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Beer City Open Has Become a Favorite

Author: Andrew Gilman | July 20, 2023

Six years ago, it took a long conversation and a few beers to convince Paul Richards that he could run a successful pro pickleball tournament in Michigan.

At first, Richards said, nope. Well, he admits he might have added a few words into his very declarative statement, but eventually, he changed his mind. 

And PPA Tour player Andrea Koop was the one who persuaded him. It probably helps that she’s a lawyer and knows how to use her ability to reason.

That was 2017 and the tournament known as the Beer City Open in Grand Rapids, Mich., launched the next year. Richards became the tournament director and he has helped grow the event from a purse of $12,000 and 400 players to a successful tournament with a purse of more than $100,000 and 900 participants, including dozens of PPA Tour players who are granted an exemption from the tour so they can play in this popular tournament.

Since its inception, the tournament has donated more than $100,000 back to the Belknap Park charity, which benefits the Belknap Enhancement Fund, a 501(3)c charity. Thanks in part to the tournament, the club has added more than six courts and a LED light expansion.

“We are unique from a pro perspective in that it is run by a player,” Koop said. “I work really hard on the player experience to spoil everyone and make the pros feel welcome. From an amateur side, we are known as a ‘players’ tournament. Some of our brackets start as late as 5 p.m. and that’s because once a bracket starts, it just keeps going. The wait times are minimal. That’s something we pride ourselves on.”

Koop handles all the work on the pro player side. Richards handles all of the other players and there are more than 200 volunteers who make sure everything runs smoothly, too. 

“It’s like throwing a big party and watching everyone have a great time,” said Richards. “It’s very rewarding. Bringing the best players in the world to western Michigan and seeing the volunteers get excited about helping to make this a great event. We have outstanding sponsorships and volunteers who make the event a success. I just wish we had more courts so we could accommodate more players.”

Richards said the 950 spots for the tournament were sold out in just about 20 minutes. Maybe that’s because players – both amateur and pro – love this event. Thanks to the charitable grants from the Beer City Open’s revenue stream each year, each of the courts has a permanent net and 11 of the 19 courts are individually fenced.

“We look at everyone as our guests and do our best to show them a good time,” Richards said.

Clearly, it’s working.

“It’s wonderful to see the Grand Rapids community come together, thanks to the hard work and vision of PPA touring pro, Andrea Koop,” said Hannah Johns, who is the PPA’s Director of Content and who is also playing this week in the event on the amateur side. “The PPA Tour supports its pros’ participation in this charitable event and is excited to help showcase all the action.”

Some of the biggest names in pickleball will be competing this year, including James Ignatowich, Jessie Irvine, JW Johnson, Jay Devilliers, Federico Staksrud and more. The event will be streamed on the PPA’s YouTube channel all weekend long.

“The eyeballs the PPA has brought to this sport has increased exposure, participation, and sponsorship exponentially,” Koop said. “We like to think we are a small part of that, but no way we are as big as we are now without the PPA pushing us forward indirectly. I’m so excited and grateful to the PPA for granting the exemption. We have been around since 2018 and every year, we have always had a strong draw. I think that it speaks volumes about the reputation we have built here for a player experience that so many PPA pros aren’t taking the weekend off but instead are playing here.”

Check out some of the PPA pros who will be participating in the Beer City Open this year:

  • Andrea Koop
  • Lacy Schneemann
  • Jessie Irvine
  • Jorja Johnson
  • Lauren Stratman
  • Irina Tereschenko
  • Jackie Kawamoto
  • Jade Kawamoto
  • Jay Devilliers
  • JW Johnson
  • Dylan Frazier
  • James Ignatowich
  • DJ Young
  • Callan Dawson
  • Connor Garnett
  • Zane Navratil
  • Federico Staksrud
  • Pablo Tellez
  • Rafa Hewitt

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