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Saturday, April 23, 2016

An Inside view of the Low Country Pickleball Classic

I played in the subject tournament last weekend. Saturday was mens doubles and Sunday was mixed doubles. My partner in the mens bracket was Rich Ferragina, a friend and Hendersonville resident with whom I play regularly. In contrast, my partner in the mixed bracket was Trudy Chaille, a Hilton Head Island resident and someone I had never met prior to Sunday except by email. Both partnerships proved successful with a silver and gold medal, respectively. But this post isn't about the play. Its about the tournament, with the intent to give new players some idea of the experience.

The Low Country tournament is unlike the local tournaments - senior games, fun tournaments, etc. - in scope. The tournament had 200+ players from at least 15 states, including distant states like Massachusetts, Nevada, and Illinois. The tournament is competitive because it separates the brackets into both skill level and age groups. For example, I played at the 3.5 skill level in the 60-64 age bracket. The original bracket was 50-64 but so many players entered that it was broken down into smaller groups. I won't list all the brackets, but the men's doubles gives a good idea of the competitive breakdown:

Skill level 3.0 - Age Bracket 35-64
Skill level 3.0 - Age Bracket 65+
Skill level 3.5 - Age Bracket 35-64
Skill level 3.5 - Age Bracket 60-64
Skill level 3.5 - Age Bracket 65-69
Skill level 3.5 - Age Bracket 70+
Skill level 4.0 - Age Bracket All ages
Skill level 4.5/5.0 - Age Bracket All ages

It should be noted that the bracket to which a team is assigned is determined by the higher skill level player and the younger player. For example, Trudy was 65 and would have been assigned to a different bracket but was forced to play down in age because I am 60.

One factor that determines the number of players and brackets is the number of courts available for play. This tournament is played in the Sun City pickleball complex consisting of 8 courts.

In addition, if weather or other delays happen, 4 more courts are available and there was new backup indoor facility used for the first time this year. Rain was forecast for Friday's womens doubles matches so they were moved to the gymnasium at the University of South Carolina - Bluffton campus about a mile away.

The outdoor courts are fantastic to play - even in the windy weather we experienced. Each court has 4 chain-link walls of 10-12 feet surrounding it so stray balls from other courts are rarely an issue. Three of the 4 walls had wind screening. The fourth wall was unscreened and open to covered bleachers for spectators. Some players have jokingly said that it was like playing in a "cage match".

When first arriving at a tournament, players are greeted with welcome signs on the way to check in.

Players check in at a central point where they get their court assignments, goodie bag, tournament T-shirt, and lunch tickets. Prior to starting play, there was time available to warm up (bring your own balls as the tournament balls may not be available until the first game).

The format for this year's tournament was changed from the prior double-elimination to a round-robin. Each team in a bracket played every other team in the bracket, with the winner determined by overall record and tie-breakers. Some brackets had divisions that required a medal round. The difference can be exhibited by my personal experience. 

  • My men's doubles bracket had 6 teams. After all games were played, 2 teams were tied with 4 wins and the tie-breaker was the head-to head match-up. Rich and I had lost to the other 4-win team (15-13) so we were awarded the silver medal.
  • My mixed doubles bracket had 9 teams with 2 divisions - one of 4 teams and the other of 5 teams. I was in the 5-team division so Trudy and I played 4 games, winning 3 and finishing second in the division. The medal round games were played by the top 2 teams in each division so we played the winner of the other division in the semi-final game. After winning that game, we played in the gold medal game against the winner of the other semi-final.
If a player is lucky enough to win a medal, there is a short "ceremony" where photos are taken.

After a bracket is concluded, it is a great time to meet new people and socialize with people who share our interest in pickleball. I find this to be an opportune time to lay the groundwork for future partnership possibilities.

I highly recommend this tournament for the quality of facilities, area, play, and organization. It is about 4 1/2 hours from Hendersonville so it is short enough to easily get there with time to enjoy other activities. On the other hand, it far enough that overnight stays are required and that can be pricey, especially since this tournament is held the same weekend as the PGA's Heritage Classic on Hilton Head Island. The issue of getting a good night's rest before tournament play is another topic. If you get a chance, play there. You won't regret it. I'll be back in 2017 for my third time.

To close, here are a few more random photos:

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