that is a member of the USAPA is invited to play at the courts at Robson Ranch and, in turn, the Robson players may play at any of the more than 15,000 dedicated pickleball courts in the United States.

While the 2,700 acre property itself is a single-family housing development community, it’s less than five minutes from 35W, and only 15 minutes away from Denton’s brand new Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center. If visitors are searching for top-notch accommodations while they are in town for any Robson event, they need look no further.

Sure, there are hundreds of people planning their retirements that choose to come tour Robson Ranch each year because it boasts professional-level courts and an 18-hole championship golf course, as well as state of the art crafts workshops, art studios, workout facilities and other ways to enjoy your leisure. But not all of Robson’s attractions are just for their residents.

The newly-revamped Wildhorse Grill is located at Robson’s Wildhorse Golf Club, both of which are open to the public. The bar and fine dining restaurant boasts a stunning heated patio overlooking the golf course and the Robson Ranch Veterans’ Park.

Whether you are looking for somewhere close to Heaven to settle when you finally become an empty nester, or just looking to come in for a delicious steak and a round of golf, Robson Ranch should be on your list when you’re thinking of Denton. And don’t forget your pickleball paddle. But bring your A game – this group of seniors, like the other active Robson Ranch residents, are fierce competitors and enthusiastic about their leisure.

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