THE SIGN OUTSIDE the modern office building near Indianapolis reads Cage Pickleball, but the 60 or so players who meet in this unusual invitation-only club call it “the Palace.” And after participating in tournaments around the country, they still consider their home court the finest they’ve seen.
Set in a manicured suburban executive park, the building looks like a place where busy entrepreneurs should be holding meetings or putting together presentations. Instead, folks inside are working on their serve, thanks to Steve Cage, a successful businessman (and former National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics pole-vaulter) who fell in love with pickleball in his 60s and converted the office space into a private pickleball club.
In 1980, back in his pre-pickleball days, Cage started a company that found defects in cars before they hit the assembly line. Under his leadership, it grew into the largest business of its kind. Eventually selling the company, he launched another automotive-assessment business before selling that in 2017. Since then, he’s focused on the development and management of the Steven J. Cage Foundation to support causes that include helping vulnerable populations in his community and promoting the humane treatment of animals, and since 2021, his new company, Automatic Staffing, which
works within the auto industry.
It was while touring office spaces, looking for a home for his foundation, that he spotted this former photo studio with a 16-foot ceiling and immediately envisioned a court where he and his friends could play year-round. When he moved in, finding the rafters a little low, he built an addition for a second court, this time with a 24-foot ceiling. And while he was at it, he installed an outdoor court, two locker rooms, a fitness center, a sleek kitchen and lounge, and a deluxe golf-simulation and putting room. There could have been a few more courts, but Cage needed somewhere to park his spectacular car collection, a hobby that reflects his background in the auto industry.
The cars are impressive, but the courts are definitely the main event here. They’re tournament-ready, with a seven-layer, acrylic-coated floor, a Douglas net system, and uplighting designed to bounce exactly to net height so players can easily see the ball. Acoustic wall panels ensure that pickleballers can hear one another during a match, even as a sound system keeps light rock playing throughout the day. They can watch each other play, too, from courtside bucket seats that are similar to those in a 1971 Dodge Challenger pace car that was involved in a famous accident at that year’s Indianapolis 500. The car is now part of Cage’s collection.
Membership in Cage Pickleball is by invitation only, made up mostly of a community of pickleballers who play with Cage and his girlfriend, Barb Skinner, a former Women’s Hall of Fame basketball player who introduced him to the paddle sport. In lieu of dues, each member donates to the Humane Society for Hamilton County in Fishers, Indiana, one of Cage’s favorite causes.
The 60-odd players range in age from 29 to 76, and in skill level from amateurs to top-ranked athletes like Rick Witsken, who lives in nearby Zionsville, Indiana, and swings through, and Altaf Merchant, also a top pro, who regularly makes the seven-hour round-trip drive from his home in Kentucky. “It’s one of my top three places to play,” says Merchant, who loves the courts’ lighting, reliable bounce, and the generous margins that don’t crowd his backswing. You’ll also find a player whose office is directly across the hall from the courts and comes in three times a week for pickleball breaks, as well as a local business owner who got to know Skinner and Cage after facing them in a doubles tournament. Skinner’s ball hit the man twice during the match, he grumbled a bit, and she and Cage invited him to join Cage Pickleball as an apology. Now that man is a regular, along with his Labradoodle, Sophie.
“I haven’t had to kick anyone out yet,” Cage jokes. “Everybody meshes together. It doesn’t make a difference who you are or what you do; you come out and play pickleball and let all that go away in this crazy world.”
The players aren’t all match and no mingling, though: On New Year’s Eve, Cage and Skinner host a pickleball party and rally with friends until the wee hours.
Cage Pickleball may be invitation-only, but it’s not the only place that its namesake has created for his beloved pickleball community. He’s also funded courts at his alma mater, Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia, and at a public park in his Indy suburb of Fishers. And while he says he can’t remember how much it cost to build his private club, he knows that whatever the amount, it was worth it to create this community. “Everybody who comes in just loves it,” he says. “It makes them feel good and it makes me feel good.”