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Pickleball For A Cause - Is Pickleball the New Golf Outing? 


Golf has been the primary sport for business deals and relationship building. Golf outings have also been a go-to for nonprofits, providing participants with a relaxing day on the links while raising funds for their favorite charitable cause. In fact, years ago I organized an annual golf outing to benefit the non-profit Ele’s Place, a healing center for grieving children in Lansing, Michigan, where I worked for fifteen years. After 5 years of coordinating this event, our Board of Directors wisely decided that this event was not worth the time or investment. Coordinating a golf outing is very time-consuming, expensive, and they are usually limited to 144 players. Which leads me to wonder…could pickleball be the new golf outing? 

Recently, Jojo and I had the opportunity to play in our first pickleball tournament fundraising event…The VAI Open, benefiting Van Andel Institute, supporting biomedical research and K–12 science education. It all started with a FaceTime call from the VAI Open event coordinators Sarah, Lauren, and Maddie. They were so excited and upbeat about the pickleball event that they were coordinating. They wanted to know if we would consider donating an item for their silent auction dinner to be held the evening before their pickleball tournament fundraiser. The dinner would be held at MDRD, a beautiful Spanish restaurant on the 28th floor of the Amway Grand Hotel in downtown, Grand Rapids, Michigan. We pulled together a basket of 10 of our favorite Jojo+Lo apparel and accessory pieces for this worthy cause. They also asked if we could help them with their swag bags by producing 30 of our white with hot pink embroidered PICKLE visors for female participants and 30 of our white Made in the USA Pickleball caps for the guys…that was an easy “yes” from us! We also offered to set-up our pop-up shop at the pickleball tournament.  


Dan and David Stoffer dinking around in jojo+lo


The pickleball tournament was going to take place on the 4th level of the Amway Grand Hotel - Rooftop Pickleball with 4 new incredible pickleball courts and downtown views. Rooftop Pickleball is a project orchestrated by our friend George Aquino, Vice President and Managing Director of AHC+Hospitality. If you’ve ever considered a pickleball getaway..Jojo and I would highly recommend the historic, luxurious, Amway Grand Hotel. The hotel has top-notch restaurants, a few bars, rooftop pickleball, beautifully appointed rooms with city views, and boutiques within the hotel plaza. In fact, the Amway Essentials Gift Shop and the Fitness Shop for Rooftop Pickleball carry our Jojo+Lo Pickleball Wear ~ With Flair! It’s a pickleball paradise! 


 Pickleball with a view


A few days before the event, a couple of participants could no longer play in the tournament. We were asked if we would consider playing-in for them…“um, definitely!” Next thing we knew, the event team invited us to the swanky dinner and silent auction the night before the VAI Open. Jojo and I don’t get many perks…so our answer was “heck yes!” Jojo and I decided to book rooms at the Amway Grand Hotel which just happened to have incredible views of the pickleball courts. We dressed in all white “summer chic” per the dinner dress code. MDRD restaurant was the perfect setting for the most incredible event and dinner. Dinner included tapas starters, chilled heirloom tomato soup, beef tenderloin, and the most delicious desserts which were works of art.


JoJo and Lo savoring modern Spanish cuisine at MDRD


Dark chocolate souffle, creme fraiche gelato, amarena cherry compote, spun sugar



After an informative presentation from VAI, our silent auction item drew many bidders which made us really happy. The live auction item was spectacular…5 nights for 2 people on Peter Island Resort and Spa, which is a pickleball destination in the British Virgin Islands. Jojo and I sat very carefully on our hands while live-bidding for the Peter Island getaway was underway. We’ve always dreamed of a vacation on Peter Island (we’d be just fine with maid quarters) so we didn’t trust ourselves not to jump-in on the bidding. 

The next morning, once again dressed in all white, we set-up shop near the rooftop pickleball courts and enjoyed watching the 9:00am pickleballers compete in the tournament. We also got to hear updates about the Institute directly from David Van Andel, VAI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and Carol Van Andel, Executive Director of the David and Carol Van Andel Family Foundation. Together, they shared an inside look at the happenings at VAI, from international collaborations to detangle Parkinson’s disease to groundbreaking research that may lead to new cancer treatments, all sprouting from Grand Rapids! 


Beginner Bracket: 1st: Justus Chupp and Josh Smith, Rockford Construction; 2nd: Kurt and Jena Lacks; 3rd: Andrew and Heather Christmann, Regal Financial Group



Advanced Bracket: 1st: Dan and David Stoffer, Eenhoorn; 2nd: Tim and Barbie Schowalter, Pioneer Construction; 3rd: Bob Campbell and Janice Scharich. JoJo and I kindly offered to stand in for Janice and Bob. 😂


Jojo and I played in the noon session which was a blast. We came close to winning bronze, but we were outplayed by our new friends from dinner the night before, Janice and Bob. The event wrapped up with a delicious lunch from The Kitchen By Wolfgang Puck, also within the Amway Grand Hotel. Winning a medal didn’t matter at this event…we met really wonderful people, made a few important business connections, had fun playing our favorite sport with fellow pickleball enthusiasts, all for an important cause. VAI Philanthropy Director Sarah Rollman said that the event was the perfect mix of community-driven fun and impact.

“It was a treat to see supporters from Grand Rapids and beyond come together, not only to enjoy sunshine and pickleball, but to raise money for research, education and a brighter future for generations to come,” Sarah said. “Plans are already underway for an even better event in 2024!”


If you’re involved with a charitable cause, or want to host team-building or a business outing, we highly recommend considering hosting a pickleball event! It is inexpensive to host, inclusive for all levels of play, can involve up to hundreds of participants, and it’s an environment that allows for conversation and relationship building. Plus, in our unbiased opinion…pickleball is way more fun than golf!


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