Local badminton player Peter Chang brought home a gold medal from the World Masters Games, an Olympics-style event for older athletes held in April in New Zealand. And he’s telling fellow seniors that they can play the game he loves closer to home.

“It’s the all-body exercise,” said Chang, 69, about badminton’s appeal. “There’s a lot of twisting and turning and smashing … It keeps me very fit and healthy.”

Peter Chang attends the 2017 World Masters Games in New Zealand, where he competed in badminton. (Special)

Chang, a real estate investment professional, has lived in Sandy Springs for almost 35 years. He was born in Malaysia, one of many Asian countries where badminton is a popular sport. He grew up playing the game, including on his college team in Hong Kong. When his career began, eventually bringing him to metro Atlanta, he “quit playing for a long time.”

In the late 1990s, Chang’s children headed to college and he found himself not only returning to badminton, but getting serious about it. He began winning some competitions, including the World Morning Cup, an amateur badminton competition, in Taipei, Taiwan.

This year, he headed to Auckland, New Zealand, for the Summer Masters Games, a multi-sports event generally aimed at athletes 35 and older. This year’s edition drew more than 25,000 athletes. Chang competed in both singles and doubles badminton, winning the singles gold in his age category.

“Unfortunately, you pay for everything,” Chang said of the Masters Games, which has drawn some press coverage for significant entrance fees and related travel expenses. However, he said, he enjoyed the competition, the sightseeing, and the chance to meet people from around the globe. He said he met someone from the tiny island nation of Mauritius and competed against a player from Papua New Guinea.

Such international competition begins with local practice. While the similar game of tennis is hugely popular in metro Atlanta, badminton is on the rise, Chang said.

“Badminton is a very popular sport,” Chang said, and follows along “with the influx and growth of the international population, especially after the [1996] Olympics.”

Peter Chang’s gold medal in badminton from the 2017 World Masters Games. (Special)

He said he has about 15 metro Atlanta badminton venues to choose from, ranging from rec centers to gyms to churches, often on restriped tennis or basketball courts. In a sign of the sport’s growing popularity, the area’s first complex of badminton-only courts is set to open this month in Suwanee, Chang said, thanks to an Indian-American fan.

Chang has tried tennis, too, but the techniques are different. Badminton is more about nuanced wrist movements, while tennis is more about arm swings, he said.

“I used to play tennis … but I don’t play anymore because it screws up my badminton,” Chang said.

However, there’s another sport catching Chang’s eye: pickleball. A kind of tennis played on a badminton court with paddles and a plastic ball full of holes, pickleball is also growing in local popularity. A new Dunwoody park has pickleball courts included by popular demand.

“I’m going to try pickleball,” Chang said. “I like it.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.