Photo courtesy of Lisa Clay. Britney Smookler, one of many Brentwood pickleball players, is hoping residents’ vast interest in the sport will prompt the city to build dedicated courts.
The old adage “If you build it, they will come” is apparently ringing true for three makeshift pickleball courts overlaid on Brentwood’s Creekside Park basketball court.
Now the sport’s local enthusiasts are using the success as leverage to convince the city to build a permanent facility.
About 2,480 players of all ages have used the courts during drop-in sessions since the city’s one-year pilot program launched in February last year.
“That is a phenomenal number, since it’s not advertised and it’s three courts on a basketball court,” said Monte Winterhalter, a United States Pickleball Association ambassador. “It completely proved there is a huge interest (for permanent courts).”
The sport, which incorporates elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, is played with a small wooden or composite paddle, a whiffle-like ball and a net smaller than that used in tennis and takes place on a doubles badminton-sized clay court.
But in Brentwood, most of the city’s estimated 300 players must take turns using three courts painted on Creekside Park’s outdoor basketball court during three-hour drop-in sessions now three days a week, where city-provided nets and balls can accommodate three games and 12 players at a time, said David Smookler, an avid pickleball player and ambassador.
Players’ only alternatives are to create their own makeshift courts, hauling with them a mobile net and specialty tape to create temporary court lines; battle for time on Discovery Bay’s two courts; or travel to Concord’s or Livermore’s permanent courts.
“We need courts,” said Brentwood resident Lisa Clay, who’s only been playing for a year and three months. “When you get off a court, you feel like you can do anything.”
The 30 or so players of all ages who showed up at Brentwood’s drop-in session last Sunday waited up to 20 minutes between opportunities to play, albeit on an unnatural surface.
“If we have public courts, people can play whatever time of day they want,” Smookler said.
But not all hope is lost for the city’s avid fans.
Brentwood Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Mulder confirmed that the request for pickleball courts is addressed in a needs assessment as part of a still-evolving city parks, trails and recreation master plan that should be completed early this year.
“Once the parks, trails and recreation master plan is complete, the city will prioritize the community needs addressed in the master plan to determine how to allocate resources and projects,” he said.
Winterhalter said the sport’s rising popularity surely means permanent courts would be successful.
Nationally, NBC proclaimed the sport the fastest growing in the nation in 2014, and in 2017 the Sports and Fitness Industry Association estimated there were 2.8 million players nationwide.
The Brentwood Union School District has begun incorporating it into its physical education program after a group of local enthusiasts taught 22 physical education teachers how to play the game.
“We are playing pickleball at the schools and the kids love it,” said BUSD physical education teacher Stacey Hanson between games at a drop-in session last week. “At the school level, we are supposed to do a racquet sport for hand-eye coordination. It’s a great skill for them, and I am hooked.”
Winterhalter said the ideal city facility would feature 16, 20 or 24 courts, enough to hold tournaments, drawing nationwide players and supplemental city revenue as those participants lodge and eat locally.
The City of Concord recently turned four unused tennis courts into 14 pickleball courts at a cost of $430,000, and it now hosts leagues three nights a week and three 300-player tournaments a year, attracting nationwide players, he said.
“If you have two to three big tournaments a year, that’s huge revenue,” said David Smookler.
Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor said the residents’ requests for courts are being heard loud and clear.
“I think it will be brought up for the future,” he said. “A lot of people are interested in pickleball.”
For many avid players, that future can’t come soon enough.
“Hopefully sooner rather than later, the real (courts) will come,” David Smookler said.
- – Kyle Szymanski, in Thepress.net