Stay out of the kitchen and aim for the baseline. Part court tennis, part table tennis, and entirely a good vibe, pickleball is an accessible racquet sport that has captured the collective hearts of a diverse selection of players. At least 36.5 million Americans pick up pickleball paddles each year. 

Energetic youngsters, sporty seniors, and everyone in between are on the pickleball court, and I decided to join them.

The Highland Lakes area has a precious handful of pickleball spots, and the courts at Hidden Falls Golf Club in Meadowlakes were my proving grounds. I was given a crash course in dinking, volleying, and serving by Lance Cowart, a former tennis pro turned pickleball pro who heads up the Hidden Falls pickleball program. My lesson culminated in a one-on-one match during which I put my sprouting skills to the test against my newfound sensei.

So what is pickleball? For newbies, here is the briefest of summaries:

  • The game takes place on a small court — 44 feet long by 20 feet wide — split in half by a 36-inch-tall net. 
  • It’s like a mini-tennis court, designed to reduce the need for lots of running and tight switchbacks. 
  • Players use paddles to swat a standard-size Wiffle ball back and forth, attempting to land shots that can’t be countered by their opponents. 
  • Each side takes turns serving, only scoring on its serve, and the game ends when one side reaches 11 points. 
  • You can play singles in pickleball, but doubles is the most popular game.

These rules probably sound familiar if you’ve ever played tennis, racquetball, badminton, or squash. What makes pickleball different is its accessibility. 

“I was a tennis player, strong tennis background, and had sworn off pickleball,” Cowart told me on a shaded patio at Hidden Falls.

He played tennis throughout college and went pro in the early 1990s, right before pickleball hit its stride. 

Pickleball pro Lance Cowart
Pickleball pro Lance Cowart at the Hidden Falls pickleball courts in Meadowlakes. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

He joked that he didn’t take pickleball seriously, partly because he was absorbed with tennis and partly because it had a silly name. His wife, Angie, started playing when they moved to Meadowlakes in 2019 and eventually got him to try it. 

“I really enjoyed it, but as I was playing, I saw a lesson going on,” Cowart recalled. “I saw a young kid who had never played be able to pick the game up immediately. I also saw four generations of the same family on the court together, actually playing and competing with each other.”

A sport that you could play at any age, any fitness level, any skill level, and still be competitive was a big draw for Cowart, who is still playing professionally at 52 years old.

He started to take the game seriously, becoming the managing director of field operations for USA Pickleball, the official governing body of the sport in the country. 

My eyes were also opened.

Our lesson began on one of the compact pickleball courts at Hidden Falls, and Cowart started me off with the most basic of strokes: the dink.

We took turns tapping the ball gently across the net. A dink is a light but accurate hit after the ball bounces once. 

While dinking, I was also introduced to “the kitchen,” the space bordering the net on either side of the court. You have to stay out of it, most of the time. No part of you or your equipment can set foot in the kitchen to volley a ball back over the net, meaning you usually have to let the ball bounce. 

Nobody knows the origins of the term “kitchen,” but my favorite theory is that it comes from the three goofy dads who created pickleball in 1965: Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. 

Hidden Falls pickleball courts
Pickleball pro Lance Cowart (left) let me know that I am probably a 2.75 on the 1 to 5.5 pickleball skills scale used by USA Pickleball to measure a player’s ability. Staff photo by David Bean

After I mastered the dink and learned to respect the kitchen, my coach moved on to various strokes and shots and the more in-depth rules. 

Players take turns serving from behind the baseline with the goal of landing a serve within 8 inches of their opponent’s baseline. According to Cowart, that is the sweet spot. Like any sport, there is infinite nuance to technique and style, but the basics of pickleball are easy to pick up.

A hobbyist tennis player can serve at about 90 mph, a pro tennis player at about 150 mph. Aussie tennis star Sam Groth holds the world record at 163 mph. Pickleball serves aren’t that intense, coming in at about 30 mph and maxing out at 40 mph.

The slower serves, smaller courts, restrictive kitchen, and a slew of other rules are in place to make pickleball less about power and more about fun. It’s a sport built for good times rather than brutal competition.

Having said the above, I was ready to challenge my coach to a vicious match after our lesson. I stood across from Cowart and was given the opportunity to serve first. The game was over within minutes.

I wish I could say it was close, but I was obliterated — 0-11. 

After the game, Cowart gave me a ballpark ranking of 2.75 out of 5.5 by USA Pickleball standards, which falls under the description: “This player has limited experience. Can sustain a short rally with players of equal ability. Basic ability to keep score.”

I was honored.



1101 Bluebonnet Drive, Marble Falls

SIZE: 3 courts

HOURS: 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursdays, and 2-4 p.m. Sundays

TO PLAY: Pay a walk-in fee of $10 or a monthly fee


4514 Bob Wire Road, Spicewood

SIZE: 6 courts

TO PLAY: Make a reservation through 5 Soul Wine Co. at


220 Meadowlakes Drive, Meadowlakes 

SIZE: 4 courts

TO PLAY: Make a reservation through


200 Hi Circle North, Horseshoe Bay 

SIZE: 12 courts for hotel guests and members only

TO PLAY: Make a reservation by calling 830-598-2591.


300 Legion Drive, Llano

SIZE: 1 court

TO PLAY: It’s first come, first served.


123 Robinson Park Drive, Llano

SIZE: 1 court

TO PLAY: It’s first come, first served.


2221 N. Phillips Ranch Road, Granite Shoals

SIZE: 3 courts

TO PLAY: It’s first come, first served.


1 Community Drive, Horseshoe Bay 

SIZE: 2 courts

TO PLAY: It’s first come, first served.


570 CR 133, Burnet

SIZE: 1 lighted court

TO PLAY: No charge for tavern customers; equipment available


1601 S. Water St., Burnet

SIZE: 4 courts

HOURS: 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday as well as 6-8 p.m. Friday

TO PLAY: Requires a $5 day pass or full YMCA membership. Call Jene Riley at 512-756-6180.