The” yin and yang” of family travel means that, in return for enduring godawful meals at “Chuck E.”-type establishments which please my kids, I expect their best behavior at places which may not hold a lot of kid-friendly appeal. This deal doesn’t always work, but it’s a goal. I thought I might have to cash in a few credits when we took them to the Mirror Lake Shuffleboard Club, but they actually enjoyed it – almost as much as I did!
Where we went, and who was coerced into going:
The world’s largest shuffleboard club is in St. Petersburg, FL, so we planned to visit during our holiday road trip to the Sunshine State. Since it’s not open every day, I made special arrangements with the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club president, a gracious and enthusiastic volunteer named Christine.
We played shuffleboard last spring as a family at the Woodloch Pines Resort, and we all enjoyed it. (Momma had game…thoroughly surprising everyone.) So we were all up for trying it again. Even Grandma and Grandpa came along.
WHY did you go there, exactly?
For me, shuffleboard has a “retro” appeal, representing a time in our history when family entertainment was more social, and wholesomely unplugged. I learned that this club has been experiencing a surge in popularity, offering weekly play on Friday nights, and attracting hundreds of locals. In particular, families.
Okay, what was so cool about it?
This was one of those times I wish I had a time machine. The Mirror Lake complex, built in 1923, is the oldest shuffleboard club in the U.S. In its heyday — the 1930’s through the 60’s — the club gained international fame as the world’s largest, by virtue of having 110 playing courts and an annual membership of over 5,000.
I would have loved being there on a spring evening at the height of its popularity, gussied up in white – as was the custom — for a night on the court.
There are now 65 shuffleboard courts at Mirror Lake, and covered grandstand seating for over 100. We had the place to ourselves, so Christine directed us to a regulation court.
I really wanted to learn now to play shuffleboard, the right way. Christine outfitted us with poles and disks, drew the scoring triangle on the chalk board, and gave an overview on how to score. She glassed the court for us, which involved spreading microscopic glass beads across the court’s surface to make the disks slide faster.
There is some skill involved in shuffleboard; you have to put the right amount of force behind your shot so the disk goes far enough, but not too far. Another important aspect is strategy, and knowing how and when to knock your opponents’ disks off the court. After a few frustrating shots, I was hooked. I wanted to get my game back.
A match is usually three games. Whoever wins two games first wins the match. We didn’t make it that long; The Girl wasn’t cooperative. She played for a while, climbed up and down the steps of the grandstand, then told us it was time to go. The Boy, at 10-years old, enjoyed the game and would have stayed longer.
The clubhouse bears mentioning, as an Art Deco landmark building with a lot of timeworn charm. Scenes from the movie Cocoon were filmed there. I could have spent hours poring over the pictures on the wall of club members from decades ago, as well as the wall of trophies from as far back as 1934.
A little background info about the place:
Like more commonplace sports, shuffleboard has its competitions, and its “stars.” Florida Shuffleboard Hall of Fame members Carl Spillman and Mae Hall both represented Mirror Lake as their home club in many local, state, national and Masters shuffleboard championships in the early ‘60s.
Years ago the club was a local recreation hotspot, hosting social activities such as dancing, card parties, movies, music and more. Today, with membership back up into the hundreds, shuffleboard is the main attraction, but the historic St. Petersburg Lawn Bowling Club shares the grounds, and the Chess Club uses the historic clubhouse.
How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list):
In my heart, I rate this special place a 10. It’s an endearing example of historic preservation moving in the right direction. If I lived in the area, I would become an annual member. But factoring in the kids’ point of view, our consensus is an 8.
Hey YOU! Go BIG:
St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Courts, 559 Mirror Lake Drive North, St. Petersburg, FL