This editorial appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Colorado Tennis/by Kurt Desautels, Editor
Pickleball. Just typing the word makes my fingers chuckle. But despite it's rather whimsical name, these days pickleball has become a serious topic for tennis players, providers and governing bodies. If you aren't familiar with pickleball, here's a quick primer...
Pickleball is a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. It's played on a badminton-sized court with a modified tennis net using paddles and a whiffle ball. And it's growing. Fast. Pickleball is growing so fast that it’s been dubbed by pickleball enthusiasts to be the fastest growing sport in America.
It's that pace of growth that has led pickleball enthusiasts into numerous confrontations with tennis players and providers. For years, pickleball was a niche game played wherever and whenever players could erect or modify a court, usually with taped lines and low nets. Catering to a predominantly aging demographic, pickleball has grown in popularity to the point where it made sense to have its own infrastructure.
Around the state, passionate pickleballers have successfully lobbied to convert tennis courts to pickleball use, as well as divert money to the construction of pickleball-specific courts that could have helped build and/or upgrade existing tennis facilities. Other facilities have opted to paint permanent pickleball lines on existing tennis courts in an effort to accommodate all users, but that practice renders the courts "unsuitable" for USTA sanctioned play. This push to put pickleball on the map has, in some areas, pushed tennis to the very sidelines it originally created. Facilities and homeowners' associations across the state are embarking on various ways to accommodate both sides, but with some problematic consequences.
Obviously, all players — pickleball, tennis and otherwise — are competing for the same investment dollars. Building tennis courts that cannot accommodate pickleball denies the fastest growing alternative sport an opportunity to continue to grow, whereas converting old tennis courts or building pickleball-exclusive courts deprives tennis, the fastest-growing traditional sport, of badly needed infrastructure improvements.
One reason behind the competition for dollars is that the Official Rules of Tennis prohibit sanctioned play on tennis courts with permanent lines unrelated to tennis (36-foot and 60-foot blended lines are acceptable). A sanctioned league or tournament match cannot be played on courts with permanent basketball, volleyball, four-square or badminton lines. Permanent pickleball lines are similarly forbidden.
The situation will only continue to escalate so long as tennis and pickleball are at odds over the same funding. If they two could muster their support for the same projects, imagine how powerful their positions would be. Pickleball play is dominated by older players, as more than 70% of pickleball players are over the age of 60, with another 24% between the ages of 40-59. Tennis, on the other hand, skews younger. Kids play is growing, especially here in Colorado, with a quarter of all sanctioned play opportunities happening among juniors (both Junior Team Tennis and sanctioned junior tournament participation are at all-time highs in Colorado).
So how to appease both the vocal pickleball community and the still-thriving tennis community?
The answer, I believe, resides in one simple pickleball modification that would successfully merge the pickleball cause and the tennis cause not just here in Colorado, but across the country.
A pickleball court measures 20×44 feet, and includes a 7-foot non-volley zone in front of the net (referred to as the “kitchen”). By comparison, a 60-foot court measures 21x42 feet (net to service line). Overall, a pickleball court is just 2 sq ft smaller than the 60-foot court (service line to service line). If pickleball adopted this new standard for court size, the collective power of both sports' efforts to create additional infrastructure could be harnessed. With more than 500 60-foot courts already painted in Colorado (thousands nationwide), pickleball would more than double its current reach.
For those pickleball enthusiasts that argue that tennis should accommodate pickleball by changing the rules and allowing for an additional set of blended lines, once you've accommodate one sport, others will follow. What's more, rules can change. Tennis once employed an hour-glass shaped court but has evolved to the current shape/size. If pickleball embraced the 60-foot court dimensions, both sports would feed on the growth of the other. Older players interested in pickleball would push their local communities to add infrastructure that would simultaneously benefit youth tennis, rather than deprive it.
Add your thoughts to the discussion at facebook.com/USTAColorado.
The BEST way to play pickleball on a tennis court
Played on a badminton court, standard pickleball court dimensions are 20-feet x 44-feet.
The 60-foot/orange ball court that is mandated for all 10 and Under sanctioned tennis play (leagues and tournaments) across the country is 21-feet x 42-feet, net to service line.
The blended 60-foot lines (which are already painted on hundreds of courts across the state, and thousands across the country) are 6" wider on each side, while the service line is 12" shorter than current pickleball dimensions.
The 60-foot court (service line to service line) is just 2% larger than a standard pickleball court...2 square feet to be precise (880 sq ft vs 882 sq ft).
Moreover, in order to convert a traditional tennis court to pickleball dimensions, 168 feet of tape must be used.
If pickleball adopted the 60-foot court & service line as its foundation, only 42 feet of tape would be necessary (for the "kitchen" line).