Henry Dan and Wayne Bernstein play doubles at Hammond Park in Sandy Springs.

Back in the summer of 2018, Henry Dan just wanted to find a place he could play pickleball regularly. He’d been introduced to the up-and-coming game with the funny name when visiting his brother in Florida. He liked it, so he started looking for other pickleball fans to play with when he was home in Sandy Springs.

He checked out an established private pickleball club that met regularly at Hammond Park. They’d been around for a while and played in the mornings. But Dan didn’t feel altogether at home with the group.

So, in 2019, he and a few friends established a new group, which arranged pickleball games on the Hammond courts in the afternoons and would let anybody play. They called their group the Friendly Hammond Players. Anybody from rank newbies to grizzled vets would be welcome to join them for a game a pickleball, which is regularly touted as the fastest-growing sport in the country. “It just started mushrooming,” said Wayne Bernstein, a 77-year-old retired stockbroker who was part of that early group.

Henry Dan at Hammon Park.

‘Mushroom’ may be an understatement. As of mid-February, more than 725 players had signed up to use the app the Friendly Hammond Players employ to coordinate games, Dan said. He said about 70 “hardcore” players take part in games regularly. He plays four to five days a week himself, both with the morning and afternoon groups, he said.

To keep up with that growth, the city of Sandy Springs claims 10 pickleball courts in tennis and basketball areas at Hammond Park, eight dedicated pickleball courts at the Sandy Springs Tennis Center and is joining Fulton County schools to add six more at Ridgeview Middle School, a spokesman said. Dan said Friendly Hammond Players are working with the city to get more dedicated pickleball courts at Hammond Park.

Part of the appeal, pickleball’s promoters say, is that while the game takes only a few minutes to learn, it is difficult to master and remains challenging to play. Besides, the equipment a player needs to get started is relatively cheap, and the game encourages players to get to know one another. “You can talk and socialize while playing,” Dan said.

Melissa Lowry, an elementary school principal, said he and her husband have been playing pickleball at Hammond Park for about 18 months. She regularly plays tennis, too, she said, but finds pickleball a more social sport. Playing pickleball in the park is like playing basketball in pickup games, she said. “I like pickleball because it’s accessible to a lot of different people,” she said.

That’s part of why the Friendly Hammond Players got started in the first place, after all. “It’s a real strong social group that happens to play pickleball,” Dan, a 66-year-old consultant, said during a break from games at Hammond one recent Saturday. “We don’t have any [jerks] in our group. ‘Friendly’ is the first word in our name.”

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Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.