All's fair in love and pickleball? 'Golden Bachelor' Gerry Turner courts paddle skills

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. – "Golden Bachelor" Gerry Turner has fallen hard for pickleball, the fastest-growing sport in America.

But will Turner, 72, find forever love on the court?

That's the big question paddled around in Thursday's fourth episode, when the group date gets physical during the presumptuously titled First Annual Golden Bachelor Pickleball Championship.

Eight of the nine remaining contestants were split up into four teams of two on a sweaty August afternoon to battle for Turner's attention in the converted tennis court arena.

As a crowd of 100 Bachelor Nation fans cheered at the Westlake Athletic Club, about 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles, all eyes were on the pickleball court, and where Turner's amorous gaze might land among the brightly uniformed teams.

Even tourney co-host, former "Bachelorette" star Trista Sutter, slyly prodded Turner, who watched the teams warm up in green (Kathy and Ellen), pink (Faith and April), purple (Susan and Theresa) and orange (Nancy and Sandra). (Fitness instructor Leslie, 64, sat out).

"So, what's your favorite color, Gerry?" Sutter asked before cameras rolled.

"Nope," Turner replied, "Not answering that. That's a slippery slope."

Here's what we learned behind the scenes of Thursday's "Golden Bachelor" (ABC, 8 EDT/PDT).

'The Golden Bachelor' Episode 3 recap The fight for Gerry Turner's roses is on. Who lost?

How important is pickleball for 'The Golden Bachelor' love?

Turner fits right into the core demo of the national pickleball explosion: He says he plays several times a week with a circle of 25 close friends near his Indiana home. Players 55 and older represent 52% of pickleball's core players, according to USA Pickleball.

"We kill each other on the court," the affable Turner tells USA TODAY in a courtside interview. "We'll do anything to beat each other, and we're evenly matched."

Turner even suffered two black eyes while playing, after taking the molded plastic pickleballs to the face.

"One of those black eyes was huge," Turner says. "It was right at the time when I took my picture for my Global Entry ID card. So that black, blue and purple eye will follow me the rest of my life."

A lack of pickle prowess is not a deal-breaker for Turner, who insisted he would "never choose or disqualify a potential partner (based) on whether they played pickleball or were good at it. But it would be nice."

How were the 'Golden Bachelor' contestants at pickleball?

Turner practiced with the contestants before the tournament, and away from the crowd. He showed up at the court in shorts and a slightly sweaty T-shirt, and seemed surprised by the energized fans.

"I really appreciate you coming out and meeting a schmuck like me," he announced with full Midwestern humility before taking his seat at the shaded judges' table with Sutter and "Golden Bachelor" host Jesse Palmer.

Tennis pro and "Bachelorette" runner-up Joey Graziadei, who will be the next "Bachelor," briefly explained the confusing pickleball rules, ending the talk by urging the ladies to "have fun!"

There was plenty of that. While retired teacher and pickleball enthusiast Ellen, 71, plays often and former executive assistant Sandra, 75, smoked some shots, the group of mostly beginners meant the play often veered into comedy. High school teacher Faith, 61, carried her laughing partner April, 65, onto the court piggyback style after April took a spill during warmups (dramatically teased in the episode trailer).

"April hurt her ankle, and nobody else would have her," Faith told us afterward. "I've never played pickleball in my life. I was like, 'April, I'm going to lose, let's do this together.' We practiced for, like, 10 minutes before. But it was fun."

When hair and makeup artist Susan, 66, and financial services professional Theresa, 70, simply returned the ball over the net, they joyously high-fived each other. The boisterous Susan grand-slammed the net during another contested point, giving her best John McEnroe impression, shouting, "You cannot be serious."

Even with the laughs, the stakes were high. Not to mention that the winning players received one-on-one time with Turner and a photo for InPickleball magazine.

Retired interior designer Nancy, 60, called the new sport "terrifying. But I turned around to the crowd and said, 'I've never played pickleball; clap, or I'm going to cry!' And they were cheering for me. So it was fun."

Did Kathy squash Theresa in pickleball after last week's rivalry?

Retired educational consultant Kathy, 70, whipped up a feud with Theresa in last week's episode. But the two never faced off in the elimination tournament. Kathy was intense and effective, swinging so furiously with the racquet at one point that she lost her hat.

We won't reveal the tourney results, but the event ended without injury and with universal smiles during a group shot with Turner at center court. And Gerry gave a shockingly big smooch to Ellen.

"This has been a great exercise for me, learning to have an epic fail in front of people with nowhere to hide," April said afterward. "I'm not getting any rose for my pickleball skills. But comic relief, maybe."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Golden Bachelor' contestants paddle pickleballs for Gerry Turner love