Founders Ned Johnson and Neil Thomson spent months testing paddles for the brand
Friends Ned Johnson and Neil Thomson launched Short Court in 2020 to provide stylish paddles and accessories to outfit the growing number of pickleball players.
A few wooden paddles, a plastic ball, and a 36-inch-high net are all it takes to get hooked on pickleball, one of today’s fastest-growing pastimes. If the tennis world (which spawned pickleball), is any indication, the promise of chic apparel doesn’t hurt in getting folks out on the court. Founded in 2022 by friends Ned Johnson and Neil Thomson, Short Court aims to bring a dose of classic style to the sport.
Longtime “racquet junkies,” the founders were wooed by pickleball in the early pandemic. As tennis, golf, and squash clubs closed their doors, the budding sport was sweeping the nation, with an attractive asterisk: anyone could get in on it. “The courts were packed,” Johnson says. “Everyone from my 75-year-old mom to my six-year-old daughter was playing.”
As converts flocked to the game, the founders saw an opportunity. “We thought to ourselves, ‘Why isn’t there a great brand on the apparel side of this?’” Thomson says. “Turns out, there was no better time to create our own authentic expression of the sport.”
Despite pickleball’s relative infancy, Short Court’s style takes a heritage approach, inspired by old-school tennis icons (think Stan Smith and René Lacoste) and classic racquet club fashion. “We like to say we’re ‘Wimbledon with a wink,’” Thomson says of the brand’s paddles and accessories. “We have that heritage feel, but we’re having fun with it.”
The brand’s gear looks the part and has the quality to back it up. Prior to launch, Johnson and Thomson spent months testing paddles, intent on appealing to serious players as well as casual participants. “It was a really insightful dive into what makes a good paddle,” Thomson says. “We’re a lifestyle brand at our core, but along with that aspirational look, we wanted to create something high-caliber.”
Short Court sells paddles, totes, hats, and polo shirts on its website and often hosts pop-up events to help introduce others to the sport.
Short Court has quickly become synonymous with the pickleball experience at clubs and resorts in the US and beyond. Through its custom program, the business creates gear with bespoke branding—and helps pickleball programs get off the ground. Both certified tournament directors, the founders are often on hand to host workshops and matches. “It’s exciting to see these institutions bring a new sport into their sort of old-world profile,” Thomson says.
Beyond the club scene, accessibility is baked into the brand. “We love tennis and the traditions of the game, but it has a tougher barrier to entry,” Thomson says. “With pickleball, there’s a real portability—and it’s just a great hang.” Emphasizing the sport’s “anytime, anywhere” spirit, Short Court has hosted events in unexpected locales across the country. In Charleston, backdrops have ranged from the rooftop of The Loutrel to South Carolina Society Hall, where Short Court hosted its first gala, cheekily titled the “Pickle Ball.”
In the spring, the brand popped up beneath the oaks of the Cistern, where hobbyists and pros faced off to benefit local nonprofit Kids on Point. A founding member of the organization, Johnson helped add pickleball to the roster of sports it brings to K-12 students. “I see our nonprofit side continuing to grow,” he says.
For the founders, Short Court is more than a passion project—it’s a passion, period. “We’re out there playing pickleball a couple times a week,” Johnson says. “We really believe in this, and we want to be the go-to.”
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