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SLO pickleball players want more courts. The city will spend $120,000 to make it happen

Pickleball is fun, friendly and easy to learn

Pickleballers take to the courts at E A French Park in San Luis Obispo, where three new Pickleball courts will be going in. They will be the first permanent courts in SLO where there is a high demand to play.
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Pickleballers take to the courts at E A French Park in San Luis Obispo, where three new Pickleball courts will be going in. They will be the first permanent courts in SLO where there is a high demand to play.

The San Luis Obispo Pickleball Club meets nearly every day to play a sport that’s becoming so popular there’s typically a 20-minute wait just to get on a court.

The fast-growing sport some describe as a cross between ping pong, tennis and badminton — long popular with seniors and also now a growing younger demographic — has led the city to approve the construction of three new permanent pickleball courts at French Park.

The new courts are expected to be completed this summer and would be the first full-time pickleball courts in the city, according to Shelly Stanwyck, the city’s parks and recreation director.

Pickleball players now are granted part-time use of facilities at Meadow Park, Ludwick Community Center and French Park — where they share the spaces with other activities. Makeshift pickleball courts with removable nets are set up on a dual-use tennis court at French Park so that eight doubles teams can play at a time on four divided courts.

“When I was first elected, the pickleball lobby was one of the strongest in town, and they’re a very committed and passionate group,” Mayor Heidi Harmon said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “If you haven’t played pickleball, I highly recommend it. I went out and played with them. I can see why they’re quite passionate about it.”

The park is located off Tank Farm Road at 1040 Fuller Road — and the new courts will allow for opportunities to play all day and for the club to host tournaments.

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Pickleballers take to the courts at French Park in San Luis Obispo, where three new courts will be going in. They will be first permanent pickleball courts in the city where there is a high demand to play. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Pickleball Club has 135 dues-paying members and 250 people signed on to its interest list, said Brian O’Kelly, president of the nonprofit club. The club marked 9,200 player days last year, referring to the number of days that individual players showed up to play in the city of SLO.

“Every day that we play, we have 20 people standing around just waiting to play,” O’Kelly said. “We’re one of the last communities in the county not to have permanent pickleball courts. These new courts are definitely needed and will help us provide more opportunities for players young and old.”

City Council on Tuesday voted to double the allocation of $60,000 for the project, which will soon go out to bid for construction. The funding is coming from impact fees from new development dedicated to parkland funding.

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Pickleballers take to the courts at French Park in San Luis Obispo, where three new courts will be going in. They will be first permanent pickleball courts in the city where there is a high demand to play. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The project will convert the existing basketball court into three pickleball courts, while building a new half-court basketball area to replace a rarely used sand volleyball court. The city will spend up to $120,000, though $98,000 is estimated. The contract will be offered to the lowest qualified bidder, per government contracting laws.

Pickleball involves using a wiffle ball and paddle on a court that’s smaller than a standard tennis court. The ball doesn’t travel as fast as a tennis ball.

The sport is particularly attractive to seniors, who can play without stressing their joints as much as they do in tennis, and relieve pressure on their shoulders because the serve is underhanded. But younger players also are starting to play more, O’Kelly said.

“Pickleball is thought of as a senior sport,” O’Kelly said. “But the largest growth is in under-40 category. On the weekends especially, we’re seeing a lot more younger people show up.”

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Pickleballers paddles hang on a fence by those awaiting an open court at French Park in San Luis Obispo, where three new courts will be going in. They will be first permanent pickleball courts in the city where there is a high demand to play. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Some of the club’s players travel to other county communities, such as Templeton, Morro Bay and Cambria, to play the sport, as well as to the national tournament in Indian Wells, where SLO club members such as Roar Berg-Johansen have earned medals.

Betsy Asmus, the club’s secretary, said the social aspects of the sport also make it enjoyable.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have a barrel of laughs about something,” Asmus said. “It’s great exercise, but it’s also just so much fun.”

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.

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