ZEPHYRHILLS — The shuffleboard courts at Betmar Acres are nestled among orderly rows of well-kept mobile homes, quiet streets and calm ponds. But on Wednesday, the park will be bustling as competitors from all over the world take part in the International Singles Shuffleboard Tournament.
The tournament is being organized through the International Shuffleboard Association and will have 64 competitors divided evenly between the men's and women's singles competitions. All players have already won tournaments in their home countries and will be flying in from all over the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, England and Norway.
The players will compete for trophies and bragging rights, and the top players from each division will win a golden cue stick. The entry fee for the tournament was $260.
Between athletes and their families, Betmar Shuffleboard Club president Terry Rainwater is expecting 90 people to come to Zephyrhills for the tournament, which will end Sunday. Based on similar shuffleboard events, he expects the total number of athletes and spectators to exceed 300.
Rainwater said Betmar was chosen to hold the event in part because of the park's 24-court indoor shuffleboard facility, which Rainwater and Earl Ball, president of the ISA, contend may be the largest of its kind in the world.
Eric Keaton, Pasco's tourism coordinator, conservatively estimated that an event of this size would inject $100,000 into the local economy. He said the money will have a ripple effect and touch many economic sectors, from hotels to auto repair shops.
Rainwater said Florida is a shuffleboard mecca, with thousands of players all around the state. He said the low impact nature of the sport, combined with the social and mental aspects, make it attractive to older players. However, he said the sport should be appealing to athletes of all ages.
"I didn't really want to play it at first," said Rainwater, 63. "Then, as I grew to understand some of the strategies and complexities of the sport, I understood it does take skill and practice."
For Zephyrhills competitor Vivian Frizzle, shuffleboard entered her life through spending quality time with her family.
"When my folks moved to Florida in '82, they got involved in shuffling," said Frizzle, 70. "My husband and I would come down and vacation, and we'd shuffle with them, and I guess the bug bit."
While all of the American and Canadian competitors are of retirement age or older, many of the international players are younger, Ball said. Shuffleboard is seen as a family and leisure sport around the world, he said.
In many ways Ball, a 65-year-old retired General Motors executive who now lives in Betmar Acres, is America's biggest shuffleboard ambassador. He travels the world competing in shuffleboard competitions, and has compiled a booklet on the history of shuffleboard, which he is hoping will be ready to sell at this week's tournament.
Ball said the ISA is looking for corporate sponsors to notch up tournaments and spread the word about shuffleboard as a competitive, fun and social sport.
The county tourism folks didn't have a hand in bringing this event to town, but Keaton said Pasco officials want to bring more shuffleboard tournaments to the area and will "bend over backwards" to help.
"Any kind of championship in Pasco County's backyard is exactly what we are looking to bring in with the county's brand as a sports and travel destination," Keaton said.