Adding outdoor play areas, from pickleball to bocce to golf, can add an extra layer of fun to your backyard and pool area.
You could get your sports fix by hitting the gym to play pickleball, visiting a golf course to practice your putting, and wrapping it up by tracking down a public park with a bocce court. Or, you could walk a few feet into your backyard, play a round of your favorite sport, and then take a dip in your pool beneath a rippling water feature or next to a cozy firepit.
The pandemic might have ramped up the outdoor living and staycation trends into overdrive, but they’re far from over— quite the opposite. Instead, homeowners are finding creative ways to make their pool areas and backyards even more appealing by adding sports courts and gameplay into the poolscapes.
“It’s becoming increasingly important because people are spending more time at home. They’re trying to interact with family more, trying to provide more opportunities for family interaction,” says Jeff Zock, director of landscape architecture for St. Petersburg, Florida-based Enclave Luxury Outdoor Living. “You don’t have to worry about gym passes or what time facilities are open. Having those elements there at home makes it more convenient and readily available.”
Depending on where they live, how they plan to use the area, and the amount of outdoor space available, homeowners are opting for everything from bocce courts and cornhole boards to larger pickleball or basketball courts and even ice rinks in their pool area and backyard. “It provides a central location where everyone can meet and interact,” Zock says.
THE LATEST TRENDS
There are many options for adding sports, games, and athletics to your backyard and pool areas, from putting greens on artificial turf to oversized Jenga. But one of the most popular these days is pickleball, a sport that’s surged in popularity over the past year.
Pickleball is played with a paddle and ball over a net—it looks a bit like oversized table tennis—and is one of the fastest-growing sports out there. Pickleball courts are popular for the residential market because of their size. “The nice thing about pickleball is that it’s half the size of a tennis court, so if your yard won’t fit a tennis court, it’s always possible that you could fit a pickleball court,” Zock says.
Our experts say that many hotels and recreation centers are breathing new life into old, unused courts by revamping them into pickleball courts. People at home are doing the same thing. “A lot of people are taking existing large tennis courts and then converting them over to smaller pickleball courts with putting greens and multiple different sports games on them,” says Ted Renda, CEO and founder of 360 SportsScapes in Windham, New Hampshire.
The idea of having one area near the pool for multiple uses extends to other backyard fun, too, says Chris Johannsen, owner of CREATIVEscapes Outdoor Living Design in Richmond, Virginia.
“What I’m starting to see is…having a multi-use area for other things like cornhole, croquet, and bocce, as well as classics like the pool table and ping pong table, he says Homeowners with even more space might even opt for things like batting cages or full-sized basketball courts.
NAILING THE LAYOUT
How you lay out the backyard recreational areas around or near your pool will depend on many factors, including space, budget, and how you plan to use the area. For instance, although Renda often builds big, involved backyard projects like basketball courts and batting cages, they’re usually set apart from the pool area for noise, safety, and aesthetic reasons.
“People don’t really put batting cages right next to their pools or anything like that,” he says. Instead, homeowners place larger-scale, active recreation away from the pool. Quieter recreational elements that don’t take up as much space, such as cornhole or bocce, can be placed closer to the pool. Some homeowners even incorporate recreational areas into the pools themselves.
“They have floating greens now that you can actually put in the pool, and you can chip onto the greens and try to get in the hole,” says Renda. “We’ve even gone as far as adding putting greens to the middle of people’s pools on islands.”
Johannsen is working on a project like that now. The design will include an “island with one of the putting greens and a bridge over to it, almost like what you’d see in a golf course,” he says. Whichever way homeowners decide to lay out their recreation and pool areas, there are certain steps they can take to create a cohesive design.
“There’s all different ways to make everything flow so that it works from the pool to the recreational area,” says Renda. For instance, Zock says homeowners might use the same waterline pool tiles on the bocce court, firepit, and outdoor kitchen.
In addition, hardscaping and landscaping can create paths that link the different backyard destinations, and lighting—both along those paths and at each destination—can create further cohesiveness and ease of travel.
Some homeowners even use outdoor recreational elements to extend their pool and backyard’s season into the colder months. For instance, Renda says ice rinks are especially popular in climates with cold winters. They can range from simple, easily constructed skating areas that can be broken down at the end of the season to full-sized rinks for serious hockey players or figure skaters.
In fact, Renda says sometimes homeowners even put an ice rink right over the pool itself. However you choose to play and have fun in your backyard, doing so should reflect how you want to live. “When we’re creating these outdoor environments, we’re creating different spaces intended for different uses so you can get full use of your environment,” says Jake Lavagnino, president of Enclave Luxury Outdoor Living.
“It’s not just intended to swim. It’s intended to spend time with your family, and we’re really creating an area to enhance your lifestyle.”