A conversation with Naples Pickleball Center's Bob Strommen

“You learn to realize that life is very precious, very short. Life is enhanced through the relationships you have with people around you. I’m doing my best to take these lessons and embed them within Naples Pickleball Center and the staff we are so blessed to have.”

Bob Strommen, 
Managing Partner, 
Naples Pickleball Center

By Ed Ryan

Bob Strommen has embraced the lessons mentioned above thanks to his dad, Clair, who suffered as a young man with tuberculosis when there was no cure. Emerging from that life-threatening, nearly two-year ordeal, Bob’s dad was determined to alter his outlook on life. “My dad got out of the hospital and said to his family, ‘We have been blessed with the kindness and generosity of the people who helped us survive.’ My dad told me he experienced a paradigm shift, toward taking care of himself and his health, and to being gracious and empathetic to people around him who are less fortunate,” Bob remembered. “The experience with TB changed my father’s whole DNA. He was going to live his life differently, and I picked up these qualities and these values not by him preaching, but through his example.”

Today, Bob brings his father’s values to life through his “incredible” Naples Pickleball Center (NPC) staff “that I am so blessed to have.” Since 2020, Bob has owned and operated the newly branded “Naples Pickleball Center, Pickleball Capital of the World” facility in Naples, Florida. NPC is a sprawling complex that features 65 courts, 36 employees (including 14 pickleball professionals), and a host of Ambassadors who happily roam the property ensuring members and visitors have whatever they need. Bob estimates that during “busy season” (late September through April), 1,000 players per day are on his sun-soaked courts, the sound of bouncing plastic balls serving as a soundtrack to the competition – and social activity – taking place within NPC’s pristine grounds.

The Grouper Gazette recently chatted with Bob about Naples Pickleball Center, its mission and vision, and the power of social activity.

Bob, where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I love the Twin Cities and often go back as I have business interests in Minnesota, and I have a cabin in Wisconsin. 

How did you end up in Florida? 

My parents bought a condo on Fort Myers Beach, Florida in 1970. I found this out when I was a college student at Augsburg University in the Twin Cities, and I said to myself at that point, “Life just got good!” I started coming to Naples in 1987, and it stuck with me. 

How did you get involved with pickleball, and Naples Pickleball Center? 

It’s interesting, I was able to combine my entrepreneurial spirit with pickleball. I started playing pickleball in Minnesota in 2019. I used to play tennis, racquetball, and competitive badminton. I wanted to get better at pickleball, so I came down to Naples in 2019 with the sole purpose of playing pickleball. I came to NPC and I was enamored with the facility. I eventually found the owner and said, “If you want to get out and sell, let’s talk.” Five months later, I owned it. 

Naples Pickleball Center brings people together through a love of pickleball, and naturally woven into that is the added benefit of social connection. How important is the social connection aspect of your club, especially for the 65+ crowd?

We get so many comments from members, and I hear this more from our teaching pros because they are interacting with our membership on a very intimate, one-on-one basis (Editor’s Note: between September and April last year, NPC had 14 teaching pros on staff who conducted 9,800 private lessons). The pros get to really know the players and I don’t know how many times the pros will say, “I met this great couple, they love this place, they’ve developed so many friends.” Post-COVID you hear so much about the welcoming nature of NPC, and that’s a testament to our staff – our staff has really learned what it means to be a good steward to our mission. The pros are really in tune with the membership. 

One of the early things we did three years ago was create an Ambassador program and I sometimes refer to it as ‘NPC’s version of the WalMart greeters.’ We have 75 Ambassadors and they wear these ‘coveted’ bright orange tee shirts and their role is to be a resource to visitors, whether it’s giving members directions or playing a game of pickleball with members.

I can’t say this enough: NPC is blessed with an incredible staff that has embraced the NPC philosophy of customer service and positive social connection. Our staff and their commitment to our members is one of the great aspects of NPC”.

When you are not working or participating in a group activity, what do you love to do?

I used to be an avid golfer. Now, I don’t have the time. I’m so involved with NPC, and I have grandkids now, and I’m more involved with the Naples community. I used to play golf three times a week, but I haven’t played in 12 months – I hope to re-engage this coming season. I feel a little bad about it because golf helped strengthen my connection with my dad.

But, I love the social aspects of the relationships that I have. I love getting to my cabin and seeing the grandkids. If I’m not at NPC, I’m hanging out with my kids and my friends.

I do have an insatiable desire to travel and have done six Habitat for Humanity trips with my large group of cousins. We have gone to Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, and we realize while we are there that we take things for granted that others are so happy about. I am amazed by that. You learn to appreciate that it’s the people who make life so special, not the things you acquire. And when I think I have problems, I realize they aren’t problems, they are inconveniences.

Any trips planned for this year?

Nothing planned, but I bought a professional pickleball team for seniors 50 and over, in the National Pickleball League. The ‘NPL.’ It’s the equivalent to the PGA Champions Tour. There are 12 teams around the country and the season runs May through October. So, we travel around the country every month in the summer for competitions. Our team is named ‘Naples JBB United’ and the JBB comes from the three founders of the game of pickleball – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. Our team slogan is, ‘Where legacy is honored.’

What’s a recent book, TV show, or movie that you would recommend?

I don’t watch much TV beyond Netflix documentaries, but I did write a book! When I was a little younger, I ran 10 marathons. Sometimes I enjoy writing, so from those experiences, I wrote The Finish Line: Lessons Learned From Running Marathons.


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