by Eric Barton | June 17, 2021

How the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club Made a Comeback

This once-beloved pastime is seeing a major resurgence in popularity.

At peak popularity, the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club boasted 5,000 members. Courtesy of St. Pete Shuffleboard Club.

It had been, quite simply, the least cool thing you could do. And then, one Friday night in 2005, the cool kids showed up with their pucks and their cues and started shuffling.

Thirty-five local artists, community activists and folks just looking for a good time descended on the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club—which, in its heyday, was the world headquarters of a game synonymous with our state—and effectively saved it from extinction.

Shuffleboard wasn’t invented in St. Pete, but when six players formed the club in 1924, it became an instant Florida icon. At its height in 1963, the shuffle society boasted 5,000 members and 71 courts.

In this black and white photo, two women sit on a bench against the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club building. A man in a suit and hat walks by in the foreground. In the background, dozens of players gather at the courts to play shuffleboard.
A historic image of the club. Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club.

But the boom ended with urban flight, people moving from the city center to suburbia, where they had their own shuffleboard courts. By the 1980s, shuffleboard had become a relic. The city took over the club’s property, and membership plummeted. But then came The Artillery, as the group that saved the club called itself. They’d bring food and drinks on Friday nights and host tournaments that were as much about the camaraderie as they were about the winning. After the Tampa Bay Times wrote a story about The Artillery in those early days, hundreds started showing up to shuffle. One of them was Christine Page, a freelance web developer who found the club charming and Gatsbyesque, despite its state of disrepair.

 “There were a lot of hazardous things, a lot of weird add-ons that needed to be removed,” she recalls. 

Enamored, Page started volunteering and eventually joined the board and became its executive director in 2015. After a $150,000 rehab with stadium seating, glittering trophy cases and twinkly lights strung up over courts painted in putt-putt golf green, the club buzzed like it must have in the ’20s. 

In this wide shot, dozens of players of all ages gather around the shuffleboards at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club. It is sunset.
A St. Pete tradition becomes a modern pastime thanks to the efforts of local artists and preservation groups. Photography by Michael Flanagan.

Today, more than 1,200 members enjoy access to the courts any time and the option to compete in tournaments each week. Friday games are usually open to the public, but those are currently suspended due to the pandemic. Page says everyone has missed the community shuffles. 

“Oh my gosh, it’s so much fun. It’s so many types of people next to each other. It’s people on first dates, college kids, grandparents, and the grandparents are teaching them how to play.”