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Career & Education

Norman Hall is the man

Sandals South Coast's tennis pro building a pickleball fan club

Sunday, January 14, 2018

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BETWEEN November and December last year, close to 180 pickleball enthusiasts and pros transformed the tennis courts of Sandals South Coast for not one but two pickleball tournaments: Surf and Turf and Jammin' in Jamaica.

Developed in the US in 1965, pickleball is a paddle sport which combines tennis, ping-pong and badminton, and is considered to be one of the fastest-growing sports in the US.

This was the second time that the Surf and Turf group was coming to Sandals South Coast, having hosted their first pickleball tournament at the resort in 2016.

It is now safe to say that both of these groups have found a home at Sandals South Coast with its state-of-the-art playing facilities, sprawling grounds, luxury-included accommodations and inclusions, and top-rated customer service. But perhaps the main reason why these groups are coming back to Sandals South Coast is the resort's tennis pro, Norman Hall.

Hall, who hails from Kingston, says he was first introduced to tennis at the age of nine.

“While attending Papine Preparatory school, my friends and I would go over to the Liguanea Club on Saturdays to play,” he said.

When he was 14 he started playing in junior tennis tournaments, advancing to the semi-finals and finals and taking home a plethora of trophies.

“As I got older I knew that I really loved this game and that somehow my career would revolve around that passion,” he said.

And so it did. Prior to joining the Sandals group, Hall worked within the tennis programmes of two premier Jamaican hotels. Working as an assistant tennis pro at his first job, he had an opportunity to meet many tennis pros and players who came to his resort to participate in various tournaments. Among the people he met was Frederick McNair IV, a former professional tennis player from the United States who reached the world number one doubles ranking in 1976.

“Fred invited me to go with him to Boston to train; thereafter I spent months at a time training in the United States from Minneapolis to Chicago to Miami. I also spent six weeks training in Germany,” Hall said.

Eventually he was working part-time in Jamaica and part-time coaching overseas.

“I really enjoy tennis, and just being on the court, that's my time, my stage,” said the man who averages up to 30 guests each week for tennis games and coaching sessions at Sandals South Coast.

While location-shopping for the Surf and Turf Tournament in 2015, travel agent and tournament organiser Gayle Scoggins admits that at first she was a bit apprehensive about Sandals South Coast.

“I wasn't convinced that the playing facilities would meet the expectations of our players,” she said. However, it was during that tour that she met Hall.

“When we met, she [Scoggins] asked me if I was familiar with pickleball and I told her I was, and that I would be happy to help her host the tournament here,” Hall said.

“Furthermore, Sandals was committed to the idea, and they truly went above and beyond in making preparations for our group,” added Scoggins. “So much so that the space we now have is truly first-class.”

The upgrades to the facilities were perhaps also due to Hall's extra prodding.

“When I first came to Sandals South Coast three years ago, I found the playing facilities, inclusive of four tennis courts and a tennis shop, to be ideally situated, but I kept pushing for further additions as I knew the potential,” he said.

The prospects of Scoggins' pickleball group certainly pushed the envelope in making the upgrades a reality – from a complete resurfacing of all the courts to the installation of back boards and new nets.

“The facility is great, and has allowed us to tap into the sports tourism market, which I know has the potential to be quite lucrative,” Hall said.

If the numbers are anything to go by, then Hall could definitely be on to something. In 2016 Scoggins debuted her Surf and Turf Pickleball Tournament for one week with 34 rooms. They were all so impressed with the management of the tournament, the overall Sandals South Coast experience, and Hall's tremendous dedication and support that they immediately started making plans to return in 2017. Last year Scoggins and fellow travel agent Cindy Watty booked 90 rooms over a period of three weeks for not one but two tournaments.

“We definitely love working with Norman, and that's why coming back is an easy decision,” said Scoggins. “During this year's trip we had some rainy days, and I would get all flustered wondering if we would be able to play, but by the time I got to the courts to look around, Norman had already come in from 6:00 am, dried off the court and replaced all the tape. This is the reason why everyone in our group loves Norman. He really makes this whole experience totally stress-free.”

“Pickleball is a new frontier for me,” said Hall, who is currently working on getting his professional status in the game.

“When the pickleball groups are here they create an amazing atmosphere. I love the adrenaline and competitiveness and I'm very pleased to be their resort liaison.”

Sandals South Coast is also very pleased to have Hall on their team.

“Norman epitomises the kind of passion and dedication that our brightest and best team members aspire to,” said resort General Manager Adrian Whitehead.

“The investments in our playing facilities have definitely positioned Sandals South Coast as an ideal tennis and pickleball destination”, said Whitehead.

“However, having a dedicated facilitator like Norman who is not only passionate about the game but about people and service to others is what has really made the difference as well as a considerable impact in our bottom line.”

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