Inside the New Bluff City Pickleball

Bluff City Pickleball, one of Memphis’s newest third places

Malls are vanishing. The price of coffee is increasing, making coffee shops less accessible, as are the prices of many things amid inflation. The price we pay for fewer places to connect has disastrous consequences when socializing and community-building spaces disappear. America is experiencing a new epidemic: loneliness. Traditional therapy cannot even treat it, even though it can have fatal impacts. In the United States, 52% of people say they feel lonely, while 47% believe that interpersonal relationships are meaningless. 

Luckily, John and Leslie Daniel, owners of the new Bluff City Pickleball, offer a fun and inclusive solution for MidSouth locals and visitors: Pickleball.

On a hot summer day in 2022, the couple came up with the idea to open an indoor pickleball complex. In early 2024, their dreams turned into a reality, adapting an old Bartlett Malco movie theater into Memphis’ first-of-its-kind sports facility, with a pickleball practice court, an exercise studio, a pro shop, a café, and eight indoor pickleball courts named after movies.

Members using one of the many courts at the Bluff City Pickleball facility.

John said that one of the scariest things he experienced was watching people lose their sense of purpose after retirement, and he did not want the same for himself. 

“Pickleball was a multi-faceted thing; It was about doing something good for the community which serves a social purpose,” he said. “It was having something meaningful for me to do, something for Leslie and I to do together, it was something engaging for my son to do.”

John said that after 47 years of banking, retiring was challenging. “There are only so many times you could clean the garage.” he said. 

John Daniel being interviewed, courtesy Bluff City Pickleball

The couple expressed that opening a pickleball facility was important to them because it allowed them to find purpose and give back to the community.

“John’s a heart transplant recipient, and I’m a breast cancer survivor. And so, we are grateful to still be here, and we both said that if God gave us a second chance at life, we were going to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Pickleball was what we found to give back to the community,” Leslie said. 

“We are an LLC and not a non-profit, and so we didn’t want to fundraise. We actually have opportunities where nonprofit and for-profit organizations can have tournament fundraisers.”

Leslie said they are more than a Pickleball facility. They host birthday parties, team-building events, and many other experiences. The couple finds pickleball to be both simple and interpersonal—a very inclusive sport. 

“Pickleball, prior to the pandemic, had the reputation of being a game for older people. It’s not true anymore,” John said. “Since the pandemic, the highest participation in the decile age group categories that play is 25 to 35.”

The median age of pickleball players in 2021 was 38.1 years, a significant decrease from the 2020 median of 41 years old. In the previous three years, pickleball’s growth rate increased by 223.5%. In 2023, 13.6 million individuals attempted the sport, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) annual Topline Participation Report.

Third places are locations that are neither home nor work. They are places to socialize and commune outside of homes and living spaces like churches, cafés, bars, and libraries. As third places continue to vanish in modern society, the couple said that social sports give people from all walks of life an opportunity to get to know new people and foster community.

In a poll conducted by Pew Research, as of 2023, the majority of Americans (53%) report having one to four close friends, but a sizable portion (38%) report having five or more. Of these, 8% claim not to have any close friends. 

“I’m from Connecticut, John’s from Pittsburgh. One of the things that was very important to us was bringing everybody together, and what this club has done is allow people who wanted to learn how to play pickleball to come in and have lessons and clinics because what happens is that when they go out to the courts, a lot of times the people are already advanced. So, we’re giving people an opportunity to learn the sport, as well as meeting people from other communities and just seeing people from different backgrounds working together.” Leslie said. 

Bluff City Pickleball has tools for newbies to get familiar with the sport, even if you don’t have the necessary gear. You may rent a paddle for $5 if you don’t have one, and depending on the type of ball you select, your purchase will be just an extra $4 to $5. If you choose to participate in leagues, clinics, or courses, they supply the equipment. Additionally, there are three membership options available: the student plan, the gold plan, and the platinum plan. 

Leslie playing a game, courtesy Bluff City Pickleball

Leslie and John anticipate the most challenging part of their new business will be within the next six months to a year, but they expect pickleball to continue to grow.

“There’s still 60 million people that bowl in the US. Bowling reached its peak for [people in their] 50s, 60s, and 70s. There are still people who play racquetball. There’s twice as many tennis players as pickleball players. So, if pickleball grows at the rate tennis and bowling did when they reached their peak, it’s still got a few more years to run,” John said.

Community or third places may be the remedy that each of us needs to treat the persistent loneliness in today’s hyper-individualistic world. The Daniels, who see division in Memphis and values community, shared why they felt that “Pickleball for Everyone” should be their motto.

“You know, our heart transplant and breast cancer survival trigger the idea that somebody has a life that they didn’t think they would get, and they’re trying to make it meaningful. It’s still a business that does something good and brings people together. So, I think that’s the way to think about it,” Leslie said.

For more details on membership and court reservations for Bluff City Pickleball, please visit

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