WORTHINGTON — A pickleball makes a very distinctive noise when struck by a paddle, sounding a bit like an overgrown ping pong ball being forcefully slammed into a table.

That means pickleball games, too, have a very distinctive sound: Plink, plunk. Plink, plink, plunk. And then there’s the sound of laughter, congratulations or a rueful call of “out!”

“It’s a fun, social way to exercise,” said Sheryl Hokeness of Worthington, who plays pickleball at the Center for Active Living, like dozens of other fans of the whimsically-named sport.

The game, played with a paddle and resembling a cross between ping pong, tennis and badminton, was originally invented in 1965. Lately, its popularity has soared, and according to USA Pickleball, pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.

Like a ping pong ball, a pickleball is hollow and made of plastic, but unlike a ping pong ball, it has holes closely resembling those of a wiffleball, though it’s also a bit heavier than a wiffleball. The paddles resemble ping pong paddles, but they’re a bit larger and usually made of wood or a composite material. The game is played on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net, and two players or two teams of two players play at a time.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“It’s fun at any level,” Hokeness said. “It’s fun at a beginning level, and it’s fun at a competitive level.”

That makes it especially attractive for people of all ages who want to stay healthy, like Rose Schissel of Worthington, who started playing for exactly that reason.

“When we started, we were huffing and puffing,” said Mary Krueger, of rural Bigelow, but that’s changed since.

The more competitive players often play in the morning, according to Bob Miller of Worthington.

“No mercy!” he joked, but noted the pickleballers usually have donuts and coffee together, too.

CAL isn’t the only place to play in Worthington. Centennial Park has outdoor pickleball courts, and indoor courts are available at the Worthington Area YMCA. And there are players from as far as Windom, Jackson and the Lake Shetek area who come to play in Worthington, too.

The increasing popularity of the sport in southwest Minnesota may be due to snowbirds — retired or semi-retired people who go south for the winter — who learned to play pickleball in Arizona and wanted to continue playing when they returned to their northern homes.

“We’ve met a lot of new people through pickleball,” said Schissel, who added that meeting new people is the best thing about the game.

Dixie Hansen, of Worthington, started playing the game 8 years ago, but stopped because she was getting up so early to play “it felt like work.” She has since started playing again. “And of course, my friends play.”

Getting started with pickleball isn’t difficult. A guest pass at the CAL is $2 per day, and the facility has paddles and balls available to use. Serious pickleball players often end up buying their own composite paddles, which are around $100, but that can come later.

Anyone interested may stop by the facility and find some pickleball players to point them in the right direction.

“For the most part, everybody in pickleball is very welcoming,” Miller said.

For those who fall in love with the game who are age 50 or more, a regular CAL membership is $30 per year, and that includes access to all the other amenities at the facility as well. Younger people who just want to play pickleball can get a pickleball membership for $125 per year.

“Everybody is so encouraging,” Hansen said.