We need more pickleball courts

Date Published: 
Aug. 11, 2017

Statistica.com claims there are 27 million golfers who play at least once a year on 15,000 golf courses in the U.S. They also claim there are 11 million tennis players playing at least once a year on 500,000 tennis courts. I thought it might be fun to contact them and claim there are between 3 million and 8 million pickleballers — far too many to get an accurate count — playing on a few courts at least 150 times a year.

Pickleballers — and they are only half-kidding — are telling me to stop promoting pickleball because courts are so scarce. I receive emails and calls every day asking me where folks can play. We are obviously at a very critical juncture, because the majority of courts are outdoors at a few private communities where developers offer them as a summer amenity for homeowners.

For the newcomer: Dedicated pickleball courts have proper net posts and have been lined specifically for pickleball.

First State Pickleball Club raised private money to repair and convert public tennis courts that were previously going to ruin behind Clayton Elementary. Member dues go toward the upkeep of those 10 dedicated courts, and the recent addition of a ball machine and a much-needed backboard.

The Ocean Pines Pickleball Club just opened eight dedicated courts, and they allow non-residents to pay just $5 a day. Otherwise, most courts are composed of lines painted onto existing tennis courts where the tennis net can be dropped 2 inches.

The Town of Lewes has been welcoming to the pickleball crowd with their public tennis courts, and Millville now has three dedicated pickleball courts on the drawing boards, with lights, which will extend the outdoor season. Of course, these outside courts are only good in the warmer months.

It was recently announced that Millsboro will eventually be getting more pickleball, via the kind contribution of Joe Schell and his Sussex Sports Center.

So, if we have this obvious shortage of pickleball courts — especially indoor courts — why don’t we have more year-round pickleball facilities?

Tennis managed to have both full-service commercial facilities and free public courts. It served tennis well, and the truth be told, it served the pickleball community well, because almost all the courts we use today were or are tennis courts.

My dermatologist screams at me for playing in the sun, yet there are few indoor options to play pickleball. We should thank Dave Marshall’s Tennis Center at the Plantations in Lewes, which has opened his indoor tennis to indoor pickleball courts for six sessions a week.

The Factory, also in Lewes, is almost always fully booked. Many of us sneak across the border into neighboring Maryland, where the administrators of the Northside recreational facility in Ocean City, Md., have been very welcoming to the pickleball community. That facility is booked for multiple sports, yet they have accommodated as much pickleball as possible.

Despite the long waits between games at all of the facilities, players stack up to get on the courts.

The newest entry into year-round pickleball is at the Sports at the Beach, just east of Georgetown. This baseball mecca added four indoor pickleball courts to their new indoor Sports Academy.

General Manager Michella DePalma gives a great deal of her talented time to assist Delaware pickleball behind the scenes, even including free technology services to First State Pickleball Club, and 300 pickleballers are playing there every week. Besides their indoor courts, they have two outdoor courts open to the public at no charge.

The thought here along the coast in pickleball is that the session fees — because so many retirees play — must be very low.

I am a business guy, and I have run numbers with the best of them — not as a bookie but creating financial assumptions and spreadsheets of cash flow. When new ground is broken, construction costs (heating and air conditioning, water, sewer, environmental regulations, etc.) will raise the current affordable session fees and discourage people on fixed incomes from engaging in a healthy pursuit of fun (and the key word here is fun) exercise and sociability.

Perhaps we need to consider a combination of private/public financial arrangements.

The business investor will run the numbers and then decide if the financial risk is worthwhile. The politician will realize that we are no longer a summertime location, and it is important to his/her career to support so many constituents in a fun and healthy sport.

Medical administrators will eventually decide to be part of an activity like pickleball that is generating the same health results that they are promoting: reducing weight, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing or eliminating meds, and whipping depression.

Finally, State and county administrators will eventually realize that retirees now come to Delaware with the specific expectation that pickleball will be readily available.

My hope is that one or all of them do something soon, before we begin to turn pickleball players away from pickleball clinics and back to their medical clinics. Let the county, state and private financial interests decide, and then the pickleball community must embrace their every effort to bring more pickleball courts, laughter and health to Sussex County.

If you agree with me that we need more courts, how about standing up next to me, shoulder to shoulder. Send a shout-out to vaughn@pickleballcoast.com and say, “We need more pickleball courts,” the number of pickleballers in your household and your ZIP code.

Ocean City Northside Indoor Pickleball resumes this week, and they just announced their fall pickleball schedule, beginning Aug. 28: Mondays, 1-4 p.m., advanced play; Tuesdays, 1-4 p.m., all levels; Thursdays, 9 a.m. to noon, beginner/intermediate; Thursdays, 1-4 p.m., advanced play.

Sports at the Beach also announced their fall schedule: Monday, 9-11:45 a.m.; Wednesday, 12:30-2:30 p.m., Thursday, 9-11:45 a.m.; Friday, 9-11:45 a.m.; and Sunday, 7-10 p.m.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.