As far as hometown superlatives go, possessing the world’s largest outdoor shuffleboard court is ridiculously specific. Nevertheless, the shuffleboard club in St. Petersburg represents the story of this Floridian town’s rise, fall, and rise again.
It opened in 1924, when Florida was quickly growing into a popular tourism destination. The sight of palm trees and pelicans on a beachy postcard brought many to Saint Petersburg in the ’20s. It was a city for leisure—it had one of the earliest baseball stadiums, grand hotels like the bright pink Vinoy had breezy open porches for guests to luxuriate on, and Mediterranean architecture brought the cultured feel of the riviera to the American South. Similarly, shuffleboard was a leisurely sport.
The game is played on long, flat courts. Players slide discs along the court with a cue, attempting to land them in a triangle on the opposite end. It doesn’t require much physical exertion, and Saint Pete’s courts were open-air, so an evening at the Shuffleboard Club was as much a social event as it was a sporting event. The Club itself was a beautiful place to be, too. With a Spanish-tiled roof and the wash of hanging lamplight, the colors of sundresses and seersucker suits must have looked like a watercolor (hence the many postcards bearing images of the club). When taking a break from the court, guests could stroll along moonlit Mirror Lake. It was a fun, romantic spot for tourists and locals alike.
But Saint Petersburg’s popularity waned, as did shuffleboard’s. The Depression meant that people were less likely to vacation. Rather than being thought of as a youthful vacation town, Saint Petersburg became a retiree village. Shuffleboard was an old person’s game, hence why most associate it with cruise ships nowadays. Lots of people still played the game over the years, and by 1963 the Shuffleboard Club had over 5,000 members, but in the ’70s the courts were in desperate need of repair and membership had vastly declined.
Now, the popularity of shuffleboard in St. Petersburg is on an uptick. You can still become a member of the club, but everyone is invited to shuffle on Friday nights, when admission is free. The St. Pete Shuffleboard Club has even inspired copycats, like Brooklyn’s über polished Royal Palms, where an hour on the court will cost you upwards of $40, not to mention the price of drinks. On Fridays in Saint Pete though, St. Pete Shuffle is BYOB. As such, the shuffleboard crowd is leaning away from its geriatric stereotype.