Aug 9, 2022 - Sports

Pickleball advocates want more dedicated courts

Pickleball player serves
Hans Carter serves the ball at the Louis Sutter pickleball courts. Photo: Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Considered "the fastest growing sport in America," pickleball — a mashup of tennis, badminton and ping-pong — has made its way to San Francisco.

  • But while the city's rec and parks department tells Axios it's working to meet the growing recreational demand of residents, local enthusiasts say there still aren't enough reliable places to play.

State of play: San Francisco boasts 11 dedicated pickleball courts — five at the Goldman Tennis Center in Golden Gate Park and six at the Louis Sutter Playground in McLaren Park.

Yes, but: Multi-use courts can limit the number of people able to play, since many are open for pickleball on weekdays.

"When you offer it only during restricted hours ... you're only going to get seniors and retired people," Hans Carter, who's on the leadership team of the San Francisco Pickleball Community, told us.

  • Of note: The average age for pickleball players nationwide was 38.1 years old in 2021, down 2.9 years from 2020, according to USA Pickleball.

Reservations on multi-use courts can be hard to come by, and for some sites, players must bring their own nets, which newcomers to the game are unlikely to own.

To unlock the sport for a broader swath of San Franciscans, Carter says more dedicated courts are needed.

  • The city's only free, dedicated pickleball courts — at Louis Sutter — were completed in 2018, before the pandemic supercharged the sport's growth, the San Francisco Pickleball Community's Bill Lafferty noted in a recent conversation.

Still, San Francisco is far from alone when it comes to cities grappling with how to make room for pickleball.

  • San Diego, for instance, has called in a "national expert" to help it navigate the escalating tensions between tennis and pickleball players, who compete for court space, the Union-Tribune reported in June.

The other side: "We have to balance all the needs of our parkgoers," rec and parks spokesperson Daniel Montes told us. "Pickleball is so new that we want to meet the demand … [But] we want to make sure that [it's] going to be around for a while before we act rapidly and … create a bunch of new spaces."

  • Moving forward, rec and parks has made the commitment that any time a tennis court is renovated, it will add pickleball lines. One such site, in Buena Vista park, is expected to open this fall and will offer four new courts.
  • Montes added that before 2018, there were no city-sanctioned pickleball sites in San Francisco, so having over 50 places to play today is "pretty good!"

What's next: Organizers for the San Francisco Pickleball Community have semi-regular meetings with rec and parks, but advocates say there are no concrete plans for new dedicated courts.

  • Meanwhile, Recreation and Parks commissioner Phil Ginsburg said in an interview last week that his department was "trying [its] best to accommodate the sports remarkable popularity."
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