There's a new way to stay healthy and have fun in Knoxville: pickleball!
Now the fastest-growing sport in America, pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong for an easy-to-learn game that can bring people together and get those competitive juices flowing. Pickleball court data provider Pickleheads lists Knoxville with more places to play than any other city in Tennessee.
Why Pickleball is Growing in Knoxville
“This sport is addicting,” says Lee Martin, founder of the Pavillion of Pickleball, one of Knoxville’s most popular pickleball facilities. “People come from just about every hand-eye coordinated sport you can imagine—ping pong, tennis, racquetball, handball, paddle ball, volleyball, baseball, basketball. It doesn’t matter.”
Even as professional tours like the Major League Pickleball gain steam with the backing of celebrities and athletes like LeBron James, Tom Brady, Dierks Bentley, Kate Upton, and Heidi Klum, the thing that attracts people to the sport is its accessibility.
Places to Play Pickleball in Knoxville
If you're looking to get into the action, there are plenty of places to play indoors and out—check out the best pickleball courts in Knoxville.
Everywhere you look, there’s a new court popping up in Knoxville. Martin credits the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission for jumping in with both feet, explaining that they are “trying to stimulate all activities” in the city. With so much excitement around pickleball in 2023, that should be a relatively easy goal. Here are some of the best places to play:
1. Sam Duff Memorial Park
Just southeast of UT-Knoxville, Sam Duff Memorial Park has built four dedicated pickleball courts with permanent nets and lines. These free courts are perfect for testing yourself while enjoying the beautiful Tennessee weather.
Not only are reservations allowed—they’re encouraged! The courts can fill up quickly, so secure a spot before you head out, or you might be waiting for a while.
2. West Hills/John Bynon Park
Just off the I-40 is West Hills and Bynon Park, a 14-acre space that has embraced pickleball wholeheartedly. With six dedicated courts in their own area (no sharing with those tennis pros), you’ll be surrounded by the pickleball community and beautiful tree-lined scenery.
3. Pavilion of Pickleball
As Martin said, “Knoxville’s got a great climate for 9-10 months of the year, but there’s a couple when it’s pretty cold and rains a bit.” That’s the perfect time to try indoor pickleball, and the Pavilion is the city’s premiere destination.
With 24-hour access, clinics, lessons, family membership options, and even its own podcast, there’s many reasons to join. Located on Racquet Club Way in Cedar Bluff, it has both indoor and outdoor courts available.
4. Tennessee Tennis Club and Academy
When they saw the way pickleball was exploding, the Tennessee Tennis Club and Academy (TTCA) had to get in on the action. They’ve now opened the Knoxville Pickleball Club, which offers the most courts in the city, with 16 outdoor and eight indoor courts.
According to Xan Witherton, Tennis Pro at TTCA, the sports approachability and ease-of-learning has made it a hit: “It's just really approachable. And pretty much all ages can play it. It's incredible to watch people come out and say "I've never hit before." Then two weeks later they're actually playing at a pretty decent level.”
Private lessons are available, as are season-long bookings for specific court times. Even non-members can get in on the action, though they’ll pay a little bit more.
5. Fort Sanders Health & Fitness Center
Fort Sanders is an award-winning facility offering much more than pickleball courts. With a full spa, a six-lane outdoor pool, youth sports leagues, and an exclusive community, it really is a five-star club.
With ten pickleball courts (indoor and outdoor) and certified instructors that run regular clinics for every level of player, you’ll get a lot out of your membership.
More than 36 million people played pickleball in the last 12 months, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals, and Knoxville has been a vital part of that growth.
“It’s just so cool to give some of the older folks a new lease on life because they now have somewhere to go, somewhere to be, and some folks to have fun with,” says Martin, a retired professor from the University of Tennessee who opened the Pavilion in 2020 to give fans of the sport a dedicated facility.
When he’s not on the court playing his own matches, Martin spreads the gospel of pickleball to new recruits. “I’ve probably taught 500 people how to play pickleball in the last two and a half years.”
Martin’s boot camps run on Saturday mornings, helping new players “go from learning to hold the paddle to playing and laughing in two hours.”
With more than 900 members as of August 2022, the Pavilion’s success is more a product of the game than Martin’s business savvy. He’s done “almost no marketing” besides posting a few open houses to a local Facebook group.
The game is doing the work for him, with players spreading the word organically because of how much fun they have.
That rapid growth has forced the Pavilion to limit memberships at times, though, so if you’re looking to get in there might be a bit of a wait. Luckily, there are 30 other pickleball facilities in Knoxville.
Planned Court Developments
Pickleball is coming to every corner of Knoxville.
The city is committing $42 million to improve Lakeshore Park, and at least some of that will go to developing six new pickleball courts. Once everything is completed, they’ll be located on the north side of the maintenance building at the west end of the park.