An agreement was made with Sun City Festival (by Del Webb) in Buckeye, AZ to hold the tournament in their community in November 2009. Barney Myer, who was the USA Pickleball Board’s Tournament Committee Director, took on the task of organizing the tournament. With the help of Board members Fran Myer and Dennis Duey, they set about creating and hosting this inaugural event. This was the first large major event using a software program (pickleballtournaments.com) created by Bob Lanius. The use of such a program was critical to the success in managing the components of a tournament this size. Throughout the process, changes were made to the program to improve its capability. This is the same tournament management program used today for all USA Pickleball sanctioned tournaments..
The first USA Pickleball Nationals (2009) had just under 400 participants from 26 states and several Canadian provinces. Eight dedicated pickleball courts were used with an additional 12 courts set up on adjacent tennis courts using taped lines and hand built, free standing nets.
The very first medals were awarded to Ken Kraft, age 78 from Bothell, WA and Charlie Robinson, age 76 from Sun City West, AZ – winners in the Men’s Doubles 75+ age division.
Gold medalists in Open Division Singles were Vicki Foster, age 40 from Chandler, AZ in the Women’s Division. and Jagan Subhas, age 26 from Renton, WA won the Men’s Division. Open Division Men’s Doubles winners were Mark Friedenberg age 62 from Seattle, WA and his partner Pat Kane, age 63 from Surprise, AZ. Open Division Women’s Doubles winners were Laurie Kilmain, age 57 from Surprise, AZ and her partner Martha Wasserman, age 62 from Sun City West, AZ. The Open Division Mixed Doubles winners were Pat Kane and Sjoukje Lehman, age 63 from Surprise, AZ.
Hilary Marold, age 59 from Corpus Christi, TX had never played pickleball before. She entered this tournament at the behest of her platform tennis partner and garnered the gold in Women’s Singles 55+ age group as well as silver in the Women’s Doubles 55+ with Yvonne Hackenberg, age 61 from Kalamazoo, MI. (Both are in the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame!)
Of the 205 awards given that first year, most (75 medals) went to players from Arizona, corresponding to the large number of participants who signed up in their home state. Next was Washington (49) followed by California (33) and Florida (24). Florida players had expected to blow the competition away, but upon seeing the dink game employed for the first time, found themselves greatly disappointed that their “power game” style of play was not as effective as anticipated.
In 2010 and 2011, USA Pickleball Nationals again were held at Sun City Festival with Fran Myer and Dennis Duey as Tournament Directors. Participation continued to increase while ages of the winners decreased. What began as an event that drew mostly senior participants now started to capture the interest of younger players and high-level tennis players who were crossing over to pickleball. Dominance by players from Washington, Arizona, California and Florida gave way to players from a wider representation from all over North America. Word had spread about the importance of the dink game and players began to realize that without it, competing at the higher levels would not be possible. In 2010, Vicki Foster defended her Open Division Women’s Singles title while playing with a broken finger in a splint.
For the 2012 USA Pickleball Nationals, the Tournament Director responsibilities were graciously shared by Steve Wong and Gigi LeMaster. Both were high level players who were able to bring a professional and more youthful perspective to the event.
In 2013 and 2014, USA Pickleball President, David Jordan and USA Pickleball Executive Director, Justin Maloof assumed the role of Tournament Directors and put additional emphasis on marketing and sponsorships. By this time, the number of players had increased to over 700 and the number of courts increased to 28. With greater numbers of participants and no further opportunities to add more courts or sponsor space, the tournament was starting to show signs that the original venue was quickly being outgrown.
In 2015, the National Championships moved to Casa Grande, AZ (30 minutes south of Phoenix). With championship courts and better facilities, the move proved to be a welcomed next step in the expansion of the tournament. The first five days of the 2015 event were played at the Robson Ranch pickleball complex. The remaining three days, featuring the Open and Sr. Open divisions, were played at the nearby Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort. This complex featured 32 dedicated pickleball courts and ample room for event sponsors. This year also featured the first presenting corporate sponsor (Aetna) and was also the first time the event was live streamed to the general public.
The National Championships remained in Case Grande for 2016 and 2017 as USA Pickleball entered into a two-year agreement with Palm Creek. USA Pickleball’s Managing Director of Competition, Christine Barksdale and long-time committee member Roger Workman were added as Tournament Directors to better facilitate the responsibilities and demands of the growing event.
The 2016 event was the first-time registration had to be capped (860 players) as space limitations once again became an issue for the sport’s premiere event. To accommodate more players in 2017, an additional twelve courts were added from the nearby Robson Ranch complex for a total of 44 courts. Despite the additional courts, registration had to be quickly capped as registrations surged past 1,300 players within the first hour. 2017 also marked the first time the National Championships aired to a national audience as 2 hours of the event were aired on the CBS Sports Network.
2018 began an exciting new chapter for the sport’s premiere event as USA Pickleball and Desert Champions, LLC partnered on a multi-year agreement to host the tournament at the world-renowned Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The 2018 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships featured 45 championship caliber pickleball courts and the world’s largest pickleball championship court. The event also set a new player registration record with over 2,200 registered players who competed in a total of 4,300 matches. This tournament also provided the highest cash purse ($75,000) in the history of the sport! As for broadcast coverage, over 17 hours of the event were live-streamed to a nation-wide audience on ESPN3 and a special, 1-hour highlight program aired nationally on ESPNEWS.
In 2019, the tournament expanded on the successful foundation established during Nationals’ first year in Indian Wells. With a host of upgraded features, the tournament provided a better overall event experience across the board. Spectators were treated to a new VIP lounge on the south end of the stadium court and live video screens were conveniently placed near the shade tree park where spectators could catch all the stadium court action from the food and beverage area. Additional retail, event sponsors, dining options all left little doubt that this tournament will be remembered as a momentous occasion. The ten-day event had an overall turn out of nearly 28,000 fans, and later won the Racquet Sports Industry Magazine award for ‘Pickleball Tournament of the Year’ due to its incredible impact on the sport overall.