Gulf County is now officially a member of the pickleball generation.

The first regulation pickleball courts in the county were formally, and ceremoniously, opened last week during a drizzly morning at Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill.

The four courts, the first constructed and finished as official to pickleball in the county, were made possible and dedicated to Duke Energy.

The utility funded and oversaw the entire project as a gesture to the county for allowing Duke to stage its crews at the park in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

“We appreciate Gulf County allowing us to stage our workers and equipment at the park after Hurricane Michael,” said Danny Collins, Duke Energy Government and Community Relations Manager.

“The construction of the new courts was our way of giving back to the community.”

Pickleball, which is easy to learn and more a game of socializing than competition, is considered the fastest-growing sport in the country based on participation.

For several years, players from Port St. Joe to Mexico Beach have implored the local elected officials to consider pickleball in any future parks or recreation plans.

The tennis courts at Frank Pate Park in Port St. Joe have been used part-time for pickleball for the past couple of years; a regulation pickleball court is about half the size of a regulation tennis court.

And the county will soon have a second set of regulation pickleball courts when the expansion of Salinas Park is completed.

“The enthusiasm of pickleball has grown the past few years in Gulf County with locals and our visitors,” said Parks Director Billy Traylor.

The pickleball courts expand the options at Veterans Memorial Park, which already include an amphitheater dedicated to the Armed Forces, covered pavilion, restrooms, an outdoor shower, playgrounds, an off-leash dog park and plenty of parking to access the beach via a crosswalk on U.S. 98.

Future plans include an Honor Walk dedicated to the country’s military and veterans to be constructed along the park’s bluff overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.