If you hear a popping noise coming from the tennis courts at Heritage Highlands, it is not a premature New Year celebration of champagne corks or firecrackers, but the sound of the newest sport to arrive in Southern Arizona—POP tennis. 

Although the game has a distinctive noise, it is not as loud as pickleball, another tennis alternative played by many at Heritage Highlands and similar active-adult communities. 

POP is not only the sound of the ball hitting the racquet but it also stands for popular, because the game is designed for a wider variety of players than traditional tennis. Smaller court sizes and a pace of play that provides less wear and tear on the body, the sport is ideal for beginners, but is also perfectly suited for those older athletes who love the game of tennis but no longer want all of the running or had physical issues that no longer allowed tennis to be an option.

“The people we are attracting are not so much active tennis players, but they are people that used to play tennis but for whatever reason they could not cover the court anymore or they have shoulder issues,” said Jim Hefele, vice president of the Highlands Tennis Association, and one of the people who introduced the game to community. 

Unlike pickleball, which uses a hollow ball similar to a whiffle ball and a solid paddle, POP tennis uses something resembling traditional tennis balls and racquets. The balls are a lot softer, and do not travel as fast or need to be hit as hard, while the racquets have the look of tennis racquets, but are thicker, and solid with holes drilled into them. 

Hefele explains that there is less compression to the ball, which means they do not go as fast, travel as far or hurt as bad if hit by one.

“In pickleball you really have to smack to make it go,” Hefele said. “With this, because it is thicker, the ball really compresses and then pops out, so you don’t have to have this big swing to make it go. You can just stick your paddle out and make a shot.”

Pop tennis utilizes an underhand serve, which makes it great for those who have shoulder issues. 

The other big difference is court size. A traditional tennis court is 36’ x 78’, while a POP Tennis court is just 21’ x 60’. Despite the smaller size, the players at Heritage Highlands found they could set up a POP tennis court on a traditional tennis cords. At first they used bungee courts to mark the smaller playing surface, but as the popularity rose, they painted the lines right on the courts. Players of both sports had no issues with the different colored lines. 

“It is better utilization of this amenity,” said Laura Gladwin, Highlands board president.

The courts at Heritage Highlands have another advantage, a synthetic grass surface that provides more bounce and less impact than other surfaces like concrete or grass. Pickleball courts are traditionally of a harder surface.

It has really given us longer life on the tennis courts,” Gladwin said. “It is really easy on the joints.”

The game also moves faster. An average three-set tennis match last about two hours, while a three-set POP tennis match runs about 1:15.

They started playing the sport in November and it has taken off. They currently have 46 members playing the game and a recent demonstration attracted over 20 people curious to check it out. They are not only attracting people who used to play tennis but it is also being used as a gateway into the traditional game. 

“We are avid racquet sports folks here,” Hefele said. “Pickle ball was such a success we were trying to figure out how to get more utilization from our tennis courts here.”

There is an investment to play. A good paddle costs between $139-$199 and there are only a few companies that make them, but so far they have been very durable.

The game has its roots in Southern California and as far as they can tell the game is exclusive to Heritage Highlands, but they would love to see others take up the sport and are welcome to those who do not live in the community to come out and give it a try. They currently have a handful of outside tennis-only memberships and would love to add some POP Tennis players as well. 

For more information on POP Tennis contact Jim Hefele at jimhefaz@gmail.com.

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