In a pickle over court shortage


Last updated 8/15/2023 at 10:03am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Pickleball enthusiasts are battling to find places to play.

There are now 5 million pickleball players, or "picklers," in the United States, according to a recent report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Pickleball, a mash-up of tennis, Ping-Pong, and badminton, grew some 40 percent between 2019 and 2021, making it America's fastest-growing sport.

The sport trended older in its early years - half of all serious pickleball players in 2021 were 55 and older, according to the USA Pickleball Association. But the vast majority of casual players are under 55, and the fastest-growing segment of all pickleball players are under 24.

Pickleball is a racket or paddle sport in which two or four players hit a perforated, hollow plastic ball - think Wiffle ball - with paddles over a 34-inch-high net until one side is unable to return the ball or commits an infraction. Pickleball is played indoors and outdoors.

It was first played on Bainbridge Island in 1965, and has been regularly played in Sisters Country for the past 20 years. Following the national trend, the number of picklers in Sisters is outpacing the availability of court time.

With the exception of two courts at the elementary school, all others - the few that exist in Sisters - are private, and wait times to play are growing. It is frustrating to picklers that Sisters lacks municipal courts. The two at the school are in need of resurfacing, but given that the new roundabout at the east portal will bump up against the courts there are no plans to improve them.

"Even La Pine, smaller than Sisters, has three indoor courts and eight outdoor courts run by their parks and rec district," Karen Freeman, board member of Sisters Country Pickleball Club, told The Nugget.

Bend has no less than nine places to play, with Pine Nursery Park boasting 16 courts. Redmond has eight outdoor courts at its city-run Sam Johnson Park.

The two major resorts near Sisters – Black Butte Ranch and Eagle Crest – have a good number for members and their guests. Black Butte Ranch has 12 outdoor acrylic courts in pristine condition. Eagle Crest has six outdoor and two indoor setups.

Tollgate has two courts for their residents, not accessible by the public. The majority of pickleball courts in Sisters Country are converted from tennis courts.

Grand Peaks subdivision has two state-of-the-art courts constructed from scratch, not converted, but limits play to residents of the subdivision. It's a 37-unit development with only about half of the lots constructed, leaving the courts virtually untouched, a frustration to area picklers hungry for more courts.

It is hoped that when Grand Peaks developers turn over the HOA to its residents usage will be relaxed, and members of Sisters Country Pickleball Club will gain some access. The Club is unique in that it has no courts but an active and growing membership.

The go-to place for pickleball in Sisters is Sage Meadow subdivision, where its two Pine View tennis courts have been rededicated to four pickleball courts. But there's a rub. Two, actually. The first is that membership to the courts is limited to 100.

That's in part due to the second issue: noise. While most pickleball players love the sound, neighbors of the courts may not agree. The sound of a pickleball hitting a paddle reaches a decibel level of 70 dBA when measured 100 feet away from the court. This is higher than tennis (40 dBA), traffic (55 dBA), and a whisper (25 dBA), yet lower than a vacuum cleaner (75 dBA). However, what may be more annoying than the decibel level is the frequency. Pickleball has a high pitch, with a frequency of about 1.2k Hz, which is similar to the beeping noise that a reversing garbage truck makes. The garbage truck is intended to be loud and annoying in order to catch your attention on the roads. So this "annoying frequency" is an issue for pickleball.

Three neighbors at Sage Meadow have been at odds with players and the courts' stewards, even going so far as to install decibel meters in hopes of making their point. Players are cautious to curb their enthusiasm during play so as not to add unwanted sound to neighbors' ears.

Doug Bermel, a regular at Pine View who has a home across the street from the courts, told us that his group has gained title to the courts and they intend to sell the property with a market value of $350,000, then take the proceeds, buy land in the city limits, and put up top-notch courts.

Meanwhile, Bermel et al. are enjoying what limited facilities there are with hopes that the City will find a way to help meet the demand.


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